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City Administrator Briggs to step down

She cites frustration in conflicts with the City Council, ‘inability to work together.’

She arrived in 2004 on a wave of optimism, citing a “universal commitment” toward progress between the City Council and the mayor as her main reason for accepting the top position at City Hall.

On Tuesday, nearly three years to the day since her tenure began, City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs announced her resignation, citing ongoing and well-documented tension between administration, the mayor and the council as the reason behind her departure.

“This was a very tough decision to make,” Briggs said. “I thought long and hard about it, but it really came down to the inability of the City Council and administration to work together in a collegial and productive manner.”

To give the city time to find her replacement, she will work through Jan. 31, 2008. The search for her successor will begin immediately, according to Mayor Darlene Kordonowy.

Briggs’ resignation came despite the fact that four council seats are up for election in November; she said the coming election didn’t factor into her decision.

“There’s a long time between now and the end of the year,” she said.

Briggs said no single incident led to her decision. Instead, it was the result the cumulative toll of continual disagreements among decision makers.

She declined to give examples, saying the community has

“gone through those specific examples together.”

Briggs was a unanimous choice by the council in May 2004 to succeed Lee Walton in the top post at City Hall.

She came to Bainbridge Island from the city of Fairview, Ore., a fast-growing Portland suburb, where she served as administrator for three years. Before that she worked for the city of Vancouver, Wash., in finance, public works and administration.

She was tapped by an executive search firm during the hiring process, and chosen above four other finalists.

Upon her hire, Briggs was unabashed in her excitement at being on Bainbridge, expressing her readiness to work with staff and council.

“What I find refreshing is, I perceive now a universal commitment between the mayor and council to moving the city forward in a positive way,” she said in 2004. “That was something that had to be there, just had to be there.”

But as time went on, relations between city staff and council were increasingly fraught with disagreements that she said often stymied progress.

Reflecting on her tenure, Briggs said she isn’t blameless.

“I don’t think I’m perfect,” she said. “I regret not being able to strengthen the trust between the council and staff. I regret not being able to foster better collaboration.”

Kordonowy, too, expressed regret over Briggs resignation, saying news of it came as a shock.

After her initial “emotional reaction,” Kordonowy began thinking of ways to convince Briggs to stay.

Before long, though, those thoughts gave way to respect for her colleague’s decisiion.

“She’s a very thoughtful person,” Kordonowy said. “She had plenty of time to think about it. I don’t know that I could promise her things would be any different if she stayed.”

Kordonowy acknowledged there is much work ahead, but said the city will experience something of a pause in the time between now and the arrival of Briggs’ successor.

She credited Briggs with leaving the city in a better position than it was in before she arrived.

“She came at a time when the organization needed to become more professional and constructive,” Kordonowy said. “She cleared the way for us to become that in the future and is leaving us in very, very good stead.”

Among her proudest accomplishments, Briggs cited the raising of performance accountability standards and appraisals and improved relations with the union.

Above all, she thanked her colleagues and expressed her intent to help the city during the transition.

Because Briggs still will work for the city for the next seven months, she doesn’t have a new job lined up.

“My intent is to go full boar from here on out,” she said.

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