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Council split on Bauer job hunt

News of City Manager Brenda Bauer’s application for another job has left several councilors questioning the trust and honesty between the two governing bodies, and the process upon which the council reviewed its head-of-staff.

Prior to the council voting 4-3 last week to remove the “interim” status of her title, Bauer had applied for the city administrator position at the City of Tukwila. News of her job search was not shared with Councilors Debbi Lester, Bill Knobloch and Kim Brackett, all of whom had voted in the minority position against removing Bauer’s “interim” status.

The decision to make Bauer permanent did not change anything in her contract, however, it added two extra months of severance pay to a maximum of six months. Bauer is an at-will employee, meaning she can be terminated at any time, for almost any reason. Bauer makes approximate $150,000 annually.

If the council had voted not to remove the “interim” title Bauer’s employment would not have been terminated. Knobloch, Lester and Brackett recommended instead that the council wait until December to review Bauer’s progress, at such time when ongoing projects such as the Winslow Way project would be complete.

Upon learning of Bauer’s job hunt, Lester said she felt the information was intentionally withheld.

“At the end of the day, some [of the council] knew prior to going into the meeting to vote to remove the ‘interim’ title that [Bauer] was in the running for another job,” said Lester. “All seven of us did not know and that has got to stop.”

Bauer said she informed a “couple” council members to express that her desire was to stay on the island – where she felt she had invested both in the community and her staff – but couldn’t risk losing her job with no back-up plan should the council decide not to make her permanent.

Bauer, who has since withdrawn her application for the Tukwila job, said she didn’t think it had anything to do with the council decision on her status. Since positions at her level come up infrequently, she said, she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

Sharing the news with members of council was meant to clear up misinterpretation about her intentions, and she was under the impression the full council was in discussion, she said.

“I told a couple council members ‘you may want to share with your colleagues that I have put in applications somewhere else,’” said Bauer. “But my preference is to stay here because I think there is a lot we can do to continue to be successful. It was a private matter whether I applied.”

Lester said it was a “private” matter until Bauer shared it with one or two of the council members, upon which it should have been shared with the full council body.

“The perception is that council members were talking with Brenda and leaving the rest of the council out of a conversation that has such an important impact on the city,” said Knobloch. “For me [the review] was a rush to judgment without due public process and council participation. I was quite disappointed that council did not have all of the same information prior to the vote.”

Lester said she isn’t sure if knowing Bauer had applied for other jobs would have changed her vote, but “the whole council deserves to know everything at the same time.”

Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos said she had heard that Bauer applied for another position, but felt it was Bauer’s personal life and not ripe for city business conversation. Hytopoulos said the information did, however, help inform her vote.

“Part of the reason I made that vote was to let Brenda know that we wanted to continue to work with her,” said Hytopoulos. “Brenda is not an interim, her job history is not to hop from job to job. She commits to a career and making her permanent was telling her that she had done a good job and should continue to invest in this community.”

The vote had been planned since June, Hytopoulos said, when the council unanimously agreed to vote on her status at the beginning of August.

“If we chose to deny removal of ‘interim’ that is a message in itself that we didn’t have confidence in [Bauer].”

Bauer said she did not intentionally keep anyone in the dark, but with a family, including a teen in college, she said she couldn’t afford not to plan for her future. One of the reason’s she hasn’t relocated to Bainbridge, she said, is that she currently owns two homes in Seattle; one that she hasn’t been able to sell since the financial crisis crushed the housing market.

“I am not looking to move away from Bainbridge,” said Bauer. “I am excited to come to work every day with my team and we have been incredibly successful. We are hitting all our goals that we set out, and some were extraordinarily aggressive... I am enjoying working hard.”

Last Wednesday’s vote came on the heels of an executive session conversation in which the council discussed the results of Bauer’s one-year review. The council hired a consultant to compile an anonymous survey from department heads, city employees, council and community members.

Though council had the option, it chose not to meet with Bauer to discuss the results of the review in executive session, and instead waited to have the discussion at the dais last Wednesday.

Both Lester and Knobloch felt the news of Bauer’s job search may explain the sense of urgency to rush the review and remove the “interim.”

“In a typical professional setting you complete a review or evaluation and you sit down and have a frank conversation about the results,” said Lester. “You talk about the successes, find areas of improvement, set the baseline, identify training and plan for progress check-ins. We tried to complete that conversation at the dais and it felt incomplete.”

Hytopoulos plans to complete a request for proposal (RFP) process to hire a consultant to help the council formulate policies for performance standards and review process.

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