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Brian Sjothun

Sjothun named city manager

Medford Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun has been named Medford city manager, bringing to a close a year-plus effort by the City Council to fill the position.

Sjothun (pronounced SHOW-tune) started working for the city as recreation superintendent in March 2004, and then was named Parks and Recreation director in August 2004.

The 53-year-old Medford resident said he doesn't foresee any drastic changes as he steps into the new position. The previous city manager, Eric Swanson, was criticized by councilors for over-managing the council and making a number of high-profile department head changes, including firing former fire Chief Dave Bierweiler.

"A good leader listens and learns, and then leads," Sjothun said. "The council will need to know if there are any changes, and they will need to be well-justified."

Sjothun said he plans to work closely with the council on issues and sees his role and the role of other city employees as carrying out the policy decisions set by the council.

"It's not our job to advocate," he said. "Let them set the policy."

As a City Hall insider, Sjothun is familiar with the many departments that provide city services. He said more needs to be done to give the council tools to work through complicated issues of policy.

"Us, as staff, have not done enough to provide options to the council," he said.

Sjothun has signed a contract with the city, but it will not be ratified until the council votes formal approval on Sept. 1. He expects to start his new job Sept. 6.

As parks director, Sjothun has a salary of $118,500, which will increase to $152,000 as city manager, slightly more than the $145,008 Swanson received. Sjothun also will receive a $500-a-month vehicle allowance. The contract gives him the option to return to his existing parks director position within nine months.

Rob Patridge, who was previously considered for the city manager position, had agreed to a salary of $157,100 as his base pay. The council decision to offer the job to Patridge was vetoed by Mayor Gary Wheeler, who said Patridge, the current Klamath County district attorney, did not have the necessary administrative experience.

Sjothun said the salary level was not an issue.

"Money is not a driving force for me," Sjothun said. "Medford is where I want to stay and retire."

He said he's been preparing for the role of city manager for the past four years.

During his time with Parks and Recreation, Sjothun has overseen the creation of new city parks and the construction of U.S. Cellular Community Park in south Medford.

Prior to working in Medford, Sjothun spent 16 years with the Woodburn Recreation & Parks Department.

Wheeler said Sjothun should be up to speed on a lot of city operations and issues and has experience putting city budgets together. Wheeler said those skills will come in handy as the city deals with complex financial pressures such as expected hikes in the city's contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System.

"Brian's in a good position to help the city," Wheeler said. "He knows the lay of the land."

Over the years, Wheeler said he found that Sjothun always came prepared to the council when he presented topics related to Parks and Recreation.

Wheeler said he thinks Sjothun will keep the council well informed about ongoing issues and any personnel changes.

"I'm assuming he will work with the council," he said. "He will keep us in the loop if something is controversial."

The city conducted a 14-month search for a new city manager and paid consulting firm Waters and Company of Texas $24,500 to vet candidates and help in the selection process.

Wheeler said he thinks the money was well spent even though the city eventually hired from within.

"Sjothun did apply," Wheeler said. "That was part of the process. Waters and Company did exactly what they were supposed to do."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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