Mike McKillip looks ahead at Tualatin with the perspective of 30-plus years

As Tualatin heads into its centennial year, The Times checks in with some of the city’s longest-serving city leaders and department heads, each of whom spent more than 30 years promoting Tualatin’s development.

When he retired, Mike McKillip had logged 32 years as Tualatin’s city engineer. He’s one of many in what he referred to as the “20-, 30-year club” — city employees who enjoyed more than two decades of service, and who have retired in the past five years.

Part of the charm of serving Tualatin, McKillip said, was that the young city was a kind of blank slate for those who approached its development in the mid-’70s to early-’80s. McKillip himself grew up in the Hollywood neighborhood of Portland, so his move to Tualatin in the late 1970s was not a geographically significant one. Culturally, however, he was placing himself in an influential position in a town on the brink of near-exponential development.

“When I first got here, the first two traffic signals at the I-5 interchange off-ramps had just gone in,” he recalled. “The apartments just up the hill there were just completing. There was nothing on the other side of 65th (Avenue) except for the hospital, which was about a quarter of the size that it is now. The city going west stopped at Teton (Avenue).”

“I think the reason so many of us stayed so long is, every day was a new day. There were never two projects that were the same,” McKillip explained.

“I can’t think of anywhere else that had that kind of opportunity,” he added.

Starting on the brink

McKillip joined Tualatin’s team after spending a few years working for the Oregon Department of Transportation straight out of college. Working for such a large organization meant he often felt stuck on one aspect of a project, “whereas if you work for a smaller city, why, you could just do everything. From conception to the operation of (projects),” he said.

What made these projects all the more exciting was the lack of old infrastructure in Tualatin. The core of the young city was, McKillip recalls, essentially brand new.

With the establishment of Tualatin’s urban growth boundary in 1978, it became clear the city would quickly fill up with new residential and commercial developments. As city engineer, McKillip oversaw the Engineering and Building Department, giving him a front row seat to Tualatin’s quick population growth. He and his department were tasked with reviewing subdivision and construction plans, reviewing building permit requests, managing consultants and juggling the intricacies of anything related to engineering and transportation, down to the water and sewer infrastructures.

McKillip chuckles as he recalls local reactions to the booming growth.

“When we were approving a couple subdivisions a month, we would have people show up and complain that the growth was out of control,” he said. “But they were living in the subdivision that was just approved six months before.”

McKillip saw Tualatin sign its long-term contract with the Portland Water District, an agreement that continues to this day. Though it’s easy to take for granted, McKillip points out this significant rite of passage for the then-up-and-coming Tualatin: the simple victory of guaranteeing the city would never run out of such an essential resource.

Looking ahead

While he feels the city’s development is on track, he regrets the 2010 decision by Tualatin’s Central Renewal District to stop collecting tax revenue. In McKillip’s opinion, this changed the city’s direction, specifically regarding downtown development.

“You don’t have the money to put into the new projects, or work with people on joint projects,” he said.

McKillip has lunch once a month with other members of the “20- and 30-year club,” including former director of operations Dan Boss, former director of human resources Nancy McDonald, former city attorney Brenda Braden and recently retired office coordinator Carol Rutherford, just to name a few.

The group meets at Applebee’s and rarely talks shop.

Looking back on his long, eventful career as city engineer, McKillip has few regrets.

“I got to do it for 32 years, and we got to do things that nobody else is ever going to get to do,” he said. “And it’s somebody else’s turn.”

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