By HERB SWETT
For the KEIZERTIMES

A Keizer resident who is not often in the news locally has been more conspicuous in Gervais and Willamina.

He is Sam Sasaki, until recently part-time city manager for both these towns. But he has that position with Gervais only, because he budgeted himself out of the Willamina position.

The Colorado native was city manager of Newport for 14 years before briefly retiring. Willamina hired him in 2006 and Gervais in 2007.

Financial difficulties in Willamina caused him to cut his own position out of the budget, and he left his post last month.

After serving in the Army in Vietnam, Sasaki went to work for the city of Greeley, Colo., as the planning director. He then was assistant city manager for six years and city manager for four.

What brought him to Oregon? “The job in Newport.”

Sasaki had visited Oregon’s south coast, but the trip to Newport for the interview was his first to the central coast. His desire to live by the ocean made him willing to take a pay cut by working for a much smaller community, but he knew summers caused Newport’s population to swell to 35,000 to 40,000.

It was a clear day in September 1991 when he got onto Highway 20, which became a narrow road past Eddyville, but once he went over the hilltop just past Toledo and saw the ocean, he thought, “This is paradise.”

Early in October of that year, he made the trip again with his wife, Mary. It was a beautiful day again, and “that sold us.”

Sasaki has directed a variety of projects in the communities he has served.

“We built a lot of buildings,” he said of his time in Greeley. They included centers for seniors, recreation and performing arts. The city bought a bank building for a new city hall and installed new water and sewer systems.

While he was city manager of Newport, the city built a city hall, recreation center and sewage plant. A street beautification project at Nye Beach restored that part of town.

Sasaki retired in 2005 and a year later got a telephone call from Mayor Rita Baller of Willamina, asking him to be interviewed for the city manager position there. He rented a townhouse in McMinnville and took the Willamina position in May 2006.

In Willamina, he reorganized the city staff, started street improvement and other projects and obtained a grant to expand an area around a pond into a city park.

Low taxes and a golf course in Keizer prompted his move here in May 2007. Another telephone call resulted in the part-time manager job in Gervais.

Soon after taking the Gervais job, Sasaki directed the establishment of a park for which the town had just bought playground equipment. The park, he said, has been “a tremendous success.”

Gervais recently paved all of its gravel streets and will start upgrading its water treatment plant in July.

The city also has been working on a project for a new city hall. Construction will start in the spring of 2011 and is expected to be completed in the spring or summer of 2012.