Gresham passes on Camas’ Jamal Fox, names new city manager

Mayor: City administrator ‘decided to pursue other opportunities’

Nina Vetter will take over as the city of Gresham's next city manager in June 2021. (Contributed photo courtesy of the city of Gresham)

The city of Gresham, Oregon, has not selected Camas City Administrator Jamal Fox to be its next city manager.

Fox, who began his position in Camas eight months ago, was one of three candidates being considered for the top Gresham post.

In a news release issued Monday, May 3, Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall said the city council had decided Nina Vetter, a city administrator from Colorado who has worked in local and federal government since 2009, would take over as Gresham’s city manager in June.

“After thoughtfully considering the priorities of our Council, the needs of our employees, and the input from the community, we believe that Ms. Vetter’s skills will be critical to moving us forward,” Stovall stated in the news release.

Gresham leaders had interviewed city manager candidates in early 2021, but later reopened the search and had 37 candidates apply before the March 22 deadline.

Stovall held a virtual community forum on April 21, to introduce Gresham residents to the city’s top three candidates: Fox, Vetter and Patrick Quinton, a former director at Prosper Portland.

If Gresham leaders had selected Fox, the city of Camas would have found itself searching for a city administrator for the second time in less than a year and a half.

Camas Director of Communications Bryan Rachal said in April that Fox “has been pursued by multiple municipalities.”

“Knowing what type of leader Jamal is, we completely understand why. Jamal’s skills, talent and leadership have been much appreciated and they have been an important part of the success the City has experienced during the pandemic. While we are saddened to possibly lose Jamal to another city, we’re also excited for the opportunity for him and his family,” Rachal said.

Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell told the Post-Record in April that Fox had decided to pursue “other opportunities” for personal reasons.

“We appreciate that while the decision is tough, he has to do what’s best for his family,” McDonnell said of Fox. “We’ve been through a similar situation and our leadership team stepped up and will do so again.”

“We will retain the quality of services that the community is used to and we will work to find a new city administrator that will help continue the smart growth we have going on in Camas,” McDonnell added. “We appreciate all of the work that Jamal has done. He showed up every day and gave it 100 percent, and that’s all we could ask for.”

City announced Fox’s hire in July 2020, after 7-month search

Camas leaders began their most recent city administrator search in early 2020, after then-city administrator Pete Capell, who had run the city’s day-to-day business since 2013, announced his retirement in December 2019, saying the city’s change in mayoral leadership had prompted him to reconsider his role with the city of Camas.

In January 2020, Camas City Council members mulled the proposals of three executive-search consultant firms — with costs ranging from $18,000 to $28,000 — and agreed to hire Waldron, an executive search firm with offices in Portland and Seattle, to lead the hunt for a new city administrator.

Although Waldron had detailed an 18-week process that included community open houses and interviews with key stakeholders, McDonnell said in June 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic had put that timeline on hold.

“We’re still moving along,” McDonnell told the Post-Record in June 2020. “Hopefully, we will be able to meet in person in July.”

Less than one month later, on July 20, 2020, the mayor announced in a video posted to the city’s YouTube channel that he had selected Fox, then the deputy chief of staff to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, to be Camas’ next city administrator.

Fox began his position with the city of Camas on Aug. 31, 2020.

Fox told McDonnell in the YouTube video that he and his wife were looking forward to moving to Camas with their 14-month-old son.

“We wanted a place to lay our roots and grow our family. Camas was that community,” Fox said in the July 2020 video. “It (has) that small-town, family-niche feeling … It just felt like home.”

Under the city’s mayor-council form of government, the city administrator oversees the day-to-day business of the city at the direction of the mayor. The city administrator is Camas’ highest paid city employee, with an annual salary ranging from $143,400 to $171,768 in 2021.

Fox did not respond to the Post-Record’s request for comment.

Asked about the recent news regarding Gresham’s decision to pass over Fox for its top city manager job, Camas Communications Director Bryan Rachal said the city of Camas would “continue business as usual.”

“Our residents always come first, and they always will,” Rachel said.