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Springfield city manager to retire.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - City Manager Mike Kelly will retire at the end of the summer, he said Thursday, ending his record 16-year term as the administrative head of Lane County's second-largest city.

Kelly, 61, cited health problems and a desire to spend more time with his family. Ever low key, he told the City Council of his decision in a letter on Monday but made a broader announcement on Thursday only after the phrase "city manager recruitment" popped up on an agenda sent to news outlets.

"Mike is leaving on top," Mayor Sid Leiken said. "He is leaving an incredible legacy. The city is really moving forward. That's how I want to retire, knowing you're on top of your game."

In his years running City Hall - and no one could recall a Springfield city manager with a longer tenure - Kelly took a blue-collar town that was widely regarded as Eugene's poor stepsister and helped turn it into a model of economic growth, even enticing the county's largest hospital to move across the river.

"I have been blessed to be in a place where I bloomed where I got planted," Kelly said. "Springfield has been an excellent fit for me. It has been easy to be here for so many years, a natural fit for me and my family. It's my adopted home."

Tall, easy-going, blond-haired, and fond of fishing and hunting, Kelly was a surfer dude while growing up in Orange County, Calif. There, he and a buddy chipped in $18 to buy one of the first balsawood surf boards made by surf legend Hobie Alter, then just another beach kid working out of a garage.

"I wish I still had that board," said Kelly, who's surfed big waves in Hawaii. "It would be a collector's item."

He recalls the Southern California of his youth as a charmed moment.

"It was a grand time to grow up there, before the crowds," he said. "Malt shops and woodies and surfing and all those type of things. It was a wonderful childhood. It was `Happy Days.' '

He came north to Oregon State University, where he ran track and graduated as a civil engineer in 1967. That year, he took a job as a field construction engineer with the Springfield Public Works Department; he became city manager in 1989.

His base salary is $141,416 a year under his current contract.

As much as any one person, Kelly has been responsible for the down-home, customer-oriented attitude that pervades Springfield City Hall. "We don't think of ourselves as important local officials," he said. "There are not a lot of frills in city government. I think our citizens like that."

"He sets the tone," Leiken said. "Not only the tone but the culture and how the culture of the city has been. He has strongly believed in that can-do spirit."

The biggest challenge Kelly has faced throughout his career as city manager is maintaining that friendly atmosphere despite costs that continually rise faster than taxpayer revenue.

"The financial struggle between money in and money out has been the largest struggle of my career," he said. "We don't put notes on counters that say `Closed between 1 and 5, take a number.' We try not to use too much of the voice mail thing. We are a customer-focused organization."

Former City Councilor Stu Burge said the city will miss Kelly's quiet strength and judgment.

"Mike is one of the few people I have known who could manage at that level without ego getting in the way," Burge said. "He was never self-serving and never motivated by his own ego. He's a pretty understated individual."

Kelly plans to stay on until the council finds a replacement, though he would like to be out the door by Sept. 1, and says he's already planning his annual fall hunting trip.

He wants to be home to enjoy three grandchildren, he said, and he's been suffering from some problems with his kidneys.

Council President John Woodrow said the city plans a regional search for a new city manager, though with the Internet, he added, any job search becomes national. The council will discuss finding a new city manager at a work session that begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Jesse Maine Room at City Hall, 225 Main St.


Mike Kelly took his first job with the city of Springfield in 1967. "We don't think of ourselves as important local officials," he says.
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Title Annotation:Government; Mike Kelly says he wants to take a break after 16 years at the helm
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 22, 2005
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