Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard will leave his position with the City of Lowell at the end of this week. Beginning June 10, he will be the new City Manager for the Village of the City of Douglas in Allegan County. LaBombard reflects back at his time in Lowell over the past three years as he prepares to take on a new challenge.
Arriving in Lowell
LaBombard admits that prior to starting his role in Lowell he had only driven through the area once. It was, however, a memorable experience, saying the downtown’s charm stood out to him and the Flat River gave off a picturesque feel.
Before coming to Lowell, LaBombard worked at Facility Operations with Allegan County. While happy in this role, he wanted to broaden the scope of his career by getting back into Public Works. Enter the position for a Department of Public Works (DPW) Director in Lowell.
“Ordering toilet paper and Windex was fine for a few years, but it couldn’t be a long term position for me.” LaBombard says of looking for a change. “I was looking forward to getting back to the challenges of Public Works and Lowell looked like a good opportunity for me, despite the political issues that were going on at the time I hired.” LaBombard began working for the City in May 2016 as the Director of Public Works. It was a time of transition in the City with Dave Pasquelle serving as Interim City Manager.
LaBombard wasn’t the first choice to fill the part. The original candidate placed in the vacancy worked about a day and a half before resigning. Pasquelle contacted LaBombard to see if he was still interested and as they say, the rest is history. LaBombard recalls his first City Council meeting where “the community had turned out in force” over issues with former Mayor Jeff Altoft. Interim DPW Director Ron Woods was also at this meeting and afterward the two spent time discussing the seat LaBombard would take and challenges facing the City of Lowell politically and DPW as an entity. In the end, LaBombard says, “It all worked out alright I think.” Woods would go on to become a mentor of sorts to LaBombard.
In February 2018, LaBombard began a dual role as DPW Director and Assistant City Manager. The promotion meant taking on more responsibilities and furthering his role as a leader of both people and projects.
Accomplishments in Lowell
LaBombard is proud of a lot of the work he has done in Lowell during his time working with the city, but he lists elevating the perception of the DPW staff in the community and his work with the Showboat rebuild as two he’ll remember the most.
“The men and women of the DPW are well trained, multi-skilled, experienced individuals who occasionally work in a variety of conditions—sometimes really bad conditions—to make sure the services the citizens rely on are consistently delivered.” he says of the people he manages. “They provide valuable knowledge about the City to administration, elected officials, engineers, contractors and the citizens.” Much of the work DPW does is often taken for granted. Streets are plowed in the winter, grass is mowed in warmer months, flowerbeds are tended to, and equipment is maintained. Their work is easily underappreciated but becomes evident if not done correctly, or at all, throughout the city. And these jobs often require technical skills. LaBombard points out the professionalism and skill needed for a snow plow driver needs to remove snow while being mindful of vehicles, residents’ property, pedestrians, and a variety of obstacles while being out in changing weather conditions and terrain.
The Lowell Showboat is another accomplishment LaBombard cites during his time working in Lowell. While the project is unfinished, he believes it is in good shape with the proper people in the right positions, resulting in a successful outcome. Being part of visioning what the new boat will look like, putting a design on paper, and fabrication to begin soon, it’s anticipated to be smooth sailing between now and when the boat is scheduled to take its place in Lowell next year. The notion of walking away from the Showboat project, calling it “interesting and challenging at the same time”, before it was complete was a strong consideration for not taking the new job in Douglas according to LaBombard.
As with anyone continuously looking to make improvements personally and within his or her job, LaBombard has some things which will be left undone as he leaves Lowell. But he’s confident that groundwork has been laid for these projects to still be completed.
Replacement of the front porch and steps of the Lowell Area Historical Museum is an area LaBombard wishes he had time to fulfill. This was a personal goal as he sees the building as “something of a gateway” to the City of Lowell. He developed a plan to have the “unsightly and bit of a safety issue” area taken care of but was not able to find a contractor to help get the project going. With much of the legwork done, he’s hopefully his replacement will continue to see the plan through.
Local street replacement has been an issue over the years as well. LaBombard believes a good funding approach is being planned. “It’s ultimately going to be up to the voters to determine what’s best for them, but the roads won’t be fixed without a funding source.” he says of the city income tax which will appear on the ballot in November. “The income tax is a great way to spread the cost of the road improvements to those people who work in the City but don’t live here and pay property taxes. Plus, the millage rate on property taxes would be reduced if the income tax is approved.”
The Move to Douglas
LaBombard says he wasn’t anticipating leaving Lowell. He was comfortable in his role, responsibilities, and with those he worked with in Lowell, who were accustomed to his personality and style of leadership. He has also enjoyed getting to know residents and business owners. The position in Douglas opened up and he “applied on a whim” with the thinking if it panned out it would be a good career move and if not he was happy to stay in Lowell. He received interest from Douglas quickly and the interview process was rapid as well. He believes being familiar with the community having worked for Allegan County helped his chances in being offered the position. He was selected to interview and less than an hour after it concluded he was offered the job.
With an offer on the table, LaBombard looked to a few people to discuss the pros and cons of a decision either way. Continue in Lowell in a duel role as Assistant City Manager and DPW Director or embrace a challenge as a City Manager? Once again Ron Woods would offer an opinion, but left the final decision with LaBombard. Discussion would also take place between LaBombard and his partner as a career change would mean staying in west Michigan a while longer even though the topic of relocation to a warmer climate has come up from time to time. “While it’s fun to talk about moving somewhere warm and sunny, the reality is that we are both tied to Michigan for some time to come because of family connections.” he reflects on the conversation.
In the end, accepting the challenge and becoming a City Manager is the choice LaBombard made. He’s hoping his brand of leadership and relationship building will be accepted and well-served in the Douglas community. Douglas has a big list of agenda items they’d like to accomplish and in his new job, LaBombard is ready to help make the community’s vision a reality.
“Rich has been a tremendous asset to the City of Lowell. He has all of the tools to become an effective City Manager and will do very well. When Rich told me he was offered the position, it was obvious to me he had to accept it as it was too good of an opportunity for him to pass up. Lowell’s loss will definitely be Douglas’s gain!” says City Manager Michael Burns. The city is currently searching for a new Public Works Director with the hope to have someone by late summer. Until the position is filled, inquiries surrounding Public Works can be sent to the City Manager’s office.
A New Chapter Begins
Lowell is fortunate to have had LaBombard working for the city for three years. His accomplishments will remain and continue to be felt by residents, visitors, and those in surrounding communities for years to come. For LaBombard, one of the hardest factors in taking a new job is leaving behind the people he works with and the relationships he has built. “I really enjoy the connections I make with everyone and I’ll do my best to continue those relationships. I’ll do my best to not be a stranger to Lowell.”