Oak Ridge North City Manager Richard Derr discusses volunteerism, career

Richard Derr became city manager of Oak Ridge North for the second time in September.

Richard Derr became city manager of Oak Ridge North for the second time in September.


Taking the reins from Vicky Rudy following her retirement in September, Richard Derr has returned to Oak Ridge North to serve as city manager.


Derr is no stranger to the city—he previously served as city administrator more than 20 years ago from 1989-94 before heading into the private sector. Most recently he was the director of utility district relations at The Woodlands Development Company before the opportunity came up to return to Oak Ridge North.


“When this [city manager] position came open, I thought it was maybe time for me to leave The [Woodlands] Development Company [and] pull my management skills out of the closet,” Derr said. “If I could go somewhere as a manager and have a positive impact on an organization, that would be a great way to continue my career and continue doing what I’ve been doing for 20 years.”


VOLUNTEER WORK


Derr originally hails from Akron, Ohio, and is an alumnus of Miami University in Ohio, where he studied business administration.


He said he spent the first few years after graduation working at his family’s building materials company in Richfield, Ohio, before discovering his passion for helping those in need. He moved to New York City to volunteer at Covenant House in 1983. 


“It’s an international nonprofit that helps homeless and runaway youth under 21 [years old],” Derr said. “At the NYC [New York City] center I lived with a group of people, worked with kids, with mothers and babies and then worked as the senior accountant.”


Derr said it was his work with Covenant House that prompted his move to Texas. After a year in New York Derr worked with the nonprofit to start a Covenant House location in Houston’s Montrose area.


“I liked [New York City], but it wasn’t a place where I wanted to bring a family up,” Derr said. “Westheimer doesn’t look anything like it did then—it was a rough neighborhood. [There were a] lot of drugs, gangs—[it was] pretty dark down here. I became the finance director of the Houston Covenant House in 1984.”


CITY CAREER


Derr parted ways with Covenant House in 1987 and became an office manager at The Woodlands’ branch of Big Brothers and Sisters. His first stint with Oak Ridge North came soon after, but Derr said it began as a fluke.


“I was shocked I got called,” Derr said. “I had absolutely no city management experience, but they weren’t looking for someone with a city management background. They were looking for someone with a business-finance background. At that time, the city was much smaller, the staff was all hands-on, and we didn’t have much money.”


As city administrator Derr said he oversaw the completion of the city’s first master plan, started the process of taking over the municipal utility district and oversaw the completion of the rehabilitation of the city’s streets. He said he also helped to get the city in better financial shape.


“We didn’t have much of a [budget] surplus,” Derr said. “The goal was to stop the [financial] bleeding and start to build a surplus, which we were able to do and still maintain the city.”


After five years with the city, Derr said he began working for The Woodlands Development Company when an opportunity presented itself. He became director of utility district relations in 1994.


“I wanted to get more in touch with water and sewer services and how you deal with that,” he said. “This is kind of an anomaly—I left and worked for the development company, and then I came back [to Oak Ridge North] recently.”


Derr said his experiences at his family’s company had proved valuable after his move to Houston.


“I interfaced with architects,” Derr said.  “I worked on the development side, and they were building roads in The Woodlands.”


He now resides in The Woodlands with Elizabeth, his wife of 30 years, his son John, 17, and their German shepherd named General Patton. John is a student at Lone Star College.


Derr said he has been welcomed back by Mayor Jim Kuykendall and the Oak Ridge North City Council.


“Richard Derr was a natural fit as our city manager,” Kuykendall said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience back to the position. That knowledge and experience coupled with the fact that he is known and knows a great many people in our area allowed us to continue the work of the city and the city staff to continue without missing a step. We are fortunate to have him.”


Derr said he is looking forward to tackling the challenges facing the city—most specifically infrastructure, mobility and transportation.


“When you work in cities, that’s kind of where the rubber meets the road,” Derr said. “City services and being of service to the residents is about as basic as you can get in terms of helping people. When you’re in development, you’re not [helping people]—they’re building houses for basically affluent people. But to see if I could do [something] to make people’s lives better and make the city better, that had a lot more value to me than continuing development.”


VOLUNTEERISM
New Oak Ridge North City Manager Richard Derr has been an ardent proponent of volunteer work and has accomplished a variety of projects to benefit residents of the Greater Houston area.
-1983: Derr became a volunteer at Covenant House in New York, a shelter for troubled youth, where he participated in counseling and casework. He eventually became the organization's senior accountant.
-1984: Derr moved to Texas and opened a location of Covenant House in Houston's Montrose area.
-1988: After a short stint at My Brother's Place, a Houston organization which helped homeless youth, Derr worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Montgomery County helping area youth.