Nate Brown retires after 17 years

Keizer Community Development Director Nate Brown will be stepping down after 17 years of service.

A couple of years ago, Keizer Community Development Director Nate Brown used a multimedia presentation to illustrate how making a seemingly minor change to the city sign code – permitting more frequent changes to electronic signs – would impact River Road North. 

Even with visual aids showing the change of messages, and how they might distract drivers and contribute to visual clutter, it was hard to envision the impact. But the lesson Brown was trying to impart was drawn, quite literally, from history and a trip to Rome. 

“When you look at what the Romans built … our perspective has to be broader. We are in the prenatal stages of creating that kind of legacy and we have to understand that our actions today–even incremental ones–affect us in getting where we want to be,” Brown said. “We are a direct descendant of what the Romans did.”

The past few years have been busy ones for the Keizer Planning Department and Brown was at the forefront of several projects that will inform most decisions about how Keizer will grow. In that regard, he’s retiring from the role on a high note. 

Brown’s last day as a city employee was Friday, May 29, but he’s already got a new gig lined up in Washington state to keep him busy for the next year. Eventually, he wants to get back to international travel and soak up more of the history that led all of us to the present day. 

Brown began his tenure with Keizer in 2003, after having worked in both the private and public sectors, and finding a preference in public service. He has an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture and planning and a master’s degree in public administration. 

One of the first projects he tackled was known as River Road Renaissance, which was intended to raise the bar for business frontages. The city supplied grants to businesses willing to invest in improvements, and Brown helped steer the program.

 “Then Keizer Rapids Park came along shortly after, and that was a huge opportunity,” Brown said. “Richard Walsh is a crazy man, but he’s high energy and not afraid to dream.” 

Walsh, a local attorney, was a city councilor at the time the city undertook the creation of a regional park that could attract visitors to the city. Brown said he enjoyed being the “sergeant-at-arms” guiding the council and other city administrators through all the flaming hoops of rules and regulations. 

One of the greatest turmoils he endured also revealed to him the character of the city he was helping lead. A little more than a decade ago, city officials drew fire for the installation of bollards on the northwest corner of the intersection of Lockhaven Drive and River Road that some perceived as being phallic. Despite similar bollards being installed in cities around the world, Keizer’s made national headlines. 

“The chair of the Planning Commission at that time felt so badly that he had overlooked the shape that he offered to pay to have them replaced,” Brown said. “I suppose it’s true everywhere, but there are these individuals that care about the community and are willing to give up their time and do it. And you know what? That’s awesome, but it took that incident for me to really begin to appreciate it.” He said city employees still field calls concerning the look of the bollards from time to time. 

Working with others, whether it was reaching out to find out what they wanted to see in the community or business owners to develop meandering sidewalks created the most rewarding experiences. 

“Those people really kept my engine running for all those years. I have no regret and a lot of good experiences,” he said. 

As the city moves into the future, Brown said he hoped the city residents and leaders would learn to embrace change more frequently–and in ways other than blinking lights on signs. 

“We need to address change in all of its strengths and scariness, to be more conscious of it instead of maintaining a status quo,” he said.