The final two candidates for the Roseburg city manager position met with community members and city officials at a reception in the Public Safety Center on Thursday evening.
After a long hiring process, which began more than seven months ago and included a delay so the city could advertise the position again, Mayor Larry Rich said the City Council will vote to hire one of the candidates at its meeting Monday.
City officials made up the majority of people at the Thursday reception for Brian Latta and Paul Eckert, the two candidates. About 10 other people, primarily leaders of local organizations, also attended the reception, which was announced Wednesday evening following a special City Council meeting.
The candidates introduced themselves, answered questions and chatted with people in separate rooms for an hour before giving 20-minute presentations.
Both candidates are qualified for the highly consequential position, which oversees all city staff.
Eckert has been city administrator in Gridley, California, a city with a population of about 6,600, since 2016. Between 2013 and 2016, he was city manager of Mount Shasta, California. Before that, he was city manager of Sioux City, Iowa, a city with a population of about 82,500, where he worked in city administration for 16 years.
Brian Latta has been city administrator of Harrisburg, a city with a population of about 3,700, since 2013. Between 2008 and 2013, he was an associate planner in the Corvallis Community Development Department. Before that, he was a planner with the Clark County, Washington Community Planning Department between 2006 and 2008.
The candidates showed contrasting demeanors during their presentations.
Latta, who presented first while Eckert was in another room, calmly addressed each of five questions prepared by the city for their presentations sequentially. Eckert spoke to the audience continuously using note cards to orient his comments that tied back to the questions.
Latta began his presentation by talking about his family.
“I’m a family man,” Latta said. “They come first. Before work. If there’s an emergency and I’m working here, I will make sure the city is taken care of, and then I will go take care of my family because they mean that much to me.”
He said he and his wife, Wendy, have been married 12 years. They have an 11-year-old daughter, Navy, and a 9-year-old son, Bertram.
Latta said working as a community planner has given him a lot of experience with economic development.
“I love that you guys are growing your own with entrepreneurs and small businesses,” Latta said. “I think it’s important that we provide as many resources for those entrepreneurs and ‘wanna-preneurs’ — people that just have an idea but don’t know how to do anything with it — we need to support them and get them to be here because they’re the ones that are already here. They like being in Roseburg and they’re the ones that are going to want to stay.”
He said he doesn’t want to use traditional forms of economic development in which communities offer tax incentives to entice businesses to come in from the outside.
“We steal a business from someplace, they come here, they stay until the incentive is gone and then they go on to the next place that provides them another incentive,” Latta said. “That form of economic development actually hurts a community more than it helps. And so growing our own is the way to go.”
He said various local economic development groups will allow the city to do that.
“I’m glad to say today, that we have very few vacant storefronts (in Harrisburg),” Latta said.
He added he is already connected to the state legislature, and part of his job will be to help influence legislation that will help Roseburg. He recently helped write two bills that made it out of their committees, he said.
He also made a commitment that revealed his public service philosophy.
“I am committing to guys here, and to those that are not here, that I will be honest,” Latta said. “If you come to me I’m always going to give you an honest answer. It may not be the answer that you like, but it’s an honest answer. I also hold myself to very high integrity standards. And then also to be transparent. What you see is what you get, and that’s just who I am.”
Eckert began his presentation by discussing his experience working in city administration, which he said also included being a part of state legislative processes.
He said his 16 years in Sioux City showed him how to run a city that is the economic center of an area, like Roseburg is.
“I was city manager for a community of 80,000, a budget of $300 million and a metro area of about 200,000,” Eckert said. “So much of my career, I’ve managed two or three times the size and complexity. But I’ve also downscaled and was able to manage small communities. And I think that helps me be a more effective manager, understanding large and small.”
He said he also has experience capitalizing on opportunities to make communities destinations for nonresidents.
“I know you have some representatives here who this is key to, but tourism, amenities in the community, really promoting the community from a regional standpoint, a state standpoint and even a national standpoint,” Eckert said.
He said his life’s purpose is his children. His youngest son Reed, who attends the University of Victoria in British Columbia, came with Eckert to the reception. He said his other son is a college student in the Port Angeles, Washington area, and his daughter is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Victoria.
Eckert said he has always sought to give back to his community. He was a Marine, and he said he was always involved in coaching youth sports, even after his kids aged out of their programs. He said he always tried to expose his children to at-risk people’s experiences.
“We started an at-risk track team,” Eckert said. “Reed and our family found ourselves the only family of our persuasion sleeping on Baptist church floors as we went away for track meets.”
Eckert also teared up while discussing a personal aspect of his life.
“Reed is a stage 4 cancer survivor,” Eckert said. “You learn community when you’re that family of the beautiful 8-year-old boy who’s fighting cancer. And you really learn what community is all about.”
A survey of media reports about Eckert show that while working as city manager in Sioux City, he and the city settled a retaliation lawsuit filed by a former city employee, who had previously made sexual harassment claims about Eckert.
The Sioux City Journal reported in 2015 the suit was settled for $300,000 and cost the city more than $1 million in legal fees.