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by:  Donaldson

Before taking a job in city government, David Donaldson - who took over this week as Lake Oswego's city manager - spent the first half of his career on the other side of the fence: in the private sector.


Donaldson worked for executive recruitment firms for 12 years in places like Los Angeles, Sacramento and Florida.

'They hired me to find people,' Donaldson said. One day he might be in Florida helping land a top-notch candidate for an airport, and the next he might be off to another state to help a city government find a new chief executive.

'I traveled 100 days a year. I flew 2 million miles in 12 years.'

That experience could be particularly useful in Donaldson's new role. Hired on a one-year contract with options for monthly extensions, Donaldson will help the city council look for a permanent city manager to replace Alex McIntyre, who has accepted a position in Menlo Park, Calif.

Donaldson left the field of recruiting because he wanted more time with his family, even though taking a deputy city manager job in Wilsonville meant a big pay cut.

'I thought if I'm going to be a good father, I need to be home,' he said. 'It was also nice to have a home base and to be part of an organization.'

Hired by Doug Schmitz, Donaldson came to Lake Oswego in December 2006. At first he worked as human resources director and as an assistant city manager overseeing a handful of departments. Eventually the city hired a full-time HR director, and Donaldson became a full-time assistant city manager.

Now filling the chief executive's role, Donaldson is following in his father's footsteps - sort of.

His dad was a city manager for 20 years, and as a result his family 'moved around a lot.' Donaldson was born in Montclair, Calif., went to grade school in Scottsdale, Ariz., and attended high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father then became director of the Philadelphia Zoo.

He keeps a photo of his dad and several white tiger cubs in his office.

'It's sort of ironic that at 51 I'm becoming a city manager, and at 51 he was done being a city manager,' Donaldson said.

Having a dad who was a zoo manager afforded the family some rare opportunities. Donaldson could visit the zoo when it was technically closed for Christmas day; he has fed peanut butter to spectacled bears and scratched the horn of a baby rhinoceros.

He and his wife live in Southwest Portland - about three blocks from Lake Oswego - and will celebrate their 30th anniversary this fall. Their daughters, 19 and 22 years old, both attend college.

A season ticket holder for University of Oregon football games, Donaldson is a huge Ducks fan.

He also reads a lot and loves to travel; he has been to all 50 states and to 35 countries.

'I love going to zoos,' Donaldson added, noting he has been to more than 120 of them. And he has lived in seven states, although he feels most at home in Oregon.

As the new city manager, Donaldson hopes to keep morale high among staff members and managers and to 'maintain the quality of services we provide and, where possible, improve those,' while helping the city council achieve its 2012 goals.

'This community, we do so many things well,' he said, naming popular downtown events and public art collections as examples. 'We have a really good group of people working here. … A lot of my success is going to depend on their success.'

At this point, he doesn't plan to apply for the permanent job. Being a city manager basically requires reporting to seven bosses - the mayor and city councilors - plus a population of 36,000 residents. On the other hand, an assistant city manager has just one boss.

'This will challenge me, and I'm happy to do it,' Donaldson said. 'But I think the assistant city manager job is what I like most.'

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