In the fall of 2008 after Rocky Sloan earned one of six seats on the Philomath City Council, he happened to have a conversation with his oldest daughter, Shea, who was an eighth-grader at the local middle school.
It went something like this:
Dad: “Have you talked to any of your friends at school?”
Daughter: “Yeah, somebody came up to me and said your dad’s going to be a city councilor.”
Dad: “How do you feel about that?”
Daughter: “I’m fine with that but I don’t ever want you to be mayor.”
Dad: “Why’s that?”
Daughter: “Because that would be social suicide.”
Four years later in November 2012, he won the mayoral seat in an unchallenged race and took the oath of office in January 2013. Shea was among his family members on hand for the swearing in.
Hitting the 10-year mark of service to the city with four on the council and six as mayor, Sloan has “termed out.” Eric Niemann will be sworn in as his successor in January.
“I think Rocky has been a mayor who truly cares about this community,” said Ruth Post, who this month reaches 20 years as a city employee. “And he just wasn’t the mayor at city council meetings, he was the mayor 24/7. He did a great job and we’re going to miss him.”
Sloan got into city politics through the prodding of neighbor and then-councilor Ken Schaudt, who would later serve two terms as mayor from 2009-12.
“We had a community meeting down at the library about Starker putting in this gate back here,” Sloan said last week from his home in the Neabeack Hill neighborhood. “Some neighbors had visions of trucks rolling in, trucks rolling out and this and that and I was kind of the voice of reason at the meeting.
“Ken just put it in his mind that if there was ever an opening on the council, he’s going to hit Rocky up and he did.”
But even though Schaudt thought he might be a good fit, Sloan wasn’t so sure.
“I’m like, ‘I thought about doing it in the past but I didn’t think I was worthy’ and he goes, ‘you’re worthy,’” Sloan recalled. “So I ran and got on and on the second term, I was voted council president and then after that, Ken termed out his 10 years as councilor and mayor and so I moved in to being mayor with nobody running against me.”
As Sloan steps out of the position, he hopes the city continues in a positive direction when it comes to the budget.
“We’ve got some changes going on but I’m proud of the council that I’ve had,” he said. “I think we’re leading the city into a position to get back to where the budget needs to be. It’s going to take a couple of years, but they’re on the right path and I’m pretty proud of them for doing that.”
Philomath’s potential for attracting industrial growth is another hope Sloan mentioned.
“I just hope something gets going on with all of the industrial land,” he said. “I’d like to see something that brings some jobs in and I think that’s what the city manager’s going to start concentrating on. We’ve got the housing going in, hopefully affordable, and then we’ll get some jobs so people can stay here and raise their families here.”
There have been plenty of controversial topics over the years and being able to deflect criticism comes with the territory of serving as a public official.
“There’s the stuff that was tough to go through — the fluoride debate, that was tough,” Sloan said. “And these annexations have been pretty rough. People saying demeaning things to you, you know, telling you your stupid and that’s always rough. But yeah, thick skin and you have to just chalk it up at the end of the day that you just have a difference of opinion. There’s no right or wrong.”
Sloan said there were nights when he lost sleep.
“You go home from a contentious meeting and I can’t get to sleep until 1, sometimes 2 o’clock in the morning because I keep re-running the meeting in my head,” he said.
But on the flip side, there were plenty of great things that he’ll remember about his service to the city.
“I’ll miss being the fixer — somebody calls me up with a problem in town and I try to fix it and I usually do; I can usually make everybody happy,” Sloan said. “I’ll miss that and interacting with the staff, department heads; I’ll just miss dropping in at the police station, which I still can, but it won’t be the same.”
One of the biggest challenges came in late 2013 and early 2014 when the city went through the process of replacing city manager Randy Kugler.
Finding a new city manager “was one of the most stressful things that I think I went through on this whole thing,” he said. “Randy was so well-liked and did such a really good job and you want that to continue and I was so stressed. It ended up working out really, really good.”
As for accomplishments over the past decade, Sloan mentioned the process of putting together the Streetscape project and establishing the Urban Renewal Fund.
Sloan said he’s had great mentors along the way — Schaudt and Kugler to name a few.
“Ruth (Post) and Joan (Swanson) have always been there for me, too,” he added. “If I had a question about something or had to handle something, they’ve always been really good. And then, of course, Chris Workman’s turned into such a phenomenal city manager. They’ve all influenced me in one way or another.”
Sloan, who recently turned 50, plans to focus on his profession as an electrician in “one final push to retirement.”
Does Sloan have any advice for the incoming mayor?
“No, I think Eric’s going to do just fine. Being mayor really isn’t a whole lot different from being a councilor,” Sloan said, sounding a bit modest. "It’s just one vote and I’m just facilitating the meeting. It’s just like being a chair of a committee, really. Anybody that’s been a councilor can step in and be mayor, I think.”