Administrator hopefuls strut their best stuff

Some boast of financial expertise, one defeated a Wal-Mart incursion.

Islanders met their next city administrator this week, and his name is Steve Burkett. Or Mark Dombroski. Or John Fischbach. Or Phillip Messina.

Before formally interviewing Thursday for the chance to succeed Mary Jo Briggs, the four remaining candidates for city administrator on Wednesday mingled with community members, staff and City Council members at a public reception at City Hall.

On display at the event were various skill sets and experiences, ranging from money sorting to Wal-Mart thwarting.

“People threw a party the day the ‘For Sale’ sign went up on the lot,” said Messina, of the victory of residents opposed to a planned superstore in Central Point, Ore., where he currently serves as city administrator.

The four candidates – a fifth, Jennifer Phillips, dropped out of the race this week – spent about two hours talking informally with the 25 or so people gathered in Council Chambers. Much of the focus was on the candidates’ respective backgrounds, but issues of local interest, and possible ways to deal with them, also came up.

John Fischbach, who most recently served as administrator for Jefferson County, said the future direction of the island should be “totally up to the community.”

Like Burkett, Fischbach worked with current Bainbridge Planning Director Greg Byrne in Fort Collins, Colo. He has served as city manager for several cities, including Fort Collins, Vancouver, Wash. and most recently Lake Forest, Ill., where open space, tree and historic preservation were big issues. He said he sees many parallels between Bainbridge and other cities he’s worked in.

“There has to be transparency,” Fischbach said, when asked about the path to sound government. “There has to be public participation. I believe in a government of the people and by the people.”

Burkett has served as city manager in Shoreline, Fort Collins, Tallahassee, Fla. and Springfield, Ore., during his 38-year career in city management. He said clearly defined roles are the key to positive relations among leaders. After spending the past two years as a consultant in Edmonds working with local governments, Burkett said he’s ready to get back on the inside of City Hall.

“One thing I miss is the organizational environment,” he said, adding that Bainbridge is an ideal location for his family. “My wife and I have been all over the country. We want to stay close to home.”

Bainbridge is already home for Dombroski, who has lived on the island for three years and served on the city Planning Commission for the past year.

Dombroski – who worked as a management consultant to public agencies prior to his current role as Director of Finance for Seattle City Light, said he wasn’t actively pursuing a change – but he feels he’s right for the position, and is already familiar with the community.

He cited smarter growth, improved process and a more readable, digestible city budget among his goals should he be hired.

“Right now the budget reads like a phonebook,” he said, rather than a document that’s reflective of community priorities.

Messina, a Seattle-area native, managed several Washington cities – including North Bend, Burlington and Colfax – prior to moving south to Central Point.

Along with an aversion to Wal-Marts, that community, near Medford, has about 17,000 people, many of them retirees. It also has a budget that’s less than half that of Bainbridge, due in part to a slowdown in capital work.

“We’ve cut back on capital projects because we just can’t afford to do them,” Messina said.

Along with helping mend soured relations among leaders, the new city administrator will face a full slate of planned capital projects, including a new police and court facility and the Streetscape.

All four men said they would be comfortable serving as city manager, should the local form of government eventually shift, as some predict. None indicated a preference for either form.

“I think it’s more about the people in place than the form of government,” Dombroski said. “We have a lot of highly energized, highly educated people on this island who don’t always want to go in the same direction. Part of the city administrator’s job is to marshal that and make sure people have the information they need to make decisions.”

Briggs announced her resignation last July, citing ongoing strife at City Hall. Her final day was Jan. 31. Police Chief Matt Haney is serving as interim city administrator until someone is hired permanently.

The search for Briggs’ successor is being conducted by Seattle firm the Prothman Company, which advertised the opening across 11 states. The city earlier this month winnowed the list of applicants to five, before Phillips pulled out. Candidates were interviewed Thursday, and Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said the city hopes to reach a decision by next week.

Prothman said it won’t be an easy choice.

“I’m confident that any one of these candidates could step in and perform the duties of the position,” he said. “What we’re looking for is the right fit – that fit quotient is what’s going to make someone stay for the next seven to 10 years.”

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