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Council asks city manager to leave - now

The Bainbridge Island City Council gave City Manager Brenda Bauer an early exit from city hall Wednesday night.

Her firing came after an hour-long, closed-door executive session that was called to discuss the performance of an unnamed city employee.

Councilman David Ward asked the council to make Bauer’s last day of work Thursday, March 15.

The early firing was approved on a familiar 4-3 decision, with Councilwoman Anne Blair, Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos and Councilman Bob Scales voting in the minority.

Bauer’s eventual departure was not unexpected, but the quick exit was a surprise. The city council voted in early February to amend Bauer’s contract to allow for her separation from the city.

That move gave the city three months to find a replacement, and Bauer has continued to serve as city manager during the start of a search for a new manager.

The move to remove Bauer did not go without dissension.

Hytopoulos said that she regrets not voicing her opposition to amending Bauer’s contract in January, a move that gave the city the option of giving Bauer 90 days notice before any termination, along with additional pay and benefits.

“I (was) so desperate to not have it on the public record how dysfunctional, and negative, and paranoid, and broken our council is because I wanted for the good of the community to have some chance of moving forward with a good candidate for city manager,” Hytopoulos said.

“But there’s really no point at this time. The immaturity and childishness, rather than adultness and professional (character) that we’ve observed,” she added.

Mayor Debbi Lester interrupted but Hytopoulos continued undeterred.

“And now six weeks later, you decide to kick her to the curb,” Hytopoulos said.

“It’s embarrassing — like much of what has been going on on this council,” she said. “I hope to God we have some chance of attracting any sort of a city manager to run this city.”

Scales said the negotiated settlement gave Bauer an additional two months’ worth of severance and an extension of benefits to get her to work through the transition of city managers.

The costs would have been less if the council would have separated her employment when it first terminated her employment, he said.

Lester interrupted Scales soon after he began speaking, and first tried to limit his comments to three minutes.

He asked for 10, but Lester said she would give him five.

After he began speaking again, she interrupted him again with a parliamentary question.

He used his remaining two minutes to praise Bauer’s work in bringing the city back from the brink of financial ruin.

“I thank Brenda Bauer for her service for the city of Bainbridge Island and I want to apologize for the unprofessional treatment she has received. There is no way I can undo what has been done,” Scales said.

“It’s a dirty trick,” Blair added.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski agreed that Bauer did “a remarkable job” in restoring the city’s financial footing. Even so, Bonkowski said he supported her early firing.

“This was very carefully and thoughtfully considered,” Ward added. “It’s the right thing for our community.”

Bauer was allowed to leave the meeting early. As she exited, she received a standing applause from 15 or so people in the packed council chambers.

Deputy City Manager Morgan Smith was appointed as acting city manager until an interim city manager is found.

Smith is not a full-time employee, however, and told the council that she cannot make immediate arrangements to be at the city full-time.

Bauer came to Bainbridge Island in June 2010 as an interim city manager. Before working for the city she was a department head for the city of Seattle. She was given permanent status as city manager by a 4-3 council vote in August 2011.

“Brenda’s done a fine job, but we felt we needed an experienced interim city manager who has been through this transition process before,” Ward said after the meeting. “Brenda’s an extremely capable manager, she’s done a very good job here. This gives us some stability in this longer transition period,” he said.

The council earlier set aside $250,000 from the city’s contingency fund to pay for Bauer’s severance package and the cost of the search for a new manager.

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