Now retired, Tualatins director of operations was witness to change

Over the past two years, many of Tualatin’s longtime city leaders and department managers have retired. As the city marks its centennial year, The Times is speaking with some of the influential players who have each devoted more than 30 years to building Tualatin into what it is today.

Dan Boss served for 34 years as operations director for the city. As he put it, “Pretty much everything the city owned, our group took care of and either operated or maintained.”

Boss retired last October, just three months shy of Tualatin’s 100-year anniversary as an incorporated city. Still, Boss knows the backstory of the public fixtures that keep the city running but which are easy to take for granted. Keeping the city operational for more than 30 years means Boss has had a unique perspective on Tualatin’s growth.

So, his included such responsibilities as recording the location of all of the city’s fire hydrants, which, in the 1980s, was not required or even common practice. From the start, Boss’s tasks have proved instrumental to keeping the young, booming city running: When he first stepped into the position of operations director, he said, Tualatin’s insurance provider was threatening to drop the city’s coverage due to a sewer system that was in a state of disrepair. Boss’ solution was to implement a plan to thoroughly clean a third of the sewer systems each year.

Detail-oriented leadership

In addition to overseeing a department that had grown to a staff of 28 full-time employees by the time Boss retired, he found himself stepping into a leadership position in 1990 when then-mayor Steve Stolze called for an emergency disaster plan to be put into place.

Such contingency plans are required now, but 20 years ago, this was seen as a pioneering move, Boss said.

“Our department got tasked to be the lead,” he said. “I was made the city’s emergency manager as part of my job.”

Boss sat down with representatives from the county, Tualatin Police Department and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue to collaborate on a list of the 11 most likely worst-case scenarios that could hit Tualatin, including floods, severe winter storms, earthquakes and even volcanic eruption — the 1980 Mount St. Helens disaster was still fresh in everyone’s mind, he explained.

A coordinated process of response was established for each disaster. At the time, there was no national standard for disaster response, so Boss and his colleagues opted to use the incident command system — now a national standard — to allow various departments to work together in response to residents’ needs.

City employees were then trained within assigned disaster-response roles, Boss said. Tigard was involved in an agreement to share manpower and resources should further disaster relief be needed.

The city made good use of the resulting Emergency Management Plan during the windstorm of 1995 and the floods of 1996 and 1997. But the Operations Department has proved integral even during man-made disasters: Boss recalled his staff’s role in logistical support during the 2009 shooting at a Legacy laboratory, which left two people dead and two others seriously injured.

“It became a huge crime scene,” Boss recalled, and as police tried to sort through the day’s events, darkness was beginning to set in. His team aided law enforcement by providing tents and outdoor lighting for police staging areas. As rush hour loomed, Boss attempted to mitigate the traffic congestion that resulted from having both Martinazzi Avenueand Boones Ferry Road closed.

“We’ve always played as a team across the city,” Boss said. “During the flood, the police were out there the whole time with us when it was more of a public works show later on.”

Spirit of collaboration

Tualatin’s population grew rapidly during Boss’ tenure, and it became clear the city could not afford to be too insular. Thirty years ago, Boss said, few mutual aid agreements existed outside of Washington County’s police departments, making it difficult for Tualatin to work with neighboring cities like Tigard and Sherwood. This negatively impacted not only disaster response, but efficient public works projects as well.

In the early 1990s, the city attempted to respond to then-governor Barbara Roberts’ concerns that the state’s public agencies failed to work together efficiently. Boss suggested a countywide approach to such collaboration.

The resulting Washington County Agreement addressed funding and liability issues related to inter-city projects and disaster response, Boss said. This has simplified how cities are able to pay each other for services and has allowed cities to “trade” resources as a form of compensation.

It is, in short, a very neighborly approach.

“There’s a lot of times where Tigard might do something for Tualatin, and Tualatin does something for Sherwood, and Sherwood does something for Tigard,” Boss explained. “It comes out in the wash.”

By Boss’ estimate, the agreement has also saved Tualatin hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The agreement has also landed Boss’ department some exciting projects, including retrofitting a variety of vehicles owned by Sherwood, Hillsboro and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The Operations Department has its own mechanic shop, where the Tualatin Police Department’s new squad cars are outfitted with cages, elaborate wiring systems, consoles and radio equipment. Boss even oversaw decaling.

If his department gained a solid reputation countywide for its mechanical and auto body work, it was by necessity: City departments have always had to compete with the private sector, Boss said.

On the road

One of Boss’ proudest accomplishments was improving Tualatin’s roadways and helping the city achieve a high Pavement Condition Index rating, as determined by Oregon Department of Transportation criteria.

In 1989, he worked with the city to establish a road utility system to fund road building and maintenance. At the time, the only revenue source for road improvement projects was a local gas tax, which fell short of bringing in the estimated $300,000 needed to maintain decent road conditions.

“It’s three to five times more expensive to rebuild a road than it is to maintain it,” Boss said, and even for a city as young as Tualatin, the cracks were beginning to show.

Road utility fees are calculated by the number of trips a home or business generates. Boss said that living in a single-family home, he pays $1.42 each month in fees; the Fred Meyer location on Martinazzi Avenue pays approximately $1,800 each month, he said.

“We’ve been collecting (fees) since 1990,” Boss said. “It now generates almost $700,000 each year for road maintenance.”

After three decades of public service, Boss has hardly slowed down for retirement. He continues to teach leadership courses through the Northwest Public Works Institute and volunteers regularly with the Schoolhouse Pantry program.

And he makes a point of enjoying the roads he helped maintain. Last year, as an early Father’s Day gift to himself, Boss bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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