After 15 years with city, county

by: Photo by Holly M. Gill - Madras City Administrator Mike Morgan, whose last day is Dec. 14, jokes with friends at a party in his honor last week.

   Colleagues, employees, friends and family came together last week to celebrate the 15 years Mike Morgan spent leading first county, and then city government.
   Morgan, 63, whose last day as city administrator is Dec. 14, started work as the county's first administrator in December 1996.
   "It was a totally new position," said Bill Bellamy, former county commissioner. "He's been a hell of an asset for the county -- and the city. He really did morph the County Commission into what it is today."
   Recalling the county's attempts to lure Morgan to Jefferson County, Rick Allen, former commissioner and former Madras mayor, said that Morgan was the top candidate, but asked for a higher salary in order to consider moving his family to Madras. The county finally agreed and drew up a contract.
   At the time, Morgan had been working for 11 years as a circuit rider -- similar to a city administrator -- for six small towns in Wyoming, which required him to spend long hours away from home.
   "I'd put the kids to bed on Sunday night, and wouldn't see them until Saturday morning," said Morgan, who was pleased to be able to work more regular hours in his new job.
   Morgan was at the county's helm for the expansion of Juniper Hills Park, the construction of a new county law enforcement center on Cherry Lane, and the planning of the Madras prison.
   In 2004, when the internal interactions of the County Commission had become contentious, and one of the three commissioners was supporting a salary cap for county employees, Morgan announced that he would accept the position of Madras city administrator.
   Rick Allen, who was mayor at the time, said he approached Morgan to offer him the job, and felt fortunate that Morgan accepted, and the council confirmed the selection.
   "The county's temporary insanity was the city's good fortune," said Madras Mayor Melanie Widmer, who was a city councilor at the time.
   "He's had a hand in most of the good things that have happened in Madras in the last decade," said Widmer, listing city and county projects, including the Migrant Head Start, the Madras Urban Renewal District, the Madras Aquatic Center, Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, and Madras Cinema 5.
   Other projects completed during his years with the city include the Jefferson Park Business Center in 2005, the Madras Aviation Building in 2006, the first phase of Yarrow in 2007, the expansion of Sahalee Park and the South Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2008, the city hangar which houses Butler Aircraft in 2010, and the Central Oregon Community College Madras campus and Canyon East farmworker housing earlier this year.
   In 2012, the city has cleared the way for the construction of a new city hall/police station and an expansion at Mountain View Hospital.
   "The community's losing a real asset," said Bob Lovlien, former Madras city attorney. "It's been a treat to work with him all these years. He's just kept the city on the right track."
   Former Deschutes County Commissioner Dennis Luke told those gathered that he and Morgan had gone through the Portland State University Master of Public Administration program at the same time, and had attended many state and regional meetings.
   "He's been a huge asset to the state and regional," said Luke.
   As administrator, Morgan has also been at the center of many controversies.
   Laughing about rumors that he and Morgan conspired to force their plans on the community, Rick Allen thanked Morgan for "being a mentor and a friend," and catching "the flak."
   "Mike Morgan truly has changed this community," said Allen. "This town is different today because of him. The county is different because of him."
   Continuing the conspiracy theme, Councilor Royce Embanks joked about claims that Morgan is the puppetmaster behind the City Council, but instead credited Morgan with helping the city "define the issues."
   With Morgan's leadership, said Embanks, "We've gone in a positive and dynamic way. We get a clear picture of what our decision is (about). You kind of kept the council headed in the right direction."
   Morgan brushed aside the praise, noting, "It's really about everyone. It always makes me smile when I hear the puppetmaster thing; I don't have the market on brains. How we support each other makes it work."
   With input from two community panels, in November, the Madras City Council interviewed three candidates from a field of 58 and named Gus Burril as Morgan's successor. Burril, who is currently the director of the Madras Public Works Department, will take over as city administrator on Dec. 19.
   Morgan, who has praised Burril's administrative skills, also expressed his admiration for the volunteers who serve on the councils and boards that guide the city.
   "You will make Gus a success, and you will be a success," he said.
   Summing up the council's feelings about the outgoing administrator, Widmer told Morgan, "We'll miss your wisdom, your leadership, and your crazy sense of humor."
   "It's sad to see him go," she added, "but he's leaving Madras in a really good position to be successful."
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