Six months ago, Eric Levison stepped into the role of mentor.
He has been employed by the City of Camas for three decades, and has served as the public works director for the past five years.
Steve Wall, 39, hired as the Camas utility manager in June 2014, was appointed to succeed the retiring Levison, 55, earlier this month.
Knowledge and perspectives passed from Levison to Wall have included a view into the city’s public works history — from the formation of the west side’s light industrial area to the intricacies involved in planning for the development of Grass Valley.
“It’s hard to let go, but it’s important to let go,” Levison said. “The history and context that I am trying to provide with that information gives the basis for why we got here, without trying to influence unduly where they are going.”
The unique transition period has been a positive experience for both men.
“It’s been great,” Wall said. “Not only is he public works director, but he’s been here 30 years. I’ve been able to pick his brain and get as much knowledge out of him as I can before he moves on to bigger and better things in his personal life.”
Levison, a Camas resident, will officially retire at the end of February.
He was living and working in Roseburg, Ore., when he was initially hired in Camas as an engineering technician. He steadily climbed the job ladder serving as project manager, engineering manger, operations manager and finally public works director starting in 2010.
Today, Levison describes his career with the city as both exciting and challenging.
“I look back over the 30 years and I’ve had five or six different jobs, they just happen to all be for Camas,” he said. “They were new challenges, new opportunities for me to learn and grow, so they each felt like new jobs.”
He recalls the immense amount of work and tight time lines required to bring semiconductor manufacturer WaferTech to Camas in 1997. The company built a one million-square-foot complex on a 260-acre site on Northwest Parker Street, creating 1,000 jobs.
“It was incredibly stressful and incredibly rewarding,” Levison said.
There have also been smaller, but meaningful projects like installing the paved path along Northwest 38th Avenue. It was completed in May 2001.
“We were able to convince council that there was a need,” Levison said. “We were able to find money to fund that — when there really wasn’t any. I feel like that not only provided this nice connectivity and routing, but probably saved a life of one of my friends. People bike through that area, families walk and runners run. It gave them a place to do that and not conflict with traffic.”
Lloyd Halverson, who served as Camas city administrator for 23 years until his retirement in 2013, said this kind of practical creativity has been a hallmark of Levison’s work.
“I enjoyed collaborating with Eric,” he said. “He is very bright and communicates well. He earned and had the confidence of others — including mayors, councils, peers and staff. His devotion to the city was a constant in more than three decades of work for Camas. I cherish the sense of teamwork, the excitement of many of the creative projects, and the feeling of common public purpose.”
Halverson said highlights of Levison’s achievements include balancing the existence of residential land next to property zoned and developed for technology uses near Underwriters Laboratories on Northwest Lake Road. The solution was a street storm water detention that fulfilled a need and provided a natural buffer between different land uses.
“His idea became the win-win solution desired by all the parties,” Halverson said. “His contribution was creative and practical at the same time.”
As of March 1, Levison will join the ranks of past public works directors who have significantly impacted how the city has developed during the past 20-plus years. Among them are Doug Quinn who left in 2003 and Monte Brachmann who retired in 2010.
“It’s a little surreal. There is always a certain amount of fear in saying, I’m going to step off the cliff and hope I don’t fall too far,” Levison said. “But at the same time, I don’t think I would have stepped without knowing things were heading in a good direction. It’s been great to be able to watch Steve over the last six months and see his capabilities, which are great.”
Wall, who grew up north of Spokane, graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in civil engineering. He worked as a consultant before being hired in Ridgefield’s public works department in 2005 as an engineer. He was then promoted to director in 2007.
Now as Camas’ public works director, he oversees 41 employees who work in divisions including parks/grounds, streets, storm water, sewer, sanitation/garbage, water and cemetery. He earns $9,118 per month, plus benefits.
“It was a great opportunity in a great community,” Wall said, describing what attracted him to the job in Camas. “Being in north county, a lot of times when we would talk about Clark County Camas seemed to be looked to as the model for good things that were happening and that they were about to make happen. That was a draw.”
Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said as the city went through the hiring process for the utility manager position, knowing that Levison could be retiring soon they kept the public works director seat in mind as well.
“We were hopeful in that interview process that we could at least have an eye toward somebody’s ability to grow and produce in that job,” he said. “From that we hired Steve Wall and he’s done a really great job for the city. We have full, 100 percent confidence that Steve is going to be able to walk into this position and be able to grow to carry on the fine tradition that Camas has of having first class star public works directors.”
Wall said he looks forward to that challenge.
“Looking back, they’ve all done great things,” he said. “I want to continue that legacy that they have built.”
Levison is ready to take his own next steps, which will include spending time with family and contemplating his next career challenge.
“Six months ago, this was a really scary decision,” he said. “It’s not now. I’ve done what I can for the city, and worked very hard over those 30 years to make this a very quality place to live. Now it’s someone else’s turn.”