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Welcome back, Mr. Sykes

Our news last week that Mike Sykes, one of Scappoose’s native sons, would be taking over the role of city manager in Scappoose has been widely received as a positive development.

Indeed, we have yet to hear a negative word about Skyes’ imminent departure from his current role as city manager in Forest Grove, a city in western Washington County where Sykes had spent the past 10 years of his professional life, back to his hometown of Scappoose.

Just this week, in fact, a reader who infrequently has a kind word to say about the Spotlight commented, as she was exiting our office, about how pleased she was to read on last week’s front page that Sykes would be taking over as the Scappoose city manager.

We should also note that a respected colleague at the Forest Grove News-Times, a Pamplin Media Group-owned publication and sister newspaper to the Spotlight, has spoken highly of Sykes’ abilities and character.

We also are enthusiastic to find out what Sykes can do for the city. He brings a measure of creditability and stability to a situation that has been in flux since the City Council fired its former full-time city manager, Jon Hanken, more than a year ago under a cloud of controversy.

In addition to serving as a Columbia County commissioner from 1985 to 1995, Sykes has served as a Port of St. Helens commissioner, the port’s assistant manager, and the city administrator in Vernonia prior to taking the reins as city manager in Forest Grove.

Some Scappoose officials have stated their enthusiasm about Sykes’ background in economic development, expressing their interest in seeing how he can leverage that experience into a positive economic outcome for Scappoose.

Sykes would be a considerable first point of contact for businesses interested in setting up shop in Scappoose. We already know of two established retail corporations — O’Reilly Auto Parts and Bi-Mart Corp. — that have set their sights on Scappoose. Sykes would be a welcome resource to steer those businesses in for a landing.

Additionally, we are intrigued by the idea that Sykes could aid in the establishment of an economic development commission, such as exists in Forest Grove, to advise the City Council on economic development policy intended to aid Scappoose’s economic emergence from the Great Recession.

Once established, however, we would favor a model similar to Forest Grove’s in which an economic development coordinator, and not the city manager, would be the hands-on manager for the commission and its work product.

Beyond economic development, there are a few other, immediate qualities we would like to experience with the new city manager. They are:

n Transparency. We have been less than enthused with the city’s response to requests for records we believe would shed considerable light on city operations and actions during the police chief investigation. Some of the records we have sought are spending records regarding use of the city’s credit card — one would think that would be readily available for dissemination, though it hasn’t been — and the full report on the investigation tself. Though the records might not be flattering for current or former city officials, we believe Scappoose residents have a right to know how their city is managed. We expect improvement over the current status quo.

n Role awareness. The city of Scappoose is set up as a city manager government, per the city charter. As such, the city manager has full authority over staff, despite the City Council’s recent efforts to nose in on city staff assignments. We encourage Sykes to stick to the city’s charter, a voter-approved document that spells out the roles and authorities of the City Council and city manager, in such matters. If city councilors believe they should have more oversight over city staff, perhaps one of them would be willing to suggest a revision to the charter. Until that time, the city manager has, and should have, the final word on staffing issues.

n Proactive approach. We have always appreciated Hanken’s willingness to approach media outlets regarding potential problems or conflicts that would draw public interest. As such, we believe he was able to control a positive message for the city. We look forward to the return of a proactive relationship with the city.

While not a comprehensive list, we believe an immediate demonstration that shows Sykes’ places a value in transparency, his position as city manager in Scappoose’s government structure, and a willingness to not only serve as a liason between the City Council and staff, but also as a liason to the Scappoose public at large, will serve him well.

With that being said, we look forward to welcoming Sykes back to a professional role within Columbia County.

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