Russell Kirkpatrick will take over as Vale city manager in March. (Submitted photo)

VALE – When Russell Kirkpatrick heard about the open city manager job in Vale, he wasn’t sure where the town was.

But he knew one thing: he wanted to step into a city manager position somewhere soon.

Kirkpatrick, 63, was in Yerington, Nevada, finishing up an assistant city manager internship last fall when his boss, City Manager Robert Switzer, made an announcement.

“I got the job for you,” he said, filling in Kirkpatrick on the slot in Vale.

Kirkpatrick, from Bentonville, Arkansas, said he was intrigued.

It turned out Switzer knew something of Malheur County. He had lived in Vale as a youth and his stepfather lives in Ontario.

“I know the town and you’ll love it,” Switzer assured Kirkpatrick.

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Kirkpatrick applied and in February he journeyed to Vale to interview with the city’s eight-member hiring committee.

Kirkpatrick was well prepared when he came to interview, said City Councilor Christine Phillips.

“He had done his homework on Vale. He studied our economy, had driven around,” said Phillips.

Phillips, who was part of the hiring committee, said Kirkpatrick’s life experience also played a role in his selection.

“He is a veteran and a very disciplined person and I think he really brings some really great ideas and has experience with grant writing. He is just really balanced,” said Phillips.

The hiring committee sifted through about a dozen applications – including some local people – for the slot, said Phillips.

“It was a pretty intense process,” said Phillips.

Phillips said after the initial interview with Kirkpatrick, the hiring committee followed up with more questions via email and over the phone. Phillips said Kirkpatrick made it clear his sights were set on Vale. He said he had studied the town “and this is where I want to live and work,” Phillips recalled.

The city offered the job to Kirkpatrick Feb. 19 and he accepted that same day. His salary will be $72,000.

Katie Lamb, the current city manager, will stay on until May to help with the transition, she said.

Kirkpatrick said last week he was already packing and eager to get started.

“I got lucky and I feel fortunate to be able to come to Oregon,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick, the son of a Union Pacific railroad executive, grew up in Nebraska and joined the U.S. Navy out of high school. After a four-year stint in the service he began a career in law enforcement that included time in Nebraska and Texas before he moved to Arizona to work as a finance manager.

Then, at 58, Kirkpatrick decided he wanted a change. He received a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in public administration from Bellevue University in Nebraska. He is also a master scuba diving instructor. Kirkpatrick said he decided to focus on public administration for a straightforward reason.

“I had worked as a chief of police and a police officer for a city manager and I was thinking they can’t be any smarter than me and they made a whole lot more money,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick said he has some ideas regarding economic development he wants to focus on, though he did not go into detail.

“I have to talk to the council first,” he said.

Kirkpatrick said he believes part of his job is to be accountable to city residents.

“My first rule is transparency and communication, period. I am subject to the mayor and the city council and the people vote for them. So, I mean, it isn’t a hard concept. Just be transparent and have good communication and there will never be a problem,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick will begin work March 16.

“He’s just right for the position,” said Lamb.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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