City Manager Philip Morley helps bring municipality’s dreams into reality with wealth of experience
Philip Morley was thrown into the deep end during one of his first official duties leading the city of Fairview.
The newly hired city manager was helping pass out take-home holiday kits to families during a drive-thru event, which turned out to be wildly popular, so much so that the city ran out of supplies. Morley ended up having to walk down the long line of cars to apologetically explain they had run out.
“That was a tough job, I felt so bad having to be the Grinch,” he said with a laugh. “But everyone was so understanding and gracious.”
Other than that, Morley has been all smiles in his first months taking the reins in City Hall. He, and other Fairview leaders, have big, sweeping plans for their community. Right now it is all about big ideas, cultivating community, and turning Fairview into an East Multnomah County destination.
“I’m excited to be here in Fairview,” he said.
Morley was unanimously appointed by Fairview City Council earlier this year to fill the top seat within City Hall after the retirement of his predecessor Nolan Young, who had served the city since 2016.
Now he is overseeing a 26-employee staff with an annual budget of $30.2 million. His main task — find ways to turn Fairview’s dreams into realities.
The city has gone through a rebrand; is set to open its first food cart pod with a Guinness World Record-setting statue; has plans for major urban renewal projects, including a roundabout that will serve as a gateway from Interstate 84; and is working in concert with its neighboring cities to remake Halsey Street into a pedestrian-friendly “Main Street.”
The city is also discussing how to entice more businesses, provide resources and support to homeless residents, and bolster community safety.
“How often do you get a chance to build community — usually you step into something already in place,” Morley said. “All of this will take time, but it starts with that vision.”
“There is optimism tempered with reality,” he added.
City Hall for all
Morley comes to the municipality with a wealth of knowledge as a 17-year veteran of local government management.
“There is a dynamism of city leadership and a mayor trying to build a different future for the community through connections and developments,” he said.
Most recently he was the county administrator for Jefferson County, Washington. Previously he served as assistant city manager for Maple Valley, Washington; assistant general manager for Alderwood Water & Wastewater District in Lynwood, Washington; executive management analyst for Snohomish County Executive Office in Everett, Washington; and project specialist at Snohomish County Solid Waste Management Division.
He has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University.
And he was drawn to Fairview because of its sense of community.
Morley tries to get outdoors as much as possible — hiking, climbing, biking — and he loves to dance and sing. But between his move to Northeast Portland, and late nights and weekends crafting the city budget, he hasn’t had that chance to venture out as much.
In that way he is just like many others in Fairview.
“After COVID there is this desire to connect with one another and with government,” he said.
Sometimes that is easier said than done. Morley spoke of large swaths of the community who are living close to the edge, and who don’t have time to dive into city affairs between paying bills and caring for kids. So he wants the city to be proactive.
“We can reach out and bring the city to them,” he said. “Open the doors to City Hall so they really feel like a part of Fairview.”
Forks and Fairview’s future
The city declared its intentions and vision by sticking a giant fork into the ground.
The world’s largest fork, standing at 37 feet, not only marks the soon-to-be opened Fairview Food Plaza, but also stands prominently along Halsey, which is set for even more development.
“It’s not only about the food carts, but also about creating a community center,” said Justin Hwang, a local restauranteur who helms the new food carts.
“Projects like the food cart plaza represent a significant change in the character of that stretch of roadway,” Morley said.
Just east of the food cart plaza is a 5-acre development that will become the “Heart of Fairview.” The city-owned land is entertaining several development proposals, including small businesses, restaurants, recreation, residential housing, and more.
“The idea is to have some sort of great hall with a variety of retail and food establishments that would draw people in,” Morley said.
That kind of development, on the edge of Fairview Village and a stone’s throw from City Hall, would start to foster a critical mass of residents and visitors. The hope is that would finally spur businesses to move into the vacant spots along Village Street, creating even more places to shop and have fun.
“We want to create a sense of place,” Morley said. “The more we get people walking around Fairview, we foster that sense of community and connection.”
Both of those fall under that “Main Streets on Halsey” umbrella, which is being crafted in concert with Wood Village and Troutdale. There has been a renewed effort for those three, and Gresham, to work collaboratively and find solutions for all of East Multnomah County.
All four managers meet twice a month to discuss issues and solutions.
“We all understand the importance of working together, cribbing ideas, and working through these problems together,” he said.
That collaboration can be seen in a pedestrian/bike trail that is being planned. It would run from Fairview’s Salish Ponds all the way down to the Sandy River on the far side of downtown Troutdale.
And in Fairview there is more in the works.
The city is developing new housing, finding support for the houseless, constructing a playground in Belfry Park, and more.
Public safety — fire and law enforcement services — is another key project for city leadership. The city contract’s with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Gresham Fire & Emergency Services represent nearly 72% of the general fund. And ideas to improve safety, like hiring a Community Service Deputy dedicated to Fairview or installing cameras along trails and in parks, is going to cost money.
So leadership is looking at ways to keep the bill manageable, while accounting for a sharp spike in regional crime.
“Public safety is a bedrock for community, but other things like recreation for kids is very important too,” Morley said.
The city is creating a long-term financial plan that will go before council later this year. That is where projects like “Main Streets on Halsey” come back into play, because not only do they create amenities for residents, but also improves the tax base.
“We didn’t get to this point in one year, and we won’t get out of it in a year either,” Morley said. “We are going to take an incremental approach to these solutions.”
Coffee and a Conversation
Philip Morley wants to meet with the community, hear ideas and concerns, and enjoy a cup of coffee with the folks he now serves.
At 9 a.m. every Tuesday through June, the Fairview city manager will be at Stomping Grounds Coffee House, 21825 N.E. Halsey St. He is looking forward to talking about “Main Streets on Halsey,” the Fairview Food Plaza, public safety, housing, homelessness, parks and recreation, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
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