Former Wood Village City Manager
Current OCCMA Range Rider Sheila Ritz is usually the one writing about others in local government. ELGL decided to turn the tables and interview Sheila about her career in local government. Many of us have met Sheila whether it is through her loyal attendance at ELGL events (she’s the one with the camera), her presence at OCCMA meetings, or through her time in Wood Village.
ELGL thanks Sheila for the impact that she has had on our group. She has met with many of us to discuss local government management. Sheila is a valued asset and we hope her presence will continue to expand in ELGL.
You retired as city manager of Wood Village. How did you know it was time to retire? How long had you worked in Wood Village?
I retired on January 31, 2011 after 24 ½ years as the city manager of Wood Village. Initially I was hoping to be able to serve Wood Village for 10 years and then find a larger community to serve. However, the time just flew by. Things were constantly changing and progressing with new challenges every year. The work I personally did changed drastically over time and so it was exciting, never boring.
There are a number of reasons why I retired when I did.
- First of all, I could under the PERS system and my financial advisor told me I shouldn’t have to worry about running out of money. One elected official in particular was wearing me out – I often had to attend 4 night meetings a week in addition to working all day.
- I wasn’t getting hardly anything done at home that I wanted to do.
- And, most importantly, my grandchildren in Idaho were growing up without me. I really wanted to be able to spend a lot more time with them and the rest of my family who live in Canada and South Dakota.
What other organizations did you work for in your career?
I worked in local government for 37 years beginning in Simi Valley, California. I started with the City of Eugene, Oregon in January, 1979 and then worked for the City of Albany, Oregon before obtaining the city manager position with Wood Village in 1987. I was the first city manager for Wood Village. Previously, they had a City Recorder and a Municipal Services Director (public works) who both reported directly to the City Council.
Did you set out to become a city manager?
Yes. When I was a junior in high school I became fascinated with political science. In college at Kansas University, my advisor directed me to local government and even got me a tuition scholarship at the University of Southern California for my Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in local government.
What was most rewarding as a city manager?
There are so many rewarding things being a city manager; it is impossible to say what is most rewarding. Things that I found extremely rewarding included building a more professional staff, developing new work processes that created efficiencies, developing new programs to better serve and improve the community, collaborating with neighboring communities to provide the most cost effective services for our citizens, and finding solutions to citizen concerns and helping them improve their quality of life. Being the city manager of a small community, you can personally talk with several citizens and get to know what’s important to them for their community. In small communities you have the opportunity to be connected to the citizens and it is truly rewarding when you hear the citizens are happy to live there.
What was most challenging as a city manager?
The politics. There are some elected officials who pressure you to do things you believe are unethical. It can be stressful to stay true to your ethical values and maintain harmonious relationships with these individuals. It is truly an art to keep such elected officials focused on the vision for the community and out of the detailed actions on how to get there.
For those of us trying to decide what we want to do in our career, tell us why city management is the route that we should take.
I believe city management is the most rewarding career possible. You have the opportunity to help guide a community to greatness. You are not just helping individuals one at a time; you are helping a whole community at once. It is challenging work motivating staff and developing productive relationships with elected officials who keep changing over time. You are responsible for the basic essentials of a community: clean drinking water, storm and sanitary sewer, streets which are safe to drive, police service, fire and emergency services. You also have the opportunity to improve the quality of life for the residents with parks, natural open space, recreation opportunities, community events and even code enforcement to keep neighborhoods well-maintained.
The profession needs highly ethical people to take over and I strongly encourage you to take this path.
Ever thought of running for office? City Council?
No! I hate fund raising especially for myself for a political office. The only way I’d run for City Council is if it was in an environment where funds for a campaign were not necessary. I’d like to serve on my local Budget Committee or Design Review Board but there currently aren’t any openings.
Many of us may never experience retirement. Walk us through what retirement has been like for you and how you spend your time.
I gave the idea of retirement considerable thought for over a year before I retired. I wrote a list of things I wanted to do including physical and mental exercise activities so that I had a plan for what I would do on a daily basis. I wanted very much to be a range rider for OCCMA and was fortunate to be appointed a short while before I actually retired. I have to tell you though; it took my cat awhile to adjust. When I first retired, my cat followed me around in the morning looking at me like “aren’t you leaving?” I don’t know what she was doing while I was working but she acted like she wanted her own quiet space. But then every time I get a suitcase out to pack, she perches herself on top of my suitcase and doesn’t want to get off.
So, how do I spend my time? I have a treadmill that I use every morning that I’m home. For my range rider duties, I attend scheduled group meetings, conferences and meet one on one with city managers and individuals who are interested in city management. Then there are quarterly newsletter articles I need to write. Around this schedule I travel to visit family in Idaho, South Dakota and Canada. I also went to Maui last January with my sister. Other than visiting my family and making short trips to various places in the northwest, I don’t care much for traveling. I like to cook; I’ve tried a number of different recipes that take quite some time to cook. I like going to art galleries and festivals. I read some but much prefer to be on my feet doing things. I don’t watch much TV, mostly just the news and Trailblazers games. I still have many things on my list to do that I haven’t gotten to yet.
When you are considering retiring, I think it is important to plan out what you will do to keep yourself physically and mentally fit. Determining what your new routine will be is important. For me, it is important to not stay home for more than one day at a time. I need to be out around other people. You need something meaningful to do outside the home – such as volunteering for a non-profit group you believe in.
Biggest issue facing local government?
I would say the tax system. Financially, several city and county governments will not be able to sustain themselves without some drastic changes. Personally I believe a small sales tax like the one we proposed in Wood Village a number of years ago would be a good thing. All these visitors to Oregon who place demand on our services and don’t pay anything to support them, except for room tax if they should happen to stay in our lodging facilities, is not fair to our citizens. Of course the sales tax is affected by changing economic conditions so it should not be relied upon for basic operations. I also believe that changes to the property tax limitations are necessary.
What book are you reading?
“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a story about an Olympic runner who went to USC and ended up a POW during World War II.
Ever thought of coming out of retirement for one last run as a city manager?
No, I’m enjoying retirement with my time flexible to visit family out of town for as long as I want at a time. However, being a Range Rider is very important to me also. I love being still connected to city management, talking through issues with those still working in the field and hopefully being able to offer them some additional insight, attending the conferences and keeping up with current issues in the field.
I would be happy to do a project occasionally for a local government but I don’t care to work full-time again.