City News

Keith Stahley selected as Salem’s next city manager

The city announced Monday that the Salem City Council selected Keith Stahley to serve as Salem’s next city manager (Submitted photo)

A longtime city government administrator in Olympia, Washington will be Salem’s next city manager.

City councilors selected Keith Stahley to be the city’s next top administrator, announcing the selection Monday morning. A contract with Stahley will go before the council for a vote at their meeting Monday night.

It’s awesome. I am very excited about the opportunity and the location and the people in the organization and on the council,” Stahley told Salem Reporter Monday.

Stahley has been assistant city manager in Olympia since 2019, leading the city’s response to homelessness. Prior to that, he spent 14 years as the city’s community planning and development director.

Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said Stahley’s experience with homelessness, economic development and working in a capital city all factored into the council’s selection.

“He had a level of experience that was more appropriate for what we needed here in Salem,” Bennett told Salem Reporter Monday. “This is a good-sized city with a whole range of issues that are part of the city manager’s portfolio.”

The city manager serves as the city’s top executive, reporting to the city council, and is responsible for managing the day-to-day running of the city in line with the council’s vision and direction.

Stahley was selected over another finalist for the job, Salem resident Eric Zimmerman, who most recently worked at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh and previously worked for Multnomah County, and as deputy city manager in Medford. 

Stahley grew up near Buffalo, New York and said his interest in city administration started when his father took him to City Hall in nearby Jamestown. Stahley was about nine at the time, and remembered being in awe when his father pointed to the top of the tall building and told him the mayor worked at the top.

That feeling stuck with him, as did a desire to change his community for the better, he said.

“It seemed like a great way to have an impact and work with great people and work on stuff that’s important to your community. I’ve always valued being able to look out the window or drive around the city and think wow, I had an impact on that,” he said.

He spoke to Salem Reporter Monday while on a regional call about the purchase of a hotel to provide temporary housing to people in Thurston County, which includes Olympia. Stahley said that sort of work is only possible through strong collaboration between cities, other levels of government and the community.

“Homelessness and responding to homelessness is extremely complex and it takes the entire community effectively engage in it,” he said.

During a public forum for city manager finalists held June 15, Stahley spoke about Salem’s vibrant downtown and interest in addressing climate change as reasons for his interest in the job.

“For me the measure of success in a downtown is, is there investment there and are there feet on the street when you go out in the evening? And I saw both in downtown Salem,” Stahley said. I love the investment that the city has made in the waterfront and I’d love to continue to see that grow.”

He cited the city of Houston’s response to homelessness as an example other cities should take note of. Houston has cut its homeless population by over half in a decade, using a housing-first approach and currently has a housing waitlist of just 32 days, the New York Times reported.

Stahley also spoke about how the city of Olympia has taken an approach to economic development focused on eliminating poverty, and said his experience working on homelessness would prepare him to work with Salem’s diverse population.

“So much homelessness is driven by disability. From a racial perspective, there’s a disproportionate number of people of color who are houseless. And learning that and seeing that everyday has formed how I look at the world. It’s changed how I empathize with people and how I use my compassion, to move the world in that direction to be more helping more available,” he said.

If councilors approve his contract Monday night, Stahley would begin work in Salem on Sept. 12, according to a press release from the city. He will be paid $240,000 per year, according to the contract in the council agenda packet.

Stahley said he expects to spend his first few months in Salem getting to know the city and doesn’t plan to arrive with a 10-point action plan.

“I’m going to arrive with the intention to listen, and listen to employees and council members and community members,” he said.

This article was updated Monday afternoon following an interview with Stahley.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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