Wallowa has a new mayor.
He is Ron Philbrook, who was appointed to the Wallowa City Council to fill the unexpired term of Marge Sarmento. Sarmento had been appointed to the position of mayor when Bob Lewis resigned. Both survived elections in 2002, but on Tuesday night last week councilor Ron Philbrook was appointed as Wallowa mayor due to Sarmento's resignation to move away from the community.
Philbrook, 64, moved to Wallowa in 2000 after spending 37 years of his life working as a longshoreman based out of Rainier. After four years in the Air Force Philbrook spent 15 years as a longshoreman driving a crane. He worked as a secretary and dispatcher for the local union, worked 10 years on the longshoremen's board of directors for their credit union and volunteered four years of his time to fill a slot on the Rainier school board.
Philbrook took a hiatus from his longshoremen's career from 1976 to 1980 to purchase and run a restaurant and lounge in Wallowa. Purchased under the name of The Red Brick Inn, Philbrook and wife Maureen added on the restaurant portion of the business and named it The Homestead. The Philbrooks have maintained ownership of the establishment over the years and now rent it to Peppers Eatery.
The plan all along was to retire in Wallowa where they owned a house as well as the business, and they did so - after returning a dozen times each year - in 2000.
Describing himself as a hands-on mayor who will actively vote whether the council is otherwise deadlocked or not, Philbrook lists one of his main attributes for the job as being a good listener who will make himself available to the public.
He is already addressing one problem facing the city, working with fire chief Tom Baird to encourage residents to join the volunteer fire department. Only eight members strong at present, the plan to recruit volunteers is an effort between Philbrook and Baird to send out letters to targeted citizens asking them to get involved.
Projects Philbrook and the other councilors are working on at present includes a new restroom and new playground equipment at the city park. Money for the restroom project has been secured by a grant written by city recorder Lori Waters. Another goal in the near future is to develop a prioritized plan for snow removal by the city, both according to streets and for personnel.
During his brief tenure on the city council which was preceded by an even briefer stint on the city's budget committee, efforts undertaken by the council included the completion of a six year long sewer project, a new lift for the sewer station, a generator at the well house, the purchase of a new backhoe and the long awaited construction of a new fire hall.
One future problem Philbrook sees on the horizon is the water situation for the city. Though the city has a viable fresh water well and a 275,000 gallon water tank overlooking the city on Green Hill, Philbrook hopes to see a day when the city no longer needs to ration water in the summer months.
Philbrook fills part of his retirement hours remodeling a house he owns, but claims that he has plenty of time to dedicate to the office of mayor. He adds that he is interested in serving the community as long as they will have him, not just the 10 1/2 months left in Sarmento's term.