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Bainbridge council interviews Arizona man for interim manager job

Michael Caldwell, a candidate for the interim city manager position for Bainbridge Island, speaks to the city council at Wednesday
Michael Caldwell, a candidate for the interim city manager position for Bainbridge Island, speaks to the city council at Wednesday's council meeting.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review

Bainbridge Island may have hit a home run when they found a firm to search for the next city manager, but the swing to hire an interim manager only yielded a bunt into next week.

The city council’s ad hoc committee for the city manager search chose Michael Caldwell of Arizona as their pick for the interim city manager. They brought him in to interview for the position during Wednesday’s council meeting.

There was some debate on the dais prior to Caldwell’s interview. Councilman Bob Scales and Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos noted that they were expecting only a recommendation at the meeting, not an in-person interview.

The committee, however, recommended Caldwell at last week’s meeting while Scales was absent. The council also voted to fly Caldwell in from Arizona for the interview.

Scales objected to their methods and interpretation of the process. He had previously favored Acting City Manager Morgan Smith as the interim, and wanted the committee to consider her as well.

“This is different than what we agreed on two weeks ago,” Scales said.

“This is consistent with what we agreed to,” Councilman Dave Ward responded. “How can you possibly make a decision between two alternatives without seeing both of them? Let’s move forward.”

The council then asked Caldwell to step forward, and he reluctantly — though jokingly — complied.

“I just told this nice lady I want to go home,” he quipped.

Caldwell told the council he would need one to two weeks to get up to speed on city operations.

There was one obvious glitch in the questioning, though.

“I wonder if the ad hoc committee informed you, as they did the council, that they didn’t want a change agent?” Scales asked Caldwell.

“No,” Caldwell responded. “They want someone to come in and keep things running.”

“I don’t think status quo is a good operation” Caldwell then added. “If you come in to manage the operations of the city, you manage it. If you need to make personnel changes, you make them.”

After the short interview, the council retreated into a closed-door executive session to talk, but no decision was made and Caldwell was asked to visit the city staff on Thursday morning and tour city hall.

The council plans to discuss their options at next week’s meeting.

If hired, Caldwell cannot start until May.

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 earlier this week.

Bonkowski said that he previously interviewed Caldwell over the phone, 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 on the phone.

“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.

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, if hired, 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. Caldwell would get $70 an hour.

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.

Bonkowski said the group “strongly considered” hiring Smith as the interim manager. Smith is the first choice for the interim position for Scales and Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos.

“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.

Review writer Brian Kelly contributed to this story.

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