The roundabout way Shane Fisher became Sunnyside’s Public Works Director is not exactly normal, but it did provide him with a lot of experience to draw upon in a demanding job.
“Public Works is involved in every part of the city,” Fisher said in a recent interview. “The streets, the buildings, the city facilities. I’m in charge of the airport, even.”
Fisher’s job involves dealing with the public. Working for a small city, he’s closely involved with regular folks who need help. For Fisher, it’s a joy and sometimes a pain.
“I get people calling about potholes,” he said. “I get to see the direct results of my work on people, and that is fun. I like the interaction with the citizens, but sometimes it does drive me crazy.”
Fisher started life in Northern California. His family moved to Kennewick when he was 10 years old. After high school, he tried higher education for a year, but it didn’t agree with him, and he joined the Navy.
“I became an electronics tech,” he said.
After leaving the Navy, Fisher spent a year on an Alaskan fishing boat, then worked as a laborer in construction. He said those experiences changed his perspective on his career and what he wanted to do for a living.
“I looked at the blueprints and realized I wanted to be on the other side of that,” he said.
Fisher went back to school to get an engineering degree and worked for a small company out of Bothell, in the Seattle area. He and his wife decided to move back to Eastern Washington and Fisher found work as a technician at Boise Cascade in Wallula. But the job lasted only five months before he was back to building houses again.
Fisher found another designing job, working on the sprinkler systems of buildings. But the high stress work took its toll, and after three years, he decided to go back to building houses – only this time as the boss. He ended up not liking that either.
“My wife cuts hair, and she told me there was a guy in for a cut that mentioned Sunnyside was looking for an associate engineer,” Fisher said.
He took the chance and applied. He was informed he got the job on his way back from the interview. He worked for Jim Bridges, the public works director at the time.
“Jim had faith in me,” Fisher said. “He gave me more responsibility and taught me the job.”
Then a change in government caused a massive upheaval at the city. Bridges was out the door, and Fisher was thrown into the deep end.
“We went from 22 employees to eight,” he said. “I had to learn the entire job fast.”
To make matters even worse, the public works administrative assistant was promoted to city clerk, leaving Fisher utterly alone.
“We were just trying to keep the doors open,” he said.
Although it was a struggle to provide basic services for a time, Fisher got the hang of it and soon was doing the job of a public works director even though his title and pay were still that of an underling.
“Don Day is the ninth city manager in my 14 years,” he said. “When he announced his retirement I just threw up my hands and sighed.”
Day was the one who decided Fisher should get the full title and pay his work demanded, but he had to open up the position for others to apply. Soon Fisher was competing for the job he’d held the past three years against his mentor, Bridges.
“It was tough,” he said. “Don took a month to decide.”
In the end, Fisher kept the job. He’s been at it for another three years now, for a total of six years as the head of the Sunnyside Public Works Department.
He said his work experience both before and after joining the city have given him a well-rounded set of skills. Working in a small city requires lots of problem solving, he said.
Sunnyside is an older city, too, with surprises underground like wooden pipes and unexpected gas tanks. The job has kept him on his toes, both in planning for the future and fixing the infrastructure of the past.
Fisher’s happy with his work, although it can be challenging at times. He’s been with the city for about 14 years. He prefers it to the private sector because of the guidelines, parameters and policies that he works with, giving him solid ground for designs and planning. He said the downside is handling the inevitable bureaucracy of government.
“I’ve been here about 14 years, and it’s been good and bad,” he said. “It’s been really good for the last five years.”