Retiring Centralia City Manager Rob Hill honored after nearly 14 years of service to the city


After initially being selected as city manager in September 2010, retiring Centralia City Manager Rob Hill was honored for his service to Centralia by the city council and those in attendance at its meeting on Tuesday, May 28, inside Centralia City Hall.

The city’s Public Works Director Kim Ashmore recalled when he first met Hill as one of the three final candidates the city had settled on to become Centralia’s new city manager in 2010.

“One of my roles was to take these three candidates out and show them the city,” Ashmore said. “The other two, they wanted to see the city. They wanted to see (city) departments. They wanted to see what makes this city tick. Rob did not want to see that at first. We hopped in the Jeep Liberty out here and he says, ‘I want to see where it floods, and I want to see where the choke point is on the Chehalis River.’”

Given this was just after the 2007 flood, Ashmore was impressed with Hill having done his homework, learning not just about the city but about the challenges residents live with.

“That really said a lot to me,” Ashmore said.

Since his hiring in 2010, Ashmore said Hill’s leadership, enthusiasm, hard work and loyalty have all benefited both the city and his fellow city staff, and also contributed to Hill’s unusually long stint as a city manager.

“I’ve been here a little while, so I’ve seen those managers come for two years, three years, four years. As (former Centralia City Councilor) Edna (Fund) said, five years was about the max that we had seen a city manager,” Ashmore said. “So, to have somebody stick around for 14 years, be part of the team, as I said earlier, I’d call him ‘boss’ once in a while and he’d call me ‘subordinate,’ but it’s there where I learned he was a part of this team.”

Hill began his career in 1986 working for the U.S. Forest Service at the Lake Davis Recreation Area in Portola, California.

In 1994, he started working in the Susanville Parks and Recreation Department.

“I am convinced that the character Ron Swanson in ‘Parks and Rec’ was based on you Rob,” Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston said. “He came to Centralia in 2010 as Kim mentioned, and he’s spent the last 14 years leading our city in the best possible way.”

She added Hill is respected throughout the community, and has won the Best Public Servant Award from The Chronicle’s Best of Lewis County contest as well as the Economic Alliance of Lewis County Staff Award.

Smith Johnston also credited Hill with helping craft the city’s financial policies and helping the city through the COVID lockdowns, along with projects and nonprofit organizations throughout Centralia.

“Through all of it, Rob leads with a sense of humor. You’ve made me laugh every day,” Smith Johnston said. “It’s been an absolute joy. Any success I’ve experienced on my time on city council, I contribute to you.”

Along with thanking Hill for his time with the city, Smith Johnston made a proclamation declaring Friday, May 31, 2024, as Rob Hill Day.

Hill thanked everyone for their kind words and attributed his longevity in the city manager position to the city being the right fit for him. He recalled when he first moved to Centralia and brought a mounted elk head named Fred he had from his time hunting in California.

There was just one issue: He couldn’t get it inside his new home.

“My wife was thrilled. She was just like, ‘Put it in the carport,’” and I said, ‘That’s not happening,’” Hill said.

Just days before he was set to start as the Centralia city manager, Hill decided it was going up in his new office.

“Fred hung out there for 13 and a half years, and he went home Sunday,” Hill added.

At first, he was worried about how having an elk head in his office would go over, both with city staff and Centralians visiting city hall, but everyone loved it.

“You go across that boundary up to Grand Mound, I probably wouldn’t last 14 days,” Hill said. “Not because I’m better, or anything else. I just wouldn’t fit. I’m just really grateful for this opportunity. This is an amazing community, best staff ever.”

In retirement, Hill plans on becoming a “sunbird,” living in Centralia during the summers and spending winters in Arizona.

“There’s no way I’m sitting down there in the summer,” Hill added.

A retirement potluck party is being held for Hill on Rob Hill Day this Friday, May 31, at Dick’s Brewing Company — located at 3516 Galvin Road in Centralia — from 5 to 10 p.m.

Those planning to attend are invited to bring their second favorite side dish, beverages and best Rob Hill story.

The City of Centralia is still currently searching for new city manager candidates for the position, and Smith Johnston added she expects the search to conclude by September. 

Until a new full-time city manager is selected, Centralia Deputy City Manager and Parks Director Amy Buckler will serve as the interim city manager.