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Former Santa Barbara Administrator Richard D. Thomas Dies at 79

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SANTA BARBARA, CA – Former City Administrator Richard D. Thomas (age 79) passed away peacefully on Sunday, March 7, 2010 in Billings, Montana.  Thomas served as City Administrator for the City of Santa Barbara from 1977 to 1993.

Under his leadership, the City of Santa Barbara initiated many Redevelopment Agency projects that would revitalize the downtown area.  Key among those projects was the Paseo Nuevo shopping area and related downtown parking lots that took nearly ten years to plan and construct.  In the waterfront, he oversaw the restoration of Stearns Wharf and the City’s acquisition of the Naval Reserve Center that would later open 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. 

City officials were saddened by the passing of the former administrator.  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. 

According to Sandra Tripp-Jones, “he instilled a high level of ethics and integrity into the culture of the organization.  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.  He possessed a rare quality of conservative management mixed with a liberal love for his employees.  I will miss him very much,” said former Mayor Hal Conklin.

Former Mayor Sheila Lodge reflected that, “he 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 of Santa Barbara after serving as city manager in the City of Great Falls, Montana; City of Arvada, Colorado; City of El Dorado, Kansas; and the City of Slater, Missouri.  Upon retirement from the City of Santa Barbara, he served as the Interim City Manager for the City of 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 (ICMA) and received the ICMA Management Innovation Award in 1972.   

He is survived by his wife Lois (Billings, MT), daughter Keely Thayer and son-in-law Ralph Thayer (Spokane, WA), daughter Tenley McCarley and son-in-law Gerald McCarley (Fort Worth, TX), grand-daughters Ashley Martin and Amy Thayer (Spokane, WA), and sisters Pat Brown (Abilene, KS) and Becky Eikleberry (Hutchinson, KS).    

A memorial service will be held at the Lillis Chapel on the campus of St. John's Lutheran Ministries in Billings, Montana on Thursday, March 11th at 11:00 a.m.  Flowers and cards may be sent to the Smith Funeral Home at 925 South 27th Street, Billings, MT 59101.  In honor of Mr. Thomas, the family has requested that donations be made to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation at 400 Mercer St., #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.    


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