Steve Hall, longtime Olympia city manager, wins Boss of the Year award

Olympia City Manager Steve Hall, who has worked for Olympia as its city manager or assistant city manager for nearly 25 years, was recognized Wednesday as a Boss of the Year.

Two others won Boss of the Year awards: Rae-Lynn Bidon, chief operating officer of Olympia Orthopaedic Associates and Dr. Yong Liu, microbiology laboratory director for the state Department of Agriculture.

The awards were announced during a Thurston County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Saint Martin’s University.

The chamber also co-organized the event — now in its fifth year to recognize local leadership — with staffing agency Express Employment Professionals and business students at Saint Martin’s.

About 15 students interviewed nominees for the award and then forwarded those results as part of a selection process headed by Reid Bates, owner of Express Employment.

Hall said after the luncheon he was surprised that he won.

“I don’t think of myself as the boss,” he said. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by great talent and a great community.”

Hall, 57, was born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and lived in various places in the Midwest before moving west in the winter of 1968.

He calls it his “Grapes of Wrath” moment.

The family was living in a trailer and had lost its source of heat, but because it was during winter break from school and his father was unemployed, they decided to pull up stakes and join family in the Seattle area. Hall was 12.

He eventually attended Western Washington University — at one time he wanted to be a foreign service officer — but ultimately went to work for Northwest Rural Opportunities, which exposed him to and spurred his interest in the work of city managers.

Hall earned his master’s degree from Washington State University and then began his career in city government, making stops in Kansas City, Missouri, and Boulder, Colorado, before arriving in Olympia. He was assistant city manager for 13 years and has been city manager for 11 years.

Hall said he likes the job because it’s never the same, comparing it to a big puzzle, “solving and finding a good outcome for the community.”

But it also requires a lot of commitment and the hours are long.

Hall said he works 50-55 hours a week, including Saturday morning.

The weekend begins noon Saturday, he said.

“Steve is one of the better city managers in the state,” Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said. “He finds a way to juggle between the needs of his employees and the needs of the council while serving the best interests of his city.”

Boss of the Year also had three honorable mentions: Craig Ottavelli, chief executive of OrgSupport; Charles Shelan, chief executive of Community Youth Services; and Jim Greene, owner of Green Realty Group.

Prior to announcing the awards, Express Employment’s Bates, just like last year, entertained the audience with a history lesson about a famous leader. This time he discussed Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer who lost his ship during a planned crossing of Antarctica in 1914, but who later returned to rescue his stranded crew.