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Plenty of interest, but search for interim manager came down to four candidates

In the end, Bainbridge Island's search for an interim city manager came down to four candidates, said members of the council committee in charge of finding a temporary replacement for the city's top executive.

The Bainbridge City Council is expected to choose an interim manager at its meeting tonight.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski said the ad hoc committee that's been conducting the search for an interim manager will recommend Michael Caldwell for the job.

Caldwell last served in an interim post in Edgewood, Wash. from March to December 2009.

Before that, in 2008, he was the interim city manager for Medina. He has also been an interim manager in Mill Creek, Fife and Bothell. He currently lives in Tucson, Ariz.

Caldwell has also been an elected city councilman in Lynnwood, where he served on the council for 14 years.

"He's got a very good understanding of not only the legislative side, but also the city management side," Bonkowski said.

Bonkowski said that he interviewed Caldwell, along with Councilwoman Anne Blair and Councilman Dave Ward, the other members of the ad hoc committee, for nearly an hour.

Caldwell talked about his work experience in previous interim positions, and Bonkowski said the committee got a good sense of his style of management.

They liked what they heard.

"We were very pleased with the kind of responses we got," he said, and added he would do an outstanding job for Bainbridge.

"He has extremely good credentials," Bonkowski said.

Three other candidates were also considered, and the trio included some familiar faces: Stan McNutt, who served as interim deputy city manager for Bainbridge Island in 2010; Robert "Bob" Jean, currently the interim city administrator in Lake Forest Park and one of those considered on Bainbridge in 2010 as a possible interim manager as a replacement for Lee Walton; and Morgan Smith, the city's deputy manager who has been serving as acting city manager since the council fired former manager Brenda Bauer last month.

Bonkowski said the group "strongly considered" hiring Smith as the interim manager.

"She has some very, very strong attributes on the finance and planning side," he said.

"But if you look at the way the previous city manager operated, she didn't operate by having Morgan run the city with her oversight. She ran pieces and Morgan ran pieces of it," he said.

Bauer handled labor and legal issues, and took the lead when it came to the police department, Bonkowski said.

The ad hoc committee was concerned that Smith did not have enough experience on those issues, he said.

"You've seen, with some of the lawsuits that we've had and the termination that we've had, you don't have to do much of a misstep and it's going to cost the city of a lot of money," Bonkowski said.

"I just wanted to have someone who would have a better background," he said.

Jean previously was city manager for University Place, and has more than 35 years of city management experience.

Blair said he was cut from the running because he is planning to be out of the country for five weeks.

The city has also received inquires from others interested in the manager's job, but Blair said those candidates did not advance because some wanted to be considered for either the permanent position, or both the interim and the permanent post.

"The interim is an interim," Blair said.

Bonkowski said he expects the interim to serve through the summer.

"My best guess is we will have an interim for about four months," he said.

"That's an if," he stressed, noting that the council has yet to vote on the ad hoc committee's recommendation.

Caldwell, the committee's pick, is expected to be paid $4,200 a week plus $1,000 a week for living expenses.

Bauer, the city's last manager, had been budgeted to get a weekly salary of $4,000 a week this year, including benefits.

Caldwell comes at the suggestion of Prothman, an Issaquah-based executive search firm.

Prothman submitted a draft contract to the city on April 6, and suggested that the interim city manager serve as a Prothman employee.

The interim employee would be paid $105 an hour — which totals $4,200 a week, based on a 40-hour workweek — and would also get a monthly housing stipend.

Under the proposed contract, the city would also pay expenses, including travel time, mileage and related expenses. A 3 percent charge would also be added to cover taxes.

Bonkowski said it was premature to say if the city may exceed its budget for city manager with the hiring of an interim.

He recalled that council members had talked of allocating $250,000 toward the effort to get a new manager.

"But we didn't have any basis for that," he said of the amount.

Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos said she was troubled by the cost of the temporary hire, as well as the way the committee found the replacement.

"I have no particular opinion about this person," she said.

"I have a concern about spending $5,300 in taxpayers' money a week, and about the effect on the people who work at city hall, who have been through endless turmoil for arguably three years, four years," Hytopoulos said.

"For those two reasons alone, it makes no sense to me," she said.

"And the fact that the council has said that we simply want to move along in the slow lane, why we would need to bring in someone else at the cost and disruption? It just doesn't make sense to me."

Hytopoulos said the full council never had the broader discussion that was needed, and did not have a public, in-depth conversation about hiring an interim manager or having staff step up until a permanent manager was found.

"This is a very important policy decision: first of all, whether to seek an outside interim manager, or to use our deputy, who has offered to do so," she said.

"I have real concerns on how that has played out. We have jumped immediately to the committee's singular recommendation and the majority has decided we are interviewing them.

"I said fait accompli at the last meeting, and I mean it," Hytopoulos said. "It feels like it's a done deal."

 

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