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Tigards decision maker retires

City manager Craig Prosser says the job was at times frustrating, but mostly fun

TIGARD - City Manager Craig Prosser refers to himself as a 'crotchety old man' but many in the city will remember him as the jolly laid-back man with the infectious laugh and a passion for city government.

Prosser retired this week ending a career in Tigard that spanned more than a dozen years.

'I was talking to a friend the other day and said 'you know, retirement is a lot like a Saturday,' the 61-year-old Prosser said, relaxing at a Tigard coffee shop Tuesday in a Hawaiian shirt. 'I was out running errands and kept thinking 'now I need to go here and here' and realized 'no I don't. I can do that tomorrow.''

For Prosser, who was appointed city manager in 2005 after six years as the city's finance director, it's the end of a job he called 'the best of his career.'

'I must admit I've had a terrible urge to call into the office today and see how things are going,' he said. 'But I won't let myself do that.'

As city manager, Prosser was responsible for all of the day-to-day operations of the city and staff, and advised the City Council and mayor.

But Prosser was nervous of working in city government originally, he said.

'I felt local government was too close to the people,' Prosser said, 'and you have to deal with sewers and streets and all this mundane stuff.'

But after Prosser started working for the city of Portland in 1975, he quickly changed his mind.

'It turns out it's really interesting,' he said. 'You are having to deal with real people, which can be more frustrating, but it is a lot more fun.'

Prosser's list of accomplishments as city manager includes forming both the city's first urban renewal district and the Tigard-Lake Owego water partnership, as well as starting major improvements along Pacific Highway and Burnham Street, paving the way for future annexation on Roy Rogers Road and bringing high capacity transit to Tigard, which could see a MAX line through town in the next several years.

The low point in his career came when the city laid off 11 people in April 2010, a time when Prosser said he 'never felt so powerless.'

'And I was the guy who had to make the decision to do it,' he said. 'I wanted to stop it, but I couldn't.'

However, those cutbacks got the city through the worst of the recession and put the city in better financial shape, Prosser said.

'Some other cities are starting to cut back now, but I don't think cutting to the level they need to,' Prosser said. 'They say 'Oh, my this is so terrible, what are we going to do?' They can see the future as much as I can, just bite the bullet and do what needs to be done.'

And the hard times aren't over for Tigard, Prosser said.

'We're in big trouble,' he said. 'I see the economy getting worse and how are we going to manage through (that)? High capacity transit is a major price tag and everybody else in the region has relied heavily on federal funds that simply won't be there.'

Prosser said that could mean the potential MAX project could be lengthened by several years or canceled completely.

Yet those decisions are still years away, and will be left up to the future city manager. The City Council is currently searching for the right candidate with Interim City Manager Liz Newton filling the role until then.

Prosser said that the next city manager needs to have an understanding of the unique politics of the Portland-metropolitan area and be able to see the big picture.

'You have got to understand how to work with people to help the staff be all that they can,' he said. 'We're fortunate because we have a lot of really good people in Tigard.'

The city has hired Alliance Resource Consulting to find candidates for the position, which is expected to be filled this fall.