Friday, July 11, 2008

Putting the Hammer down in Sun Valley

New City Administrator is all smiles in City Hall

Express Staff Writer

Sharon Hammer took over as the new Sun Valley city administrator on June 23. The cityís top staff position hasnít been filled full-time since June 2007. Photo by Mountain Express

Despite being sick during her first week on the job, new Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer couldn't be happier stepping into a position that hasn't been filled since last June.

Hammer took over as the city's top staffer on June 23, almost a year after Virginia Egger stepped down.

In the interim, the role was filled first by Bob Van Nort, then Jerry Osterman, who lent a helping hand since January.

Of the latter, Hammer is especially grateful.

"Jerry left everything in great shape," Hammer said in an interview Wednesday. "In fact, his system for filing the major issues was so helpful that I felt it necessary to do the same at my last job."

Hammer hopes that the experience from that job will serve her well in Sun Valley.

For the past 10 years, Hammer was the manager for Oak Park Township, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

"Right now that's the toughest part," Hammer said of her transition between the two municipalities. "I was so familiar with Oak Park that I had my own institutional memory."

Hammer is stepping in during the city's budgeting process for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. While this might sound far from ideal, Hammer insists this is one of many aspects of public administration she enjoys.

"It's great to have a council and mayor that care this much about the process," said Hammer, 44, who holds a master's degree in public administration as well as a law degree. "They're really putting a lot of time into it."

Before moving into city administration, she worked as chief legal council for Carbondale, Ill., and worked in private practice prior to that.

However, Hammer said that after delving into the private practice on more than one occasion, she found that her ambition lay in the public sector.

"I just really like what I do and have found a great work/life balance," Hammer said, the remnants of her home state Tennessee accent still audible. "I believe this can be difficult for people to achieve."

For Hammer, an avid hiker and climber, the chance to move west was a major attraction to the position.

"I've wanted to live out here for so long," said Hammer, who summited 14,410-foot Mount Rainier last summer.

Hammer and her husband, Jim Donoval, who will remain in Chicago working as an attorney through the summer, have rented an apartment at Dollar Meadows, a condominium complex near City Hall.

Hammer said she has already taken advantage of nearby Proctor and Bald mountains, and has bought a trail guide to help her explore the area throughout the summer.

Just as she's getting used to her natural surroundings, Hammer said that she's doing likewise in City Hall.

"I'm still figuring out my role, as there's both an organizational management piece and the City Council piece," Hammer said. "Right now I'm just talking with people about what we've done in the past and what we want to do."

Hammer said that she's fortunate to step in when the city is in such good shape, with no crisis such as last summer's Castle Rock Fire.

The praise that Hammer has heaped upon Sun Valley's city officials and staff was reciprocated by Council President Nils Ribi.

"She absolutely seems like a good fit," Ribi said on Wednesday. "I've been really impressed—she understands the budget aspect and financially responsibility faced by the city, which is something we've needed in Sun Valley."

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