Joining the Navy may have been best decision Lemoore's 'interim' city manager ever made

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore 'Interim" City Manager Nathan Olson in his Cinnamon Complex office recently preparing for another meeting.
Lemoore 'Interim" City Manager Nathan Olson in his Cinnamon Complex office recently preparing for another meeting.

What does a 17-year-old kid from Racine, Wisconsin do to escape the difficulties of growing up surrounded by friends with negative influences, acquaintances that could have led him on an unfortunate journey to the dark side of life?

Nathan Olson needed to shed himself of negative influences, and the “friends” he associated with who could very well have led him astray. “I thought it was a good way to get away and change things,” he remembered while sitting in the city manager’s office at the Cinnamon Complex where he currently serves as the city’s top official.

“I did not associate with good people,” he recalled.

So, at the tender age of 17, when high school kids should be preparing for the prom and high school finals, Olson joined the United States Navy. His mother, a Racine homemaker and who worked at the local Piggly Wiggly, signed the papers needed for a 17-year-old to enlist.

At one point, Olson was the only 17-year-old in the Navy. “The military was for me my saving grace.”

Following basic training at Great Lakes and aviation hydraulics training in Millington, Tennessee, Olson arrived at NAS Lemoore in 1988 and joined an A-7 squadron VA 122. He’s pretty much remained in Kings County, residing in Hanford and Lemoore since coming here in 1988. 

Olson, now 46 and the interim city manager for the City of Lemoore, says he made the right choice all those years ago, and on Feb. 20 five city councilmembers will decide if he gets to remove the interim from his current title. 

Councilmembers will hold an open-session discussion at their regular council meeting Tuesday for “consideration and appointment of a permanent city manager.” Council will meet in the council chambers at 429 C Street, and public input is encouraged.

Following his departure from the Navy after four years and nine months (he also served four years on reserve duty) Olson began a career as a maintenance mechanic. He quickly moved up the chain to various management positions, including a stint as a project manager with Paramount Farms and operations manager at the Central Valley’s Odwalla Juice Plant.

He also found time to get married to wife Heather. The two are raising four children: Nathan Jr., Cameron, Christin, and Lauren. “The best decision I ever made was either staying in Lemoore or going to Guam (with the Navy). I stayed in Lemoore and met my wife.”

“When I got my degree (in business management) I turned into an operations guy,” he said. He even worked a stint as a production supervisor at Leprino’s West Plant.

While working as the operations manager for Blue Diamond in Turlock, where he managed 125 employees, Olson applied for the city’s public works job and got it, replacing longtime Lemoore Public Works Director David Wlaschin in 2015. As public works director Olson was responsible for water, storm drainage, building, and construction, refuse, engineering and sewer. He also served as a member of the city’s management team.

In June of 2017 councilmembers hired Olson as an interim city manager, replacing acting administrator Darrell Smith, the city’s chief of police. Smith served on a temporary basis after councilmembers removed former manager Andi Welsh.

“Personally, the most satisfying part of this job is seeing a change in the culture I see around the city amongst the staff and the people out there actually getting the work done,” he said. “You’re only as successful as the people you have around you, and I think we have a good team moving forward. That’s been a blessing. I’m proud of the team we’ve built. I really am.”

Lemoore Mayor Ray Madrigal says Olson has done admirable work since hiring him as the interim city manager. “Nathan has proven himself as a problem solver and a leader over the past few months said the first-term mayor. “The staff has expressed great confidence in him and their desire to have him be the full-time city manager. We’ve had the good fortune of being able to observe his performance over time. I believe the best predictor of future performance is past performance, and in Nathan’s case he makes the future look bright for Lemoore.”

One of his best moves as interim manager was to give employees more responsibility. “We support one another,” he said. “We speak our minds, and we empower our employees. I think we’re doing a good job. We’re empowering our employees to do a good job."

Under Olson, employees have a say in their respective budgets, helping to shape the city’s annual approach to spending. “We’re not a wasteful group,” said Olson. “I’ve got to do what’s best for this city, and (I think) the staff thinks the same way.”

Lemoore is not alone in California as it faces dwindling tax revenue and demands for improved services, but Olson says the city is up to the task. “We’re always looking for efficiencies,” he said. “The goal is to be in the black at the end of the year.”

There are indeed many challenges ahead for Lemoore, including maintaining the city’s water quality, partnering with local business and residents to fix sidewalks across the city, including in the business areas and residential neighborhoods. He says the city’s enterprise funds –  sewer, water, waste funds – which pay for themselves through fees – are in good shape.

“We need to get the city’s infrastructure up to date,” he cautioned. Under his tenure, Lemoore is updating its website and created a Facebook page. “We’ll be able to get the word out.”

The most recent challenge is creating a favorable climate for the move to district elections. Since its inception, Lemoore electors have voted for their city councilmembers on an at-large basis. Beginning in November 2018, councilmembers will be elected by voters in the district in which they reside.

“I’m glad I’m here,” said a confident Olson. “I’m pretty content right now, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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