The former Lakeport City Manager officially resigned from his duties earlier this month after 15 months in office.
Gillham, 54, didn’t necessarily resign because he wanted to, but more because he felt he had to for the benefit of the city. The reason being mostly due to his health recovering from several surgeries after serving for the second time in Iraq. A chief warrant officer in the Oregon Army National Guard, Gillham went to Iraq in August 2008. Lakeport’s interim City Manager has been Kevin Burke, Chief of Lakeport Police.
It all began while on deployment in August 2008 when Gillham suffered a minor stroke and back injury. He ruptured two disks and was later MEDEVACED from Iraq into Germany, where he recovered for one month before heading to Washington where he continues to recuperate at a regional medical hospital.
“I was in the combat zone and they discovered a hole in my heart and they think the hole was supposed to heal as a child never did. Essentially, I got a piece of plaque from dirty blood that hadn’t been through the filtration system. It went across my heart into the good blood that settled in my brain and caused me to go blind and lose my memory.”
Gillham was supposed to return from Iraq in June or July 2009 to his city manager duties but obviously, he never made it back to his desk, he said. Instead, he met with the Lakeport City Council and told them, “I had orders till next March to stay hospitalized and that it may be even longer,” he said. “In other words, I wasn’t released to go back to my normal duty at Lakeport because I was injured. It was a one-year activation.”
Almost 100 percent
Today, Gillham said he has his memory back but not completely.
“I am at 85 percent in my mind; I am at the best I can possibly be. I have short-term memory loss for the most part.”
At first, he couldn’t remember any names, including his wife’s or anyone in his unit.
“I was also blinded only for a few minutes; things were blurry for about three hours.”
He was in a wheelchair up until December but he can now walk. And while he will never run again, he will play golf.
“I slept in a recliner from November through December because I couldn’t lie down,” he said. “I had to crawl to the bathroom and I have no use of my left leg.”
When Gillham came out of surgery, the first question he asked the doctor was would he be able to golf again? … The answer: yes.
“It is said to be good therapy for my injury; the only pain I have is the result of the surgeries and the scar tissue that still tends to irritate the nerve.”
After 38 years of serving in the military, Gillham can no longer be deployed which begs the question, what will he do now? A lot.
“Well, I will manage a $110 million new Wounded Warrior Battalion,” he said. “Command learned that I was a city manager and asked me to manage the construction project. So, really, I am staying within my field of expertise. I’m doing the infrastructure development and basically the whole project — full scope. My intent is that when they do let me go, which may not be for another year or two years, I’ll return to Oregon and seek another position in city management.”
Yes, he wants to go back to city management.
“I love it,” he said. “I am going to miss the staff and the projects that we were doing in Lakeport.”
Gillham said he enjoyed a great working relationship with the staff, as well as the Lakeport City Council. In addition, he said he is proud of many contributions such as the development of a staff team that can now work independently and cohesively. He also said he created a system of accountability in cash flow.
“I did what city managers should always do: I instituted a fiscal accountability system that has a senior person managing cash flow and keeping department heads on track,” he said. “I also helped in reorganizing staff and city to being pro-active in community and economic development. We had an agency that sat there and collected money and didn’t do anything. I created an all-new redevelopment agency and department head position whose job is to revive the city and do what the agency was supposed to be doing.”
Tall and Proud
Bottom-line: Gillham got a lot done during his 15 months as city manager.
“Throughout my career, I have always initiated change which often generated consternation with some facet of the community … I’ve never shied away from making a difficult decision that I knew was in the best interest of the city. Sometimes, there are people who get up every day and go to work and do all they can to keep their job. Then, there are those who get up, go to their job and dedicated to making a difference in their community. That’s how I like to see myself.”
The writer, Debbie L. Sklar is a 20-plus year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. She is a regular contributor to PublicCEO.com and may be reached via e-mail at DLSwriter@cox.net