After overseeing the city of Talent's greatest civic improvement effort in at least two decades, Betty Wheeler will retire as city manager in July.

After overseeing the city of Talent's greatest civic improvement effort in at least two decades, Betty Wheeler will retire as city manager in July.

Wheeler, 66, said she plans to move to Arizona to be close to her youngest son. Wheeler became city manager in March 2002.

"One of the priorities for the City Council has been that we keep the small-town feel in Talent," Wheeler said. "I think we have been able to do that even though we made a lot of significant improvements to the infrastructure."

A new bridge on Valley View Road over Bear Creek, a new City Hall and a civic center were among items on a list the council created when Wheeler arrived, said Marian Telerski, former mayor. All those projects and more have been completed under Wheeler's direction, the most civic improvement projects Telerski said she's seen since she moved to Talent in 1990.

"Her professionalism and dedication to the job have made a huge impact," said Telerski. "You can set policy, but if you don't have someone with professional expertise to carry it out, nothing happens."

Wheeler also brought stability to the job, Telerski said.

"I can count on two hands the number of hired and interim administrators since the time I started with the city of Talent," said Telerski, who served two terms as mayor ending in January 2007, was a council member for six years and served on the parks commission.

Telerski said that recruiting a professional staff was one of Wheeler's top accomplishments.

"She picks people who are smart and who work hard," said Telerski. "That's what we wanted was a good, professional staff."

Wheeler's ability to work with the community was rated highly by Telerski and Jimmie Smith, a financial adviser with Edward Jones in Talent.

"Highway 99 (reconstruction) ... could have been a point of contention," said Smith. "When you are a good leader you communicate with the people. You give them all the information they need and are open and honest. ... She took a process that could have been very difficult if it had been someone else."

Smith added Wheeler created a sense of community among Talent residents.

Work on a third phase of improvements to Talent Avenue will begin this spring.

"We have done a lot of improvements and gotten a lot of grants that we have been able to match to do projects on roads," said Wheeler. "Wagner Street (is) a whole new street compared to what it was, with sidewalks and bike lanes and storm water control."

Wheeler and other city officials worked diligently to build a new City Hall, despite the defeat of a levy to fund construction in 2004. Urban renewal funds were used instead to cover the $2.3 million cost.

To hire Wheeler's replacement, the council may use a recruiting firm, contract with the League of Oregon Cities or use city staff and a selection committee to conduct a search.

"It won't be an easy replacement," said Ron Ridgway, owner of Tark's Market. "We were very fortunate that we were able to recruit her."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.