An icon for 30 years in the city of Kenai plans to step down sometime next year.
Kenai City Manager Rick Ross informed the city council of his intentions to move on at Wednesday night's meeting and recommended it start looking for his replacement.
"I think the city of Kenai is in good shape, and it should not be a problem to attract good applicants," Ross told the council.
He expressed no dissatisfaction with his job, but after retiring as Kenai's chief of police in 1993 after 22 years, and spending nearly five years in the city manager's chair, he said it was time to move on.
"Change is good. There's nothing wrong with change," he said Thursday. "It's time for me to make a change, and this is a good council to select a good city manager."
Kenai Mayor John Williams joked Wednesday night that he was not sure there were enough votes on the council to convene a special work session to discuss replacing Ross.
"When we found ourselves in a real need of a good manager to run the city, the first person we thought of was Rick," Williams said Thursday. "He stepped up to the challenge and did an admirable job."
Council member Duane Bannock agreed.
"He fell into our laps and was the best decision we've made in my political career," Bannock said. "I'm sorry to see him go.
"I've known Rick almost my entire life and have had a lot of respect for him. ... I hope whatever venture he pursues keeps him in the area, where he will be an asset to the community."
Police Chief Dan Morris worked under Ross for 15 years, 11 of them in the police department.
"It was good to have him back," Morris said about Ross becoming city manager. "He has the respect of his employees, the city council and the mayor. He brought a lot of stability back to the city and fills the leadership role real well."
Morris, who became chief on Ross' retirement from the department, joked his favorite memory of Ross was "when he left the first time."
"I'm sorry to see him go, but I understand why. He's ready to move on to something else," Morris said. "No doubt he's a big pair of shoes to fill. That's a tough job. You work for seven bosses, and that can be difficult."
Williams has many memories of his own, he said, including watching as his son, now 30, was coached by Ross in Little League.
Another favorite memory he has of Ross came when Gov. Bill Sheffield was in town to do some campaigning, and Williams took him to knock on doors in Thompson Park.
"The first door we knocked on was Rick's, and his wife was surprised to see the governor at the door," Williams said. "Rick was obviously indisposed at the moment, and his wife hollered to him, 'There are people here to see you,' and Rick hollered back, 'Tell them I'm busy.'
"So his wife told him, 'It's John and the governor here to see you,' and it got real silent for quite a while, and then he called out, 'Tell them I'm still busy.'
"Rick will get me for that one," Williams added. "But in all seriousness, he's been a model citizen, a great public servant and an all-around good guy."
Ross, 54, grew up in Road Commission camps around Alaska before statehood, until his family settled in Kenai, where he graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1964.
After earning a teaching degree in college and a tour in the service as a military police officer, he returned to Kenai in 1971 to began his career in law enforcement as a patrolman. Ross advanced through the ranks quickly, making lieutenant by early 1974, before being appointed acting chief late that same year. He served as chief for the next 19 years before taking retirement.
Since he has police department retirement benefits, Ross only negotiated for straight salary when he accepted the city manager's job.
"There's no need to hit the taxpayers twice," he said.
An avid motorcyclist who has toured the Lower 48 and Alaska with his wife, Gayle, Ross said he does not have any plans for another extended bike trip but is keeping his options open.
Ross, known to some as "Slim" since losing 100 pounds this year, said his slimming down and changing jobs is not the product of a mid-life crisis, and there is no sporty little convertible in his future.
"I've enjoyed my job, but it's time to move on and do something else," he said. "There are some projects I want to get done, and I will no doubt be looking at what career opportunities there are in my future."
Ross said he has no intention of retiring and watching golf on television. "I'm only 54, and that's too young to retire," he said.
Ross outlined a six-month plan to find his replacement. Both he and Williams hope to have one hired by the end of June.
Ross said he is optimistic the transition will be smooth.
"I really believe we have strong department heads who work good as a team," Ross said. "When I leave, it will be like a hand pulled from a bucket of water, I will leave no hole.
"I honestly believe the public won't even see a ripple."
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