Nordby leaving city next month

Frustrated by conflicts with the City Council, Administrator Lynn Nordby announced yesterday that he will retire effective July 31 to become senior project manager with MuniFinancial, a California-based consulting firm.

The only full-time administrator Bainbridge Island has ever had, Nordby was hired by then-mayor Sam Granato in January 1991, four weeks before what was then the city of Winslow annexed the rest of the island.

“The position was created in anticipation of all-island government,” Nordby said. “While I have enjoyed the challenge of creating an organization, it is time to do something else.”

Nordby left little doubt that his clashes with the council, particularly its newer members, played a large part in his decision to leave the city.

“If the council doesn’t like you or what you do, you’re not going to get things accomplished,” he said. “I enjoyed good relations with councils for a long time, and I know what can be done. If they are unhappy with me, it’s time to move on and do so on my own terms.”

The 54-year-old Nordby put in 30 years of municipal service on May 1, making him eligible to retire through the Public Employee Retirement System at 60 percent of his $100,000 salary.

The retirement benefits are paid for by city and employee contributions over the course of a career, and do not come from the city budget after an employee retires.

Nordby said the retirement benefits and compensation from MuniFinancial would be slightly better than his present salary, but that the money was not a big factor in his decision.

Nordby had been under fire for the past year-plus for reasons never publicly specified by any council members.

Last year, the council called two executive sessions on “personnel matters” from which Nordby was excluded, leading to widespread speculation that he was the subject of those sessions. During budgeting last fall, Councilwoman Debbie Vann stated that she did not believe the city administrator’s position needed to be full time.

Last month, the city’s director of information technology also resigned, again citing frustration and conflicts with the council.

No council members could be reached for comment before the Review’s press time Tuesday.

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy says criticisms of Nordby are poorly taken.

“The new council members have rarely been in to see him, call him or question him, so they’re making judgments from an outsider perspective,” she said. “While that’s a valid perspective, it should be tested once someone becomes an elected official.”

Kordonowy said Nordby will be missed for his calm demeanor, network of contacts around the state, and base of knowledge, particularly about island government.

Nordby told the city’s department heads in April that he would leave the city’s top non-elected job by the end of the year because of conflicts with the council.

“I’ve been aware for awhile that Lynn believed he could no longer be of service to the city and was looking for employment elsewhere,” Kordonowy said. “Based on other departures we have had, I requested that he make his retirement effective as close to the end of the year as possible. We will all have to move a little faster than we had anticipated.”

Kordonowy said she has gathered a group of citizens that she refers to as “long-time, wise and well-respected islanders” to work with her on crafting a job description for the new city manager.

They are island psychologist Mary Stowell, executive leadership trainer Anne Blair, city manager Lee Walton and longtime government scholar David Harrison.

City code says that the mayor will appoint the city administrator, to be confirmed by the council.

The retirement gives Kordonowy four management positions to fill. The positions of police chief and planning director are being filled on an interim basis by Matt Haney and Larry Frazier.

Nordby was born in Alaska, moved to Southern California as a teenager and graduated from UCLA with a degree in political science. He has a masters degree from the University of Puget Sound. He spent two years in city management in Artesia, Calif., and 17 years in Enumclaw before coming to Bainbridge Island.

Nordby said the consulting firm first contacted him over a year ago, but he said he was not interested in considering other offers until after he had put in his 30 years and qualified for retirement.

When the firm contacted him again this spring, they began talking, he said. He interviewed with the firm last week at its Temecula, Calif., headquarters, and received a formal offer last Friday.

MuniFinancial consults with municipalities on complex financial matters, Nordby said, such as project feasibility studies, rate studies and local-improvement districts. He will work throughout Washington, he said, but will continue to live on Bainbridge Island – a significant benefit of the job.

“I don’t want to move,” he said. “I like my neighborhood, I like my church, and in all honesty, I want to be able to vote here.”

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