As City Manager Walt Wrede prepares to leave the position he has held for 12 years, we want to wish him well in the new chapter in his life and say thanks for his service to the community.
City managers aren’t known for their longevity in a community, a point we recalled as we looked through past issues of the Homer News for our upcoming 50th anniversary issue. That Mr. Wrede has served the city of Homer and its citizens for a dozen years is a testament of his leadership skills, his character and his professionalism. That he and his wife, Mary, plan to make Homer their retirement home in the not-too-distant future shows he worked in such a way as to not burn any bridges.
In an interview with the Homer News, Mr. Wrede said that the biggest challenge of his job “has been not taking things personally.” From what we’ve observed of how Mr. Wrede interacted with the public, city staff and the Homer City Council, he met that challenge with flying colors. When tempers flared or discussions got tense, Mr. Wrede kept his cool. He asked the right questions to get at the heart of the matter. He could be counted on to be diplomatic and measured in his response. When accusations flew, he didn’t fly off the handle.
One of the things we appreciate most about Mr. Wrede is how he trusted his staff to be on the same page he was. Under his tenure, department heads have been free to speak to the press without having to get approval for what to say. There’s been no city spokesperson. Whoever had the most expertise on a particular subject was the person who talked about the subject. As far as we know, Mr. Wrede never tried to control what information came out of city hall. That, we believe, is one of the secrets to his success and longevity. He knew he had his own job to do — and it wasn’t the same job as his department heads. From our perspective, that’s one of the marks of a leader. Our hope is that whoever follows Mr. Wrede will be able to do the same.
Mr. Wrede also has kept a sense of humor about his job. Earlier this year, during Homer’s first Citizens Academy, Mr. Wrede told participants that at election time, he’s frequently asked “Who are you supporting for city council?”
His standard answer: “Whoever wins.”
He also told participants that the city manager’s office is nonpartisan and he is apolitical. “I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. It’s important for the public to know they can have access to the city manager regardless of what their position is.” That’s an important point for the council to remember as they move forward in finding a permanent replacement for Mr. Wrede and for applicants for the job to remember as well. Party politics have no place in city government.
Of course, being nonpartisan isn’t the same as not having an opinion and we appreciated when Mr. Wrede admitted during the Citizens Academy that it’s sometimes hard to keep his mouth shut. “I do have opinions on things,” he said.
It’s impossible to hold a position of leadership and make everyone happy. While Mr. Wrede said he expected that there would always be people who disagreed with his decisions, he also admitted it’s hurtful when those differences of opinion prompt people to say he or the city is corrupt.
He noted that as city manager, he took an oath of office to “honestly, faithfully and impartially discharge” his duties to the best of his ability. That’s not an oath he’s taken lightly. From where we sit, Mr. Wrede has lived up to the oath he took — and then some.
He has been an excellent representative for the city and citizens of Homer.
Thanks, Walt. All the best to you and Mary.