By Mike Linn
PNT Managing Editor
A former Eastern New Mexico University student and New Mexico-native. A dentist turned politician who loves challenges. And a former city manager with 15 years experience.
One will be Portales’ next city manager.
Debi Lee of Hobbs, Richard Elliott of Broken Arrow, Okla., and Michael Steele of Croswell, Mich., are the three finalists the Portales City Council chose out of 42 applicants for the city manager position on Friday morning.
“These three met most of the three criteria we were looking for,” Mayor Orlando Ortega said. “The next step is to do the interview process more in depth and that’s where we determine who has more of an edge than the other.”
Ortega said he hopes the council will interview the candidates by next week.
Elliott has the most experience as a city manager, according to the resumes. He has worked in cities from Oklahoma to Illinois, and his most recent job was city manager for almost one year for the city of Frankfort, Ken., where he left in August 2003. He said his retirement from that position was a mutual agreement between him and the city.
Elliott said he is looking forward to working in Portales.
“I’m ecstatic about the opportunity to meet with the council and discuss the position,” Elliott said. “I’ve worked as a city manager in Enid, Okla. so I feel I have some positive orientation to the southwest states. And that was a major motivation for seeking the position in Portales.”
Lee is most familiar with Portales. She went to ENMU in the late-1970s and said she is one year short of her degree. She said she has many friends in Portales and her son is a junior at ENMU.
Currently the assistant city manager in Hobbs, Lee said she believes she has an edge over the other two candidates because of her background working in city government in New Mexico.
“I think I should probably have an edge given that I have good rapport with legislatures and community folks,” Lee said.
Lee is also a strong supporter of the direction the city is heading.
“The council and Mayor Ortega have made a huge positive impression in my mind with the work they’re doing with downtown revitalization and I would certainly want to continue that. The most successful economic development initiative is the downtown strategies,” Lee said.
Steele traveled arguably the most interesting road toward a position in city government.
A dentist until 1987, Steele said he decided to change professions after he had conducted every possible medical service to the teeth. He said he realized he was going to never do anything new if he continued as a dentist, and opted for a change of career.
Steele noted that he initially worked as a fire fighter/rescuer before becoming an emergency manager in Sparks, Nev., near Reno, Nev. He said he dealt with a hodgepodge of challenges including there, including a flood in the late 1990s designated as a national disaster.
His current position is city manager in Croswell, Mich., a city with roughly 2,700 residents.
Steele said if he gets the job he will certainly look at Portales as a possible home for he and his wife to retire.
“A new challenge is always very exciting, a new beginning is always something special that you don’t have very often in life,” Steele said. “I look forward to meeting with the citizens and the council and finding out what it is they want. What I feel and want really isn’t what I see the city manager’s job as being. I see the city manager’s job as being a facilitator to make things happen.”