Low turnout for city manager public forums

The train has left the station, but it seems the community isn't getting on board.

Two public forums were held Monday to allow the Bainbridge Island community a chance to speak face-to-face with Tom Muehlenbeck of Strategic Government Resources — the firm hired to find the city's next city manager. It was an opportunity to help steer the search with input from everyday islanders.

But while the search process has begun, the community didn't seem to notice.

Only a handful of community members showed up for the morning forum. The evening forum initially drew one participant for the first hour.

Eventually, as the second two-hour meeting continued, three additional public members trickled in, rounding the crowd out to four (not counting Councilwoman Anne Blair and Councilman Steve Bonkowski, who listened in).

Despite the low turnout, Muehlenbeck still grabbed the chance to pick islanders' brains. As each person entered the room, he rose from his chair with his hand extended and introduced himself — each time with a smile.

"I want to get citizens' points of view, and find out the qualities they like," Muehlenbeck said.

The evening meeting did bring forth some ideas on what's needed in the next city manager.

"We've been through a process where the council and the city manager have operated on their own and haven't been responsive to the community," said Larry Koss. "We need a city manager who is working with the public in mind."

The sense of having a manager who was engaged with the community was a significant issue Monday night. Everyone agreed that having a manager who listens and works with the community is an essential quality.

Finance was also a popular topic.

"I'm encouraging that we find a city manager who can come in here and can look at our cost allocation system, and who has enough guts to get it back in check," said islander Robert Dashiell.

"The most broken thing in our city right now is our cost allocation," he said.

One forum remains scheduled for tonight from 6 to 8 p.m.

It will be the final opportunity for the public to make an impression with Muehlenbeck before the firm begins the next step in the search — an advertising push, and the development of a brochure to attract candidates for the position.

CEO Ron Holifield will also be in attendance for the evening's meeting.

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