Terry Novak, the Eastern Washington University professor of public administration whose candor and foresight helped shape Spokane during his 13 years as city manager, died Saturday at his home. He was 68.
In recent years, Novak had been under a doctor’s care for diabetes-related illnesses, said his sister-in-law, Beverly Hosea.
He died while his wife, Barbara, was away on a business trip, and was found by emergency crews sent to the home late Saturday when he did not answer his wife’s phone calls, Hosea said.
Barbara Novak was flying home from New York late Sunday.
The cause of death has not yet been determined.
Friends and former colleagues in city government, saddened by news of Novak’s death, described a diligent manager who had the ability to look into the city’s future and plan for it.
“Terry was one of the most outstanding public servants I had the pleasure of working with,” said former city attorney James Sloane.
Sloane said Spokane is still benefiting from Novak’s innovation under the city’s former council-manager form of government. Novak served as city manager from 1978 until 1991.
Among the accomplishments in which Novak played a major role are financing the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, creating the Ag Trade Center and acquiring the property for what is now the Riverpoint Campus.
Novak’s foresight in bringing water and sewer service to the West Plains is largely responsible for industrial and residential development there.
“Without that, none of the development on the West Plains would be there today,” said Dave Mandyke, city director of public works. “He wasn’t afraid of big projects. Thinking big was what Terry was all about.”
Some of the city’s biggest decisions under Novak’s leadership were also among the most controversial. He was the driving force behind the waste-to-energy project.
“We didn’t always agree, but he was good to work with,” said Sheri Barnard, the former City Council member whose opposition to the incinerator helped get her elected mayor, even if it could not stop the project.
Barnard called Novak’s death “a great loss to the community.”
Former City Council member Dick Gow also said that he had differences with Novak but left office “one of his biggest fans.”
“He had the ability to see a long way down the road,” Gow said.
He noted Novak’s ability to cooperate with county, state and federal government and to pull Spokane through a recession not unlike the one today.
Former employees said one of Novak’s greatest strengths was giving his department heads the leeway they needed to do their jobs.
“But he held them accountable, as they must be,” said Mike Kobluk, former director of entertainment facilities. He said Novak’s door was always open, but he wanted his managers to make it quick.
“He was a no-nonsense city manager, but one of the better ones we’ve had,” Kobluk said.
At times, the grace he gave directors came back on him, as when his most notable hire, police Chief Terry Mangan, remarked in 1991 that legislating protection of gays and lesbians from malicious harassment was wrong.
That year, Novak’s last as city manger, an editorial in The Spokesman-Review described him as aloof and possessing a “condescension that … caused resentment among so many Spokane citizens who brought grievances to City Hall.”
But Novak never seemed to worry much about public perception.
“I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about my image,” he once told a reporter. “I’m too busy trying to get things done.”
Novak resigned in 1991 to become Eastern Washington University’s vice president for business and finance, a job that was eliminated under reorganization a year later. He stayed on campus, later becoming dean of extension programs for urban and regional development and then professor of public administration.
Born in South Dakota on Sept. 1, 1940, Novak attended South Dakota State University and received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Colorado. Before arriving in Spokane, he served as assistant city manager in Anchorage, Alaska, and city manager in Hopkins, Minn., and Columbia, Mo.
In 1981, Novak married Barbara Hosea, a Spokane Symphony bassoonist and ordained Episcopal deacon at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
Tragedy struck the family in June 1995 when Novak’s son Steve was overcome by carbon monoxide and died while exploring an abandoned mine on Lake Pend Oreille. Steve Novak was 28.
He left behind a wholesale import business with ties to Nepal that Terry and Barbara Novak continued after Steve’s death.
Novak remained active in civic life after leaving government. In 1997, he was recruited by the city to run the Spokane Public Development Authority, a post he left in 2001. He also served on the Spokane Area Economic Development Council and the Sister Cities Association of Spokane.
He worked tirelessly on behalf of Spokane, Sloane said.
“He will be tremendously missed.”
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