Friday, January 11, 2008

Interim administrator brings experience to post

Osterman looks to help transition in Sun Valley

Express Staff Writer

Jerry Osterman stands in front of his new office in Sun Valley City Hall, where he began his duties as interim city administrator on Jan. 3. Osterman estimated he will be with the city for three to five months. Photo by Jon Duval

The beginning of the new year brought with it a number of fresh faces at Sun Valley City Hall, including a new mayor and two council members.

As well, the city got its second interim administrator since Virginia Egger stepped down in June 2007.

Minimizing the inevitable unrest caused by the scale of the turnover is one of the main goals of Jerry Osterman, who replaced Bob Van Nort as interim city administrator on Jan. 3. City Clerk Kelly Ek said Van Nort's contract expired at the end of December.

The Washington native arrived in Sun Valley with no shortage of experience in the position, having first managed a city in 1977.

Even in this temporary scenario, Osterman is well versed, as this is the fourth time since 1999 that he has come out of retirement to take on interim administrator duties. With the search for a permanent administrator underway, Osterman estimated his tenure in Sun Valley will last between three and five months.

"It's like the old 'Godfather' line: 'Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in,'" Osterman said laughing, sitting at the desk he's occupied for one week. "The two year's rest was enough, so I put down the fishing rod and came."

After serving as interim administrator in the Washington cities of Lynden, Chelan and, most recently, Mountlake Terrace, Osterman is familiar with many of the challenges he will face. An avid motorcyclist, Osterman has ridden through every state in the nation and across Canada.

"Right now, to the staff I'm just the stranger from the west and there will always be some concern of the unknown," he said. "It's a matter of being sensitive and establishing trust."

So far, so good, according to Mayor Wayne Willich, who took over the city's top job Jan. 7.

"We're trying to get this place stabilized and really to catch our breath," Willich said of the beginning of his administration. "Jerry is fulfilling this function in spades—he's got great leadership and is very supportive, with plenty of suggestions stemming from his past experience."

Both Willich and Osterman made it clear that the latter's role will not be confined to the day-to-day obligations required to run the city, but will include working on some major issues while the search for his permanent replacement continues.

"A top priority is definitely to help the organization and transition in City Hall, helping the new elected officials with their skills," Osterman said. "But we're also trying to tackle the garbage collection issue and I am looking at the consultant's report on the consolidation of the Sun Valley and Ketchum fire and emergency services."

Willich echoed his new right-hand man, saying that the city has plenty of issues that will be carrying over to the new administration. Those include the future of the old gun club site and an appeal by Edge Wireless of a denial by the Planning and Zoning Commission of its application to erect a cell tower in Elkhorn.

Osterman said he's fortunate to come to a city with such competent staff, and that the transition of mayors occurred with the utmost professionalism and respect.

"Each city has what some people call 'problems,'" Osterman said. "I like to look at them as opportunities."

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