Islander Walton tapped as administrator

Bainbridge Island didn’t have to look very far to fill its top appointive position.

And for the first time in years, the man who is taking the job doesn’t have to go far to get to his office.

Sunrise Drive resident Lee Walton will step in beginning Monday as city administrator, replacing the retired Lynn Nordby.

For the past dozen years, Walton has has been taking on temporary assignments around the West Coast, and as a consultant in the former Soviet Union.

“This is the first assignment I’ve ever had where I could stay at home,” Walton said.

While proximity leads to convenience, it hasn’t necessarily led to a great deal of familiarity.

“This is the place where I’ve always come home to unwind, and I have to admit I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to politics on the island,” Walton said.

Before accepting the job, Walton not only interviewed extensively with Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who will be his immediate boss, but with the Bainbridge Island City Council, some of whom were sharply critical of Nordby.

“I told the mayor that I wanted to work more with the council, and develop a relationship with them,” Walton said. “If you can’t develop a relationship with the council, you can’t do any good.”

The council Wednesday unanimously confirmed Walton’s appointment without comment.

Kordonowy said that she will give the council a timeline for appointing a permanent administrator at the Aug. 13 meeting, and has said in the past that she expects to fill the position by year’s end.

Walton graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1956, and did graduate work in public and business administration at the University of Southern California through 1960.

He intended to go to law school, but was drafted after beginning his studies.

After he got out of the Army, Walton needed a job to support his family, so he went to work as an administrative assistant in Los Angeles County, then became city administrator in Rolling Hills Estates.

“I kept thinking I would go back to law school, but finally, I had to admit that I was a city manager,” he said.

After an eight-year stint as manager of Pleasant Hill, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, he spent three years as King County ombudsman. He spent another two decades back in California as city manager of Martinez, San Luis Obispo and Antioch before retiring to the Northwest.

“We knew we would end up back here,” said Walton. “We started looking in the mid-’80s, and picked out two quaint little towns we liked – Woodinville and Issaquah.

“But a few years later, we looked again and said those would never do, which is when we found Bainbridge Island and bought property here.”

Since retiring in 1991, Walton has been interim city manager in California; Woodburn, Ore.; and Covington, Sammamish, Puyallup and the new city of Spokane Valley, in Washington.

New city start-ups are among the most interesting assignments, Walton said.

“You literally are starting out with nothing,” he said. “The office is my pickup truck and a cell phone. I would bring in a whole team of temporary people, like myself – in one city, the department heads had a combination of 270 years of experience.”

This assignment will be interesting, he said, because he will be working as city administrator, not as city manager.

“They’re very different,” he said. “The manager works for the council and is responsible to them. The administrator works for the mayor. I expect to have a good relationship with the mayor, but we’re going to have some getting used to to do.”

Kordonowy has said that she wants Walton to concentrate on day-to-day administration, while she steps away from that and focuses on hiring permanent replacements for Walton and for acting planning director Larry Frazier, neither of whom are candidates for permanent positions.

Walton said that frequently, his temporary assignments have been in troubled situations, where a manager has been fired or the government is otherwise in a crisis.

Despite talk about a dysfunctional City Hall, Walton’s initial impression is that Bainbridge Island is not in that kind of crisis mode.

“I don’t detect any sharp divisions within the council, and generally, I get the impression that the city administration is in pretty good shape,” he said.

“Maybe all that will be needed are some minor adjustments.”

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