After a year without a community development director, Redmond has a new man in a revamped position.

John Roberts, 48, recently took over as the new deputy city manager. He said the new job will have a broader function, overseeing all departments associated with growth and development in Redmond.

“The traditional (community development director) position did not necessarily coordinate with Engineering and Public Works directly,” Roberts said.

The leadership position is also intended to assist City Manager Keith Witcosky and provide guidance and assistance to departments it oversee to make sure goals are achieved in a timely and professional manner, Roberts said.

Redmond has had assistant city managers in the past, including when Witcosky started in 2013. Over the last few years, Witcosky said the number of people reporting directly to him has grown to at least a dozen, when it should be around half that.

With 800 people per year moving to Redmond and no end of the growth in site, Witcosky said it was time to have someone directly overlooking the Community Development, Public Works and Engineering departments.

The deputy city manager allows him to spend more time on improving public safety services and airport expansion.

“It gives me a chance to work on policy issues with the (City) Council as well,” Witcosky said. “I feel I’ve done a good job of setting the culture of the organization, but it’s a big job to tend to that.”

Roberts comes to Redmond after working for 7 ½ years in the Columbia River Gorge, first as Wasco County planning director, then as community development director for Hood River since 2014.

Among his accomplishments in Hood River was helping develop a full-service building department for a city that had previously contracted with a building official, he said. In Wasco County, he worked on improving customer service functions to change community perceptions of the planning department.

The job also required working with land use limitations created by the national scenic area around the Gorge, Roberts said. That meant balancing the need for industrial development, with those of protecting agriculture and demand for recreation.

“There’s so much going on in Hood River, being a part of a community experiencing robust growth,” he said. “I was there to help manage that.”

Big issues

Roberts said he is jumping midstream into several projects, but a couple stand out. One is developing an approval process for incorporating small cell technology into the city, particularly downtown.

Small-cell infrastructure, which has shorter range than tall cell towers, is needed to help with cellular capacity in densely populated areas, Roberts said. Small cell boxes can be placed on telephone poles or on buildings. The technology is already used in places like large stadiums.

“You’re looking at boxes that are two-by-three feet, if even that,” he said.

Roberts is also working on updating the city’s 10-to-20 year comprehensive plan, a requirement of all cities and counties in the state.

“Right now, we’re using the Redmond 2020 plan, and it’s almost 2020,” he said.

The city plans to send out request for proposals for the plan update in early 2019, Roberts said. Redmond will submit feedback and send out surveys and hold open house meetings as part of the process.

“Our approach going into this is to have robust public involvement and engagement,” he said.

Unlike Witcosky, Roberts is not involved with overseeing all city functions. He said he does not deal with departments including police, finance, the airport and utility billing.

Strong endorsements

Roberts got strong endorsements from several people he’s worked with, Witcosky said. He also impressed him in the interview process, which included interviews with both city staff and a panel including officials from elsewhere in Central Oregon.

That helped Roberts get selected from more than 50 applicants.

“He was very thoughtful in the interview process,” Witcosky said. “He really thought before answering a question, which is nice because it shows he is actually listening.”

That thinking has extended to Roberts’s time on the job in Redmond, Witcosky said.

“He’s got no trouble at all getting the facts before making decisions,” he said. “He’s very thoughtful in his decision making and not a reactionary person at all.”

The process to hire a deputy city manager started in late April, with applications accepted in the following months. A reception with Roberts and the other candidates, Brian Latta of Harrisburg, Oregon, and Tom Pessemeir of Sherwood, took place July 5.

Kate Porsche, the previous community development director, held the job for about a year before resigning in fall 2017. She replaced Heather Richards, who was community development director for nine years before taking the same position in McMinnville in June 2016.

Roberts said he is paid $118,000 annually, with money coming from the budgets of the different departments he oversees. Despite having more departments under him, his salary is only about $4,000 more than what Porsche reportedly earned.

Long track record

Roberts grew up in Cleveland but first headed to the Northwestern part of the country to attend the University of Idaho. He also spent four years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon.

“It was a humbling experience,” Roberts said of his time in the African nation. “It taught me a lot about resilience and the need to take initiative.”

Roberts started his planning career in Yuma, Arizona, before moving to Breckenridge, Colorado, where he said average housing prices topped $1 million per year.

“Some people call this a mini-Denver, but it’s hard to articulate the housing challenges unless you’ve lived it,” he said.

Affordable housing is another crucial issue to deal with in Redmond. The city is in competition with Bend to be part of a state pilot project, while Redmond is also looking at doing an affordable project with Housing Works near Grocery Outlet north of downtown.

“It’s encouraging to see some of the projects beginning to evolve on Affordable Housing,” Roberts said. “We’ve just got to continue building on that.”

Roberts competed in wrestling growing up, before becoming a competitive skier in Colorado. He is also a mountain biker, trying out Redmond’s new Homestead Pump track the day it opened.

“Right now, my focus is on my family,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com

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