New city manager works on Umatilla’s vision

With two weeks on the job, new Umatilla City Manager Bob Ward is hard at work getting to know the streets and people of his new home.

For two weeks, newly-appointed city manager Bob Ward has spent his work days in three sections: meeting the people of Umatilla, becoming familiar with the infrastructure of the city and handling the day-to-day business of the municipality.

“I’m settling in, dealing with some issues, both new and familiar, and figuring out where things are and how they work,” he said Monday. “At this point, there’s the amount of time I spend learning new things about the city and the amount of time I spend dealing with things. We’re still on the learning side, but that will change soon.”

Formerly of Alaska, Ward served his first day as Umatilla’s city manager on Oct. 25. As the Umatilla Enterprise Zone manager, he is also meeting business people and trying to learn the workings of the city as well as what residents would like to see accomplished.

Along with establishing a new cable provider for the city — former provider Almega Cable violated the city franchise agreement this summer and the city council has asked Ward to seek an agreement with a new company — Ward said planning is his primary goal right now.

The city’s current comprehensive plan was adopted in 1977, and updating that document to meet the city’s current goals and needs is first on the city hall priority list.

“There are a number of people in Umatilla who have some sense of a vision for the community, but the current vision as seen by members of the community does not (correlate) with the statement of vision set in 1977,” Ward said. “We need to bring those together.”

To begin that process, Ward and new Umatilla City Planner Zach Lunden will travel to La Grande next week to meet with state planning officials to establish the steps and protocol to develop a new comprehensive plan.

“Planning is the foundation of just about everything I do,” Ward said. “In terms of initiatives and doing new things, maybe making some changes, that all has to be predicated by that new vision.”

Although Ward continues to adjust to Umatilla’s government, he admits the move from southeast Alaska to northeast Oregon has shown him other differences, including the slower pace of life and the weather.

“People have been complaining about the weather recently, and I’ve been just tickled by how wonderful it is,” he said with a smile. “People apologize to me all the time about the weather, and I think it’s great. This is a very easy-going place, and that’s a pleasant thing for me. People have been very friendly and very helpful.

“I guess the only thing people should know about me is that I’m here, and I pretty much have an open-door policy. If anyone feels they want to come in and say hi, I would welcome the opportunity to meet them.”

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