By Stephen Floyd
Mark Daniel was already a man of many hats when he became interim city manager of Mt. Angel on Sept. 1.
The police chief/emergency manager/firefighter/EMT/DJ knew it was an unusual choice to add city administration to his many responsibilities. But the last four months have shown he was up to the task, with the coming year holding the potential for many goals to progress or see completion under his leadership.
The position of city manager was vacated in August when former City Manager Kevin Cronin left Mt. Angel. Daniel previously filled in for Cronin during a two-week vacation, so it was no surprise when officials and community members encouraged him to serve on an interim basis.
Daniel said he turned to city managers he’d worked with during his previous job as a police captain in Sherwood, which he left in 2017 to become chief in Mt. Angel, and they offered the same guidance.
“The biggest piece of advice was to surround yourself with great people and listen to what they say and take care of them,” said Daniel, who added city staff were already exceptional when he took the role. “In Mt. Angel, that’s not a stretch.”
Daniel’s job as police chief helped him hit the ground running, since many goals for the city manager’s office run parallel to the police department. Though each uses different methods and standards, both strive to make the city safer and more livable.
Daniel said the key in both positions was communication with staff, department heads, city officials and community members, making sure he’s not just gathering information but actively paying attention to concerns.
“I need the help from everybody out there, and you can’t do that if you’re not communicating, and if you’re not listening,” he said.
One specific goal for his office which requires resident input is how Mt. Angel should use roughly $800,000 in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), intended to alleviate financial stress on public institutions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we’d like to do is basically communicate with the community and ask them – because it’s their community – what they think is an important project for us to accomplish using these ARPA funds,” he said.
Daniel said one option is to tackle items on the Infrastructure Task Force to-do list, including replacement and expansion of 1,800 feet of sewer line along East Marquam Street, but he wants to hear what citizens propose as well.
“There’s a number of projects that I can see coming out of that that would be very, very beneficial to the community,” he said.
A broad range of projects can be funded through ARPA, though exclusions include payments to pension funds, repayment of loans, investing in capital reserves and general infrastructure spending unrelated to water, sewer and broadband internet.
Safe streets, better homes
Other upcoming projects include improvements to pedestrian safety and residential zoning.
The city has partnered with Mt. Angel School District to apply for a Safe Routes to School grant, which would provide funds for improved safety crossings, traffic signs and sidewalks throughout town. Daniel said a study of how kids and parents walk to school was recently completed and a report of the study’s findings is expected by this spring, which will identify specific locations of concern and possible solutions.
If approved, the grant funds would be made available in the next year or two, Daniel said.
The city also plans to improve pedestrian safety along East College Street and Towers Lane after residents expressed concerns about the potentially-dangerous intersection. Daniel said the city conducted a traffic study that showed additional signage and lighting would make the intersection safer to cross, and he plans to propose funding for this in the next budget.
Additionally, Mt. Angel is working with the state to create a long-term plan for residential development. Daniel said Mt. Angel is low on developable residential land, especially with new subdivisions under way, meaning the city needs to reexamine its plans for growth.
“Do we need to increase our [Urban Growth Boundary]?” said Daniel. “What do we need to do to be able to provide areas for more housing and more affordable housing and what does that really look like for the city?”
To answer these questions, Mt. Angel is working with the Department of Land Conservation & Development on an audit of potential housing development options, the results of which will help the city amend its comprehensive plan and account for long-term growth.
Building on success
In addition to numerous city manager goals, Daniel said he is using his new position to carry forward projects he began as police chief.
He said he has spent the last four years making code enforcement a high priority, as nuisance properties diminished quality of life in town. He said, when his officers took more time to follow up on complaints and hold property owners accountable, they began receiving more reports of violations, which Daniel saw as a sign that the community was more confident in the city.
“I think the public trusts us more today than they did before, that we will actually listen, that we will actually go out and will take care of business within our community,” he said.
His work with code enforcement inspired Daniel to propose updates to related city ordinances. He is currently working with the city attorney to draft a bill he can present to the council. Daniel said his initial goal was to start from the ground up, but legal counsel has encouraged him to examine existing city codes and look for areas to improve.
In a related decision, the council updated city code on Dec. 6 after Daniel proposed changes to parking regulations, another project he began as chief. He said the old ordinance was written in a way that people who abandoned vehicles or parked them long-term in public areas had legal wiggle room and the city struggled to enforce its own codes.
“We adopted a code that will kind of remove some of the gameplay that certain members of the community like to use to their advantage to usurp code to keep those vehicles on the street,” said Daniel.
The new ordinance specifically defines where parked vehicles are and are not allowed, except in the event of an emergency, and outlines specific steps for enforcement including and up to impoundment.
Outside of working with the city, Daniel plans to reach out to business leaders to discuss the curb appeal of Mt. Angel and other matters that could attract new visitors and residents.
He said cooperation between businesses and community groups such as the Mt. Angel Chamber of Commerce, in addition to support from Marion County and other agencies, could help generate the kinds of ideas that will help the city succeed.
“I want to involve the chamber, I want to involve business to help us out through that project,” he said.
He said signage projects and city beautification are among goals he plans to put forward.
When asked how long he expects to serve as interim city manager, Daniel said he does not have a timeframe. The council has selected a recruiter to begin seeking candidates, however, Daniel said there are numerous city manager positions open and it may take time to attract a qualified candidate.
Thay does not bother Daniel. He said he is content in his new role and would rather the city take time and find the right person.
“I feel very good doing what I’m doing right now, and I feel happy doing what I’m doing,” he said. “We don’t have to be in a big hurry.”
Daniel said whoever becomes city manager full-time will need to learn not only the ins and outs of City Hall but also the inner workings of the community. He said small towns have a distinct character that newcomers shouldn’t be afraid to embrace.
“Everybody knows everybody here, and to that end I think that it’s really important for somebody to come in to respect that culture,” said Daniel.
He added, though Mt. Angel has a rich history from Native Americans to Gold Rush settlers to Benedictine monks, the true history can’t be found on a Google search but comes from the stories and perspectives residents share.
“Learn first-hand, talk with people, be open and willing to listen,” he said.
At the end of the day, Daniel said serving as interim city manager continues to be a valuable learning experience. Between support from his staff and community members, he sees Mt. Angel doing well in 2022 and beyond.
“We’re getting work done with the city,” he said. “We’re looking at doing new things.”