New city manager looks to ‘awaken’ Sanger’s potential

Nathan Olson steps in as Sanger’s next city manager, ready to wake up the “sleeping giant” of potential he sees in the city

City of Sanger City Hall as seen from sidewalk near Civic Center sign on Seventh St. (Kenny Goodman)
City of Sanger City Hall as seen from sidewalk near Civic Center sign on Seventh St. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published February 9, 2024  • 
1:00 pm

SANGER – Roughly seven months after Sanger’s former city manager stepped down from his position, the city has found its next head of administration in Nathan Olson, who is coming into the role with plans to rouse up the seeds of possibility he already sees planted in the community.

“It’s a sleeping giant. It’s ready to grow,” Olson said. “We just have to get the right pieces in place.”

Sanger selected Olson out of 44 candidates for the position. His appointment ends a candidate search that started last summer after the former city manager, Tim Chapa, resigned unexpectedly. Since then, Police Chief Greg Garner has been serving as the interim city manager.

Olson said he believes there were two things weighing in his favor and why he was selected from among the 44 other candidates.

“One is my successful run with economic development in Lemoore,” he said. “Two, my background in public works. Sanger has a lot of wastewater projects coming up. I am very fluent in public works. I think those two things are what tipped the edge.”

Olson begins his new job on Feb. 23. He remains Lemoore’s city manager for a bit longer. He has been in that role since February 2017. When asked why he decided to change jobs, Olson said after his tenure with his current position at Lemoore, it was time to switch it up.

“Most city managers last about three to four years. That’s about the average,” Olson said. “I think it was time for a change.”

NAS LEMOORE

Olson grew up in Wisconsin. He came to Lemoore with the Navy in 1988. He was stationed for four years and nine months at NAS Lemoore. After receiving an honorable discharge, he served four years with the Army National Guard. He met his wife in Lemoore, and earned a business degree from Phoenix University.

“The reason I got a degree is because I was getting passed up for promotions I felt I deserved,” he said.

In 2015, he jumped from the private sector to public service when he was hired as Lemoore’s public works director. He has been, at times, a plant operations manager and an engineering manager. He’s run food manufacturing, from cheese to tomatoes, and his resume also includes working with pistachios and almonds.

“I was hired to start up the Blue Diamond plant in Turlock,” he said. Aside from two years in Turlock and one year in Tulare, Olson has resided in Lemoore. He maintains a house there. His youngest child is a junior in high school. He said he will commute to Sanger until she graduates.

“Then I’ll probably have a secondary residence in Sanger,” he said.

Seven months after the resignation of former City Manager Tim Chapa, Nathan Oslon is set to take on the position as Sanger’s next city manager on Feb. 23. (Darren Fraser)

When he became Lemoore’s city manager, Olson said he was surprised that his transition from the private sector to public service took longer than he expected.

“It’s a lot easier to get things done in the private sector,” he said. “Inherently, the rules that are in place for the public sector make things a lot less efficient than in the private sector.”

He expects to leverage his private sector experience to expedite projects in Sanger – something he did in Lemoore.

“Lemoore was attracted to me because of my private background,” said Olson. “My goal was always to find ways to get rid of waste and streamline processes. Instead of putting up roadblocks, my goal was to get them open faster.”

300 ACRES ON THE 180

Sanger recently annexed 300 acres along the corridor on Highway 180. Olson loves economic development – it is one of the reasons that drew him to Sanger. He said he is excited about building out those 180 acres. He said it’s about the revenue and income that new businesses generate.

“When you start bringing in more money to the general fund, you can completely improve the quality of life for your residents. I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting that property built,” he said.

Another possible development may include Great Wolf Lodge. Olson said the company is looking to build in the area.

“Right on 180 towards the hills,” he said. He described the 180 corridor as a developer’s dream because of its popularity with travelers and its proximity to Fresno.

“To have a blank slate like that – the sky’s the limit,” Olson said. “We have a blank sheet of paper and we’ll engage the public, we’ll engage developers, and see what the biggest benefit will be.”

He said he will accompany the Sanger City Council when it travels to Las Vegas in May for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) conference. He said Mayor Frank Gonzalez, Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Martinez and other council members have set up meetings at the conference to attract businesses to Sanger.

FRIENDLY DISAGREEMENTS

While it did not completely toughen him up to criticism from members of the public, Olson’s experience in Lemoore, both as public works director and then as city manager, did gird him with insights on how best to deal with individuals who are not happy with his decisions.

“Not everyone will be happy with what you do,” he said. “But when I put my head on the pillow at night and I can close my eyes with a clear conscience, I’ve done my job.”

He said he knows there are individuals who regularly attend Sanger City Council meetings and who are critical of the council. For Olson, friendly disagreements, either with the public or with council members, are often the catalysts required to get things accomplished. He said he would be wary if there were no opposing opinions.

“If everyone is constantly agreeing, I don’t know that you’re challenging the envelope,” he said.

Olson had an open-door policy with residents in Lemoore. When he ordered his Sanger business cards, he asked that his cell phone number be printed on them.

“I’m an open book,” he said. “I will meet anyone if I’m in my office and they come by. Nothing will be done in a vacuum in my office.”

He stressed the importance of hearing from disgruntled residents.

“You have to make sure you don’t overreact with the people who are upset,” he said. “But you have to hear their voices and react to them. You can’t dismiss them.”

FIRST 30 DAYS

During his first 30 days, Olson said he will meet with each council member and explore their districts.

“They can point out the things they like and want help with,” he said.

He will do the same with Garner. Olson said he wants to get a gauge for the city and crime.

“The first 30 days I’ll be a sponge,” he said. “Getting to know the community.”

As for long-term goals, Olson acknowledged that council members have different visions for the city. The council has a list of priorities, including improving its wastewater capabilities and fixing its parks. Olson said the members agree regarding the big project – building out the 300 acres along 180.

He said the economy is also on the Council’s list of priorities.

“Martinez said the economy is a little stagnant right now,” he said. But Olson is optimistic. And he is looking forward to the challenge.

When asked if he was excited about the job, Olson said, “Absolutely. I’m ready to go.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter