Off The Clock
After toiling as Wood Village's city manager since 2011 — and downscaling duties since fall 2018 — Bill Peterson has now officially retired, passing the full-time administrative torch to longtime city records manager Greg Dirks
To hear him talk, Peterson is as ready to step aside as any 67 year old who's worked in municipal administration roles since Gerald Ford was president might be.
"I started managing cities in 1975," he says. "It was a wonderful opportunity, but it was time somebody else got that opportunity. And I'm so damn glad it's Greg."
Those who know Peterson won't be surprised to learn, however, that he'll stick around in a part-time capacity to help usher the process of building a new Wood Village City Hall in part of Donald L. Robertson Park on Northeast Halsey Street. While he's looking forward to the freedom, flexibility and family time that retirement brings, Peterson — who resides next door to Wood Village in Fairview — also likes having a hand in a project to benefit the city and community.
"I'm a 'define yourself by what you do' person," he admits. "The first thing I say when I'm introduced to others is 'What do you do?'"
For Peterson, that answer started changing about a year ago when his full-time employment contract expired in the wake of former Wood Village Mayor Tim Clark's cancer diagnosis.
Before Clark, who died last July, was succeeded by current Mayor Scott Harden, Peterson entered into a part-time contract, earning half of the $132,720 then allotted for a city manager salary. Dirks, a human resources and records manager since 2008, was named city manager and commenced his contract, based on a $118,500 salary, last month. The transition pleases Peterson, who will earn a monthly maximum of $5,365 for his City Hall-related work, on multiple levels.
"I've been working on mentoring (Dirks) for years," he says. "The city did a full recruitment process. Greg wasn't chosen because he's the Wood Village guy. He was chosen because he was the best applicant, which is delightful."
Inheriting a legacy
Peterson, a Casper, Wyoming, native, looks back with pride on what he's achieved in Wood Village, where he landed after city administration and construction industry roles in Grants Pass. He credits a solidly run city with making his final full-time job easier.
"Wood Village is so historically well managed. When I came to work there, there was well over $3 million in the general fund. Today there's just over $4 million," he says.
And the project to replace the former wood-frame City Hall at Northeast Halsey Street and 238th Drive — where a mixed-use development project is under construction — with a new building, continues the city's legacy of strategic vision and fiscal responsibility.
"We sold (old City Hall) land for $3.7 million. The general fund is throwing in over $1 million, and urban renewal is contributing just over $1.3 million, (all of which) will fund the building and its contents," Peterson says. "So we have just over $7 million by the great forethought of so many city councils, managers and dedicated staffs before me."
Mayor Harden, who met Peterson soon after his appointment to City Council, said the retiring manager made an indelibly positive mark on the city.
"Bill's technical knowledge and long-time municipal experience guided Wood Village through significant growth and change," Harden says. "During Bill's tenure we created a new Town Center Master Plan, joined the Main Streets on Halsey Coalition, sold the City Hall property, updated our sign code, attracted two major businesses — Pressure Safe LLC and GroveTech to our Enterprise Zone, and saw the construction of nearly 50 new single-family homes."
Harden praised Peterson for raising the profile of the 1-square-mile city by establishing a regular meeting for area city managers and negotiating beneficial public safety contracts controlling costs with Gresham Fire and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office "while insuring we had quality service."
The mayor also will miss Peterson's contribution as a friend and community figure.
"Bill is a man of great humor," Harden says. "He is thoughtful and kind. Residents were often astonished that councilors would spend evenings or weekends at our city's events or public input meetings. ... He was at every event, often there for set up and tear down. How many city managers do you suppose you would find unloading garbage on a city's cleanup day?"
Peterson, who graduated high school in Casper as class president in 1970, met his wife, Lani, while studying at the University of Colorado in Boulder. From there, he proceeded to the U.S. Naval Academy and then completed his graduate studies in public administration at the University of Wyoming.
"I'm a great test taker," Peterson says with a hearty laugh. "I've never gotten a grade below an 'A' in my life, not because of (knowledge), but because I'm good at taking tests."
One thing he learned was that he had the temperament and skills to lead communities in a positive direction.
"I'm just wildly enthusiastic," he says. "I love to engage people and problem-solve. It's just a nice combo. That, and you have to have a really thick skin."
Initially viewing Wood Village as a stepping stone where he'd "stay for a couple years and move on," Peterson instead found the combination he'd been looking for all along.
"I felt for the first time in my career, that I had a City Council that actually liked one another (and) truly wanted only the best for the town they served," he says. "It was like I died and went to city manager heaven."
With three grown children and seven grandkids in the Portland area, Peterson anticipates solving fewer problems and attending "soccer matches, piano recitals — that kinda stuff."
"I'm realizing that at some point, I need to just be 'Bill,' not be the Bill with a title," he says. "And Bill's gotta have some level of interests. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I will."
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