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Council seeks manager

After an 18-month commitment, the Bainbridge Island City Council has decided to search for a new city manager.

The break caused tension at the council’s weekly meeting on Wednesday and resulted in veteran Council Member Bob Scales’ objection and premature exit from the meeting.

The council unanimously voted Wednesday to approve an amendment to City Manager Brenda Bauer’s contract that offers more pay to her severance package and allows the city to begin searching for her replacement, effectively beginning her termination from the position.

“Regardless of the different positions up here and what different perspectives we came from, this council worked very well in (executive session),” said Council Member Kirsten Hytopoulos said. “Right now I am very impressed by how these seven people have worked.”

The council presented a unified front since the amendment was publicly announced Monday, with members refraining from making any comment on the matter. No comment was given by anyone on council or by city staff until a press release was published Thursday morning.

“While we acknowledge and appreciate City Manager Bauer’s accomplishments leading the city through daunting financial and pressing infrastructure problems, the 2012 Council is committed to working with the community to develop a post-crisis vision for the city,” Council Member Debbi Lester said in a press release from the city. “We would like to choose a city manager to lead Bainbridge Island toward that vision.”

After the amendment was passed, however, Scales quickly broke from the pack. As the council attempted to make an additional motion to begin searching for a new city manager by using a professional search firm, Scales began a lengthy explanation of why he could not support the motion. Among other things, he said the city will not be able to attract qualified candidates because of its already high turnover rate of city managers and recent negative press coverage.

“No city manager candidate would knowingly enter into an abusive relationship,” Scales said. “We need to convince prospective candidates that working for the city of Bainbridge Island would actually be a career advancement for them and certainly not a hostile work environment.”

Scales was interrupted three times by council members Hytopoulos and Anne Blair, who said she did not understand the purpose of his speech. Hytopoulos said Scales was commenting on topics he was not allowed to because of an agreement council made in executive session.

Scales said he was cut off as he was about to speak to the recent controversy over the city’s Civil Service Commission’s secretary/chief examiner, suspicious memos and emails, and the new council’s intent to replace the city manager. He said his right to free speech had been violated.

“I will continue to express my views publicly and fight for what I believe is the right thing to do,” Scales said in an e-mail sent to the Review. “I don’t mind if people disagree with my policy positions, but I will not allow any of my colleagues to violate my First Amendment rights. I will not allow them to silence the dissenting viewpoints in our community either.”

The council eventually decided to move past Scales’ comments and approved the motion by a 6-0 vote, with Scales absent. The council will discuss its next step in the search for a city manager at its Feb. 8 meeting.

“This is a political and a policy decision that council is making to silence my comments and I do not believe it is productive for me to participate in this meeting any longer and I am going to leave, thank you,” Scales said before collecting his belongings and promptly leaving the meeting.

“At that point it was clear to me that I was being censored and that the council would not allow me to express views that were contrary to their position on this matter,” Scales said Thursday morning. “Since my colleagues were refusing to allow me to do my job, I saw no point in remaining at the meeting as a potted plant who was forbidden to speak.”

The change to the city’s management comes shortly after a change to the council itself. Four new members came onto council at the start of 2012, one beating an incumbent. With the former council lineup frequently voting for or against items by a 4-3 vote, the change to the council has been hoped by some to even out the power on the dais.

Three of the four new council members – Sarah Blossom, Steve Bonkowski and David Ward – publicly voiced their disapproval of Bauer’s job performance while campaigning last year. It wasn’t long after the three entered into office that discussion of Bauer’s status as city manager came up — council began discussing the matter in a series of executive sessions starting Jan. 11.

“I understand a newly constituted council’s wish to set a new direction for the coming years and to have a city manager of their choosing as the city moves forward,” Bauer said in the press release. “I will assist the Council with this transition.”

Bauer came to Bainbridge Island as its city manager in June 2010 under an interim status. She was given permanent status by a 4-3 council vote in August 2011. Of the current council members, Debbi Lester was the only one to vote against giving Bauer a permanent status.

Bauer, whose base annual salary is $150,000, has the option to remain in her position during the period of transition. According to Bauer’s contract she is an at-will employee and is entitled to six months of severance pay, plus benefits. With the amendment to her contract, she will also receive an additional 90 days of pay making the final package approximately $112,500 before considering benefits.

 

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