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Central Point community development director retires

Tom Humphrey has moved on after 23 years with the city
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Central Point Community Development Director Tom Humphrey, center, walks with City Manager Chris Clayton and Matt Samitore, director of Parks and Public Services, though downtown Central Point.

A fixture in Central Point for nearly a quarter century, Community Development Director Tom Humphrey quietly stepped into retirement last week. Those who worked with him say he will be sorely missed, though his contributions to the city will be long-lasting.

Hired as planning director in 1998, Humphrey guided everything from downtown improvement and planning for an award-winning transit-oriented development to supporting small businesses and creating a culture of teamwork at city hall.

Humphrey, 68, battled an attempt by Walmart to site a supercenter a stone’s throw from downtown and helped facilitate an added rail crossing — a near impossibility in the planning world — along Highway 99 for access into Twin Creeks.

A Woodland, California native, Humphrey’s foray into municipal planning happened by chance.

“I had gone to school in San Diego after I got out of the Navy and had worked for the city of San Diego briefly as a summer intern. I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to just push the pause button and let the Lord talk to me about what I should do next.’ He was instrumental in moving me from initial college entrance into the Navy and then, after active duty, helped me make the decision to go into the reserves,” Humphrey said.

“After the Navy, my friends and family all thought my electrical training would be the reasonable thing to pursue. Two years into classes, I was married with two kids and people were like, ‘Stick with it, Tom!’”

Unenthused with the prospect of a career as an electrician, a bus ride would alter his path.

“My wife used our car, and so I was riding the city bus to the campus. I’d been trying to figure out what I was going to do. One day, there was a guy on the bus who had a stack of books on transportation planning. I asked him, ‘Are you in engineering?’ He said, ‘No, I’m in the school of geography with an emphasis on urban and transportation planning,” Humphrey recalled.

“I made appointment with chairman of my department and asked, ‘What about geography? Can I get a job after school? ... He told me that my options were, ‘You can teach geography, go into meteorology, work for the defense mapping agency or the Bureau of Census … or be a land-use and transportation planner.’”

After finishing his degree, Humphrey worked for a handful of entities including Roseburg, California and Merced County before moving to Oregon in 1994. After eight years with the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments, he was hired by former Central Point city administrator Jim Bennett to fill the role of planning director.

“Coming to the city felt like a really good use of my varied experiences. Any given day, I would have a subdivision in Drain, a building permit in Riddle. … it was just all over,” he recalled.

“I thought it would be fun to see the results of my work all in one place.”

Surrounded by farmland and dealing with unprecedented growth, Central Point averaged 30 building permits per month in 1998, a far cry from today’s rates but unprecedented at the time. With a team of one-and-a-half employees, Humphrey set out to improve and update development codes and to secure grant funding for downtown improvements. He helped the city navigate rapid development of the late ‘90s and to weather a lingering recession in the late 2000s, simultaneously juggling a career in the Naval Reserves.

Even during the recession, City Administrator Chris Clayton said Humphrey set a high standard for the planning department.

“Even the years where we had a bare bones staff during the recession, community members and builders felt like Central Point was the place you’d be treated fairly and they’d help you find solutions to your problems. It was never just about regurgitating some land use development code,” Clayton said.

“When I was young, I saw how effective Tom was at being diplomatic and finding solutions while doing the right thing for the city. Tom brought that culture to the city, and he’s been instrumental in helping to develop the talent we had in-house so we’d be set up for the future. My running joke since Tom announced his retirement is, ‘Once Tom leaves, all the adults will be gone.’”

Developer Brett Moore said Humphrey was innovative, professional and patient, often serving as a “voice of reason” on development matters.

“He just used a real common-sense kind of approach. Tom was always focused on what was best for the city and its people,” Moore said.

“He was always willing to listen and engage in conversation, and you don’t always find that. All of us in Central Point are better for having had Tom be a part of the city.”

Humphrey acknowledged a balancing act between diplomacy and a need to be stern. He opted to “pick his battles” when a plan to reduce the downtown from four lanes to two was met with resistance. A sterner approach was warranted when Walmart proposed a supercenter in the early 2000s.

“Our first encounter with Walmart, they brought in kind of a slick attorney and asked us what we’d like to see on the site. We kind of laid out what we had hoped to have happen and they just said, ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do.’ And it was different,” Humphrey said.

“When we raised the question of, ‘Well, how many architectural features are you going to incorporate? Is this going to be a gray box with a big red stripe around it? They told us, ‘Well it all depends what litigation will cost to offset.’ I knew right away … NO.”

Faced with the next chapter — and once again asking himself what’s next — Humphrey said he’ll sit back and see what the universe sends his way.

An added responsibility in recent months, Humphrey has helped regional leaders, since the Almeda fire, facilitate planning needs for FEMA trailer sites that can be outfitted with permanent infrastructure and ultimately developed as mixed-use housing.

Public Works Director Matt Samitore, hired by Humphrey in 1999, said Humphrey would likely always find himself helping others in some way. Whether in government or the private sector, Samitore said Humphrey would set the standard.

“He always treated everyone with so much respect and kindness regardless of their situation or their demeanor,” Samitore said.

“Tom always had a sense of magic in how he managed and how he wanted the best for Central Point. He would almost be able to will things into existence. His laughter, sense of humor and connection to this community will be greatly missed.”

Clayton concurred. “There’s not really too much going on in the last 25 years that Tom didn’t have a hand in.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.