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Sunday, November 18 , 2018, 5:40 am | Fog/Mist 49º


Former Santa Barbara City Administrator Richard Thomas Dies

Several downtown and waterfront revitalization projects were initiated under his leadership

Former City Administrator Richard D. Thomas, 79, died Sunday in Billings, Mont. Thomas served as city administrator for the city of Santa Barbara from 1977 to 1993.

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas

Under his leadership, the city of Santa Barbara initiated many Redevelopment Agency projects to revitalize the downtown area. Key among those projects was Paseo Nuevo and related downtown parking lots that took nearly 10 years to plan and construct. At the waterfront, he oversaw the restoration of Stearns Wharf and the city’s acquisition of the Naval Reserve Center that later opened to the public as the Maritime Museum.

Thomas was a strong financial manager, bringing an emphasis of fiscal responsibility to all city operations. He established a solid base of reserves to ensure the city’s fiscal health in future years. During his tenure, he oversaw many capital improvements, including upgrades to water and wastewater facilities. He also recognized the city’s vulnerability to disasters and worked closely with departments to develop emergency response plans.

He was known by many colleagues for his professionalism, integrity and commitment to succession planning.

One of his greatest passions was mentoring young leaders in the organization. With the support of Thomas, many went on to become city department heads and city managers, including former City Administrator Sandra Tripp-Jones, former Salinas City Manager David Mora, Waterfront Director John Bridley, Airport Director Karen Ramsdell, former Library Director Carol Keator and former Community Development Director Dave Davis.

“He instilled a high level of ethics and integrity into the culture of the organization,” Tripp-Jones said. “I am a better person for having had him as a boss, mentor and friend.”

“Dick became the role model for city administrators throughout California,” Former Mayor Hal Conklin said. “He possessed a rare quality of conservative management mixed with a liberal love for his employees. I will miss him very much.”

Former Mayor Sheila Lodge reflected that Thomas “was an excellent city administrator and a thoroughly decent man who was devoted to his family and his community. The city of Santa Barbara was fortunate to have him. He was steady, strong and effective in carrying out council policies.”

Thomas brought many years of executive experience to the city after serving as city manager in Great Falls, Mont; Arvada, Colo.; El Dorado, Kan.; and Slater, Mo. Upon retirement from the city of Santa Barbara, he served as the interim city manager for San Buenaventura in 1994.

Thomas received a bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University and a master’s degree from the University of Kansas, a leading program in public administration. He was actively involved in the International City Managers Association and received the ICMA Management Innovation Award in 1972. 

He is survived by his wife, Lois, of Billings; daughter Keely Thayer and son-in-law Ralph Thayer of Spokane, Wash.; daughter Tenley McCarley and son-in-law Gerald McCarley of Fort Worth, Texas; grand-daughters Ashley Martin and Amy Thayer of Spokane; and sisters Pat Brown of Abilene, Kan., and Becky Eikleberry of Hutchinson, Kan.

A memorial service will be held at the Lillis Chapel on the campus of St. John’s Lutheran Ministries in Billings at 11 a.m. Thursday. Flowers and cards may be sent to Smith Funeral Home, 925 S. 27th St., Billings, MT 59101.

In honor of Thomas, the family has requested that donations be made to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, 400 Mercer St., No. 401, Seattle, WA 98109, or the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research at Church Street Station, P.O. Box 780, New York, NY 10008.

— Nina Johnson is the assistant to the Santa Barbara city administrator.

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