CANNON BEACH — Dozens of people came with questions about community engagement, tourism and emergency preparedness Monday night for the three finalists for Cannon Beach city manager.
The public forum held at the Surfsand Resort was one step out of the many it takes to hire a new city manager. The process started four months ago after Brant Kucera left the position for a job in Sisters.
Thirty-three people applied, with only three making it to the final stages: Bruce St. Denis, former city manager of Longboat Key, Florida; Peter M. Jankowski, former city manager of Cave Creek, Arizona; and Kevin Greenwood, former general manager of the Port of Newport.
City councilors anticipate making a final decision Wednesday after considering feedback from staff and the community. Comments from two panels will also be considered One panel represents the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, the hospitality and arts communities, and environmental groups. The other panel will be comprised of three other city managers and one special district manager.
While city councilors will ultimately make the decision, Interim City Manager Jason Schermerhorn said the public forum was one of the “toughest tests.”
“I really think these questions tonight really let them know what they are coming into,” Schermerhorn said.
Striking a balance
Before the forum, the city gathered about 25 questions submitted by the community, which were then consolidated by themes by the recruitment company Jensen Strategies.
Many of the questions probed into how the candidates would balance the necessity of a tourism economy with preserving a quality of life for locals. All three candidates have the unique experience of managing in towns driven by tourism.
Greenwood, who lives in Waldport and has 13 years of upper-level local government experience on the Oregon Coast, said creating more affordable housing and looking for ways to reinvest lodging tax revenue are key in striking that balance.
“When reinvesting in our infrastructure, let’s ask can (locals) benefit from it as well?” Greenwood said.
Throughout the forum, Greenwood said his experience working on the coast and knowledge of Oregon land use law made him a qualified candidate.
He referenced his experience on the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority and finding creative ways to fund public art while at the Port of Newport. He highlighted his commitment to the Oregon Coast as to why he should be chosen.
“I’ve lived on the Oregon Coast since 1998. I learned to surf on Crescent Beach. I love to hike Angora Peak,” Greenwood said. “This is a wonderful area, and I think by doing what I do I will ingratiate myself into the community when I find someone else who likes to surf, or hike Angora Peak. You make new friends, have conversations, make connections that way.”
St. Denis, a manager at a private development company in Tampa, previously served as the town manager for another coastal, tourism-driven city for 15 years, and said the tension between tourists and locals is a problem that takes consistent work to address.
“It doesn’t just take one initiative. You must always constantly balance the downsides and the upsides for the residents,” St. Denis said.
He mentioned managing Longboat Key after Hurricane Charley to show his experience with emergency management, which has increasingly become a priority for Cannon Beach. With 15 years on the job, one of his favorite aspects of working as a city manager was being an “honest broker” with people about projects that affect the community
“Even though I’m 3,000 miles away, we’re all beach people. We know this is where we want to be, and that’s why I’m here,” St. Denis said.
Jankowski worked more than 20 years in municipal government as a town manager in Massachusetts and Maine before serving as town manager of Cave Creek, Arizona, which he described as a “Western-themed” tourist destination.
In Arizona, Jankowski said success came from working with local businesses.
“We had a lot of festivals and events. There’s always pros and cons to large events, but we always worked to promote local business,” Jankowski said.
Jankowski said if given the job, he would use his experience as a lawyer to help mediate community issues where people differ, and make an open door policy a “top priority.”
“My goal is to assist the council in their goals. I’ve been in five or six communities, and each one is different. I want to learn from the council, the staff and the community to learn what those priorities are and make them happen,” Jankowski said.
All three candidates said living in Cannon Beach is a priority — a value Cannon Beach residents voiced earlier this year when the search for city manager was announced. What’s next
Candidates will now be interviewed by panels of community members and government officials. Jensen Strategies will then consolidate all of the feedback for city councilors to consider as they deliberate Wednesday morning.
Carolyn Propst is on the community panel as a representative of the community-at-large, and said while she was impressed with the caliber of experience each candidate had, she hopes to gain more specificity in their plans during panel interviews.
“I’m impressed with the amount of experience that can directly translate to Cannon Beach,” Propst said. “But I’m hoping for some more details about things like emergency preparedness, and more ways they will involve themselves in Cannon Beach.”
Schermerhorn said the successful candidate will have more than enough to do to keep busy. The City Council plans to tackle strategic planning again. And with three seats on the City Council up for re-election, he could have new faces to work with.
There are advantages to having so many changes at once, Schermerhorn said.
“This is the perfect time for a new person to mesh in,” he said. “Just listen to the citizens, and address the council with their concerns.”