Director bolts after only a year on the job

After a little over a year on the job, Planning Director Greg Byrne has resigned, the city announced Thursday.

His last day is May 16. Then it’s on to Albany, Ore., where in June he’ll take over as that city’s planning director.

Byrne couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but his boss, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, said continuing problems at City Hall played a role in his decision to leave.

“There were a number of factors, both personal and some having to do with the city,” said Kordonowy, who received Byrne’s resignation Monday. “The way this city and community operates, with the number of things we’re trying to do, it’s a major challenge to get things done.”

The challenge won’t get any easier, Kordonowy said, with the city about to embark on a new capital plan while facing a severe revenue shortage.

She said Byrne’s departure wasn’t entirely unforeseen.

“I’ve been concerned about the planning department this year, with changing work plans and budget delays,” Kordonowy said. “But it’s always a shock to actually be told – and I was shocked by the finality of his decision.”

Downtown Planner Kathy Cook will serve in Byrne’s stead while the city searches for a permanent planning director. Unlike recent major hiring processes, the search for Byrne’s successor will be done in-house, rather than using a consultant. At a minimum it will take three months. When hired, Byrne’s salary was $117,000.

Byrne beat out 33 hopefuls to become the city’s planning head in February 2007. Upon being hired, he said the Bainbridge job was the only one he applied for, despite 45 other executive job openings listed at the time on the American Planner Association’s national Web site.

He cited his interest in the island’s community “conversation” on growth and planning issues, as manifested in Winslow Tomorrow and other projects, as reasons for taking the job.

Having apparently selected carefully, it came as a shock to Councilman Chris Snow that Byrne decided to bolt so quickly.

“It was surprising to hear Greg Byrne decided to resign,” Snow said. “It’s not surprising to me that someone decided to resign. Staff has been getting a lot of heat it doesn’t really deserve, and that can make it very unpleasant to work at the city.”

Byrne’s announcement comes on the heels of the resignation of former City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs, who left in January.

Briggs announced she was leaving last July, citing as her reason ongoing strife at City Hall. Her successor, Mark Dombroski, took over his new post this week.

Byrne succeeded Jim Harris, who served on an interim basis following the retirement in 2006 of Larry Frazier.

Prior to coming to Bainbridge, Byrne was executive director of community planning and environmental services for the city of Fort Collins, Colo., where he had worked since 1991.

He’s also worked for the city of Eugene, Ore. – about 45 miles south of his new workplace in Albany. Byrne also received a master’s degree from the University of Oregon

Like Snow, Councilman Bill Knobloch hadn’t spoken to Byrne since the announcement, but was disappointed by the news.

“I had high expectations and was optimistic about the changes he’d begun (to overhaul city code),” Knobloch said. “For him to depart unexpectedly after such a short time raises a lot of questions for me.”

Councilwoman Hilary Franz had a similar take.

“It’s a great, great loss,” she said. “We as a community need to look very carefully at this and identify what we need to do differently to avoid losing good people like this.”

Kordonowy said the next few months will be an “important testing ground” for the city.

She and others have said the slowdown on capital projects caused by the city’s financial problems could provide an opportunity to finally implement some of the priorities outlined in the recent benchmarking study.

Completed last year by an independent consultant firm, the study found the city’s costs are 15 percent higher than comparable cities. Defining roles for leaders is its top recommendation.

“We need to all agree on an agenda,” Kordonowy said. “What’s my job, what’s your job – and go from there. We change in mid-stream too often.”

We can’t keep changing directions without knowing who’s doing what. And we can’t keep pointing fingers. We need to fix this so we stop losing good people.”

“The planning department has talented, dedicated staff,” Byrne said in the city release.?“It has been my pleasure to work with them, and I’m confident that they will continue to move the department forward.”

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