Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman has announced he will retire sometime this year after a 45-year career in local government service on the West Coast, Mayor Jake Pieper said Thursday.
Milliman, who has served as the city manager for more than 10 years, has agreed to stay on until a successor is selected.”
“It has been very difficult to come to this decision, and I have mixed feelings about it,” Milliman said. “I enjoy the work immensely, and the people I work with are great.”
Recent and upcoming staff changes prompted him to make the decision he said, citing several key staff members who have left “for greener pastures,” and that Public Safety Director Chris Wallace also plans to retire in 2018.
“(Leaving this year) would give a new city manager an opportunity to shape the organization and select most of the key people who will be working for him or her to carry out the city’s work,” Milliman said.
Milliman said he has an excellent working relationship with the Brookings City Council.
He hopes to continue serving as Municipal Court judge in Port Orford, a part-time role he assumed in August. He plans to teach political science at Southwestern Oregon Community College beginning this fall.
This week, Milliman was named a Senior Fellow at the Hatfield School of Government, Center for Public Service at Portland State University, where he will work on special projects.
“There are also some non-government opportunities that I plan to explore,” he said. “Carolyn and I plan to stay in Brookings. When we relocated here, it really was for the long term.”
Milliman holds both bachelor and associate degrees in journalism, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California, completed the senior executive program in state and local government at Harvard University and a municipal court judges program at the National Judicial College. Throughout his work life, he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, city council member and railroad president.
Milliman and his wife Carolyn are natives of the Los Angeles area and both graduated from Bell High School. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.
In 2003, Milliman took on the city manager position in South Gate, California, following a period of political corruption and mismanagement that ravaged that city.
“This was probably the most challenging period of my career,” Milliman recounted. “The city was on the brink of bankruptcy and had just gone through a nasty recall election, and there was heavy influence within the community from organized crime.
“We were successful in restoring citizen faith in their local government, moving on a path toward fiscal recovery and resolving a number of crime-related issues.”
Milliman also worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to secure convictions of former city officials and their associates.
“We also unraveled several very complex schemes that had been employed to divert millions of dollars of city funds to unscrupulous contractors and developers,” Milliman said.
Milliman had earlier picked up a challenge in 1996 to organize a group of 17 investors to purchase the historic California Western Railroad also known as “The Skunk Train,” which was being abandoned.
“The Skunk was an important element of the community economy in both Fort Bragg and Willits,” Milliman said. “We couldn’t let it go.”
Milliman left his 17-year position as Fort Bragg city manager to become president of the railroad corporation.
“The experience gave me new respect for small business owners who deal with challenges like making payroll,” Milliman said.
He retired in California after having served as a city manager in five cities and as Southern California director for the League of California Cities, and hit a milestone in January of having served 45 years in local government.
Milliman admits that, while many achievements have been made during his tenure in Brookings, there are many challenges and opportunities ahead.
When asked to name his greatest accomplishments as city manager here, Milliman immediately responded: “Ten consecutive years of balanced budgets and clean audits. We have been fortunate to be able to provide a quality level of service while keeping costs comparatively low.
“We have undertaken a series of major infrastructure improvements, too, many of which relate to public safety,” Milliman added. “Public safety is not just police and fire, but also includes safe streets and a sound water system. We have made substantial improvements in all of these areas.”
The city’s Emergency Operations Center, which the city council named in Milliman’s honor, was a project with which he is particularly pleased. While this facility is standing by for use during a disaster emergency, it is also used regularly as a training facility for volunteer firefighters, other public service providers and a venue for public meetings. It was used as the Chetco Bar Fire command center for several months.
Milliman currently serves as chair of the South West Area Commission on Transportation and on the board of the South Coast Development Council. He was instrumental in expanding membership of the Border Coast Airport Authority, on which he serves as an alternate, to include Brookings and Curry County.
He also serves on the Pelican Bay State Prison Citizens Advisory Committee and the Oregon South Coast Tourism Network board, served as a governor’s appointee to the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, which developed a seismic retrofit grant program for schools and public safety buildings.
“I’ve had a career-long interest in disaster preparedness and response,” Milliman said.
He served as a reservist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 18 years, responding to federally-declared disasters nationwide, as a governor’s appointee on the California Emergency Council and chaired the Emergency Preparedness Commission for the city and county of Los Angeles.
He said being prepared stems from his long history of involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, where he currently serves on the National Advisory Board.
Milliman received the 2012 Career Excellence Award from the 9,000-member International City/County Management Association in addition to that organization’s Management Innovation Award in 1992. He is a credentialed member of ICMA and has joined their program to promote professional city management in China.
He is the first-ever recipient of the USC Certificate in Disaster Preparedness and completed several programs at the FEMA Emergency Management Institute.
“Gary has brought a great sense of stability to the organization,” Pieper said. “He is a strong leader and manager. The city council has great confidence in him. He will be missed.”
Challenges faced by city
City Manager Gary Milliman has accomplished much in his 10 years with the city, but as he leaves later this year into retirement, he leaves behind a list of items he believes an incoming manager should address.
Included on that list:
•Infrastructure financing and management. Continuous need for water, wastewater, storm drain, street system improvements, as there is no specific funding source for stormwater improvements.
•Ferry Creek Reservoir needs to be replaced or removed.
•An emergency room at Curry Medical Center needs to be a high priority.
•Determining the future of Salmon Run golf course; the agreement with Early Management Team has one year remaining, and the facility continues to operate at a loss.
•Rising employee costs — health insurance and retirement — and employee retention.
•The unsettled financial condition of the county and its impact on city services such as law enforcement.
•Harris Beach State Park: “A new master plan will be developed, and the city needs to ensure the park — particularly the 58 acres on the east side of U.S. 101 — remains an attractive place to visit and of economic value to the community,” Milliman said.
•Lone Ranch, whose owners are soliciting for a developer to build homes north of town.
•City ownership of Brookings Airport: There are planning, management and marketing challenges to transform the facility into an economic-activity generator, he noted.
•Balancing city programs and staff with the needs and desires of the community: “There needs to be continual evaluation and dialogue concerning the role the city should play in providing services to the community,” Milliman said. “Two examples: Is the city the appropriate agency to develop and sustain the operation of a community swimming pool and recreation center? And, should the city continue to operate its own 911 communications center, or would the citizens be just as well served through a consolidated emergency communications center with the county?”
•Envision the future. “We need to spend more time developing a vision for the community,” he said. “It seems that sustaining services, chasing funding and responding to immediate problems is all-consuming. What does the future hold for our community economy? What do we want it to be?
“For example,” Milliman said, “are the city and school district working toward the same goals? Is the school district preparing our youngest residents for jobs of the future in Brookings? What are those jobs? How does the education plan mesh with the economic development plan? We need to engage other public agencies, the business community and residents in a visioning process. This takes time and a willingness to participate — and a process that makes participation meaningful.”