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Astoria city manager to step down

ASTORIA — After 15 years with the city, Astoria City Manager Brett Estes is stepping down.

He said Wednesday that he will be taking on the role of North Coast regional representative with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, a job previously held by Lisa Phipps.

Estes’ last day is July 4.

The job change marks a return to Estes’ planning roots.

Estes was hired as Astoria’s community development director in 2007. He later added the duties of assistant city manager and then took on the job of city manager in 2014. As city manager, he runs day-to-day operations. He is the only city employee the City Council is tasked with hiring.

In his new role with the state, Estes will work with jurisdictions from the midcoast up to Astoria and into Columbia County on how to address statewide planning goals. The job also involves acting as a sort of conduit between local planning departments and the state.

His departure comes as the city continues to tackle difficult issues and as other cities struggle to fill vacancies. The city of Warrenton has been unable to fill its soon-to-be vacant city manager position despite a months-long search and job offers to one candidate.

But Estes noted he will leave Astoria with the next fiscal year’s budget already in place. He will be part of several key City Council discussions in coming weeks, including meetings to refine complicated ordinances to address homelessness issues in the city.

While he wants to leave the recruitment discussion to the City Council, Estes believes the next city manager should be someone who brings an innovative approach.

“We’ve got a really good set of employees who work very hard to be able to serve the citizens of Astoria,” Estes said. “Many times there are some tough issues that we have to address and Astoria has never been a community to sit on the sidelines and just watch the world go by — that there’s always the need to be able to look in and be innovative and be proactive in trying to address issues.”

Estes says the decision to leave the city manager job did not arise out of any specific issues or frustrations.

He was not searching for a new job, but the opportunity with the state came up and caused him to reexamine his own professional goals.

As a regional representative on the coast, he will continue to live in Astoria, but he will work in a variety of communities and be exposed to new planning issues.

Mayor Bruce Jones expressed his gratitude and support for Estes, saying the city manager is “extraordinarily effective and competent in overseeing the complete range of city operations.”

“In terms of the timing, I can’t say that now is any worse timing than any other to lose a city manager and bring somebody new aboard,” Jones told KMUN. “If it was last year or the year before, we’d say, ‘Well, it’s in the middle of the pandemic and that’s going to be hard.’”

The year before that, there was the complicated Riverfront Vision Plan discussions about development along the Astoria waterfront.

“So, there’s always something,” Jones said. “The city’s a busy place. … There’s really no time that’s better than another.”

Given the tight hiring pool in evidence elsewhere, Jones expects the process of finding Estes’ replacement could take some time. The city will likely need to seek out an interim city manager as they search for a qualified candidate.

The City Council is expected to discuss the transition and details about a city manager search in an executive session next week.