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Islanders weigh in on what’s needed in next public works director
A wish list can get kind of complicated, quick.
A handful of Bainbridge Island residents, mostly familiar faces at city hall, met with the man in charge of finding the city’s next public works director Monday in an informal focus group.
Their charge: Outline the attributes, characteristics and best desires for the next leader to take the helm of the city’s public works department.
Tom Muehlenbeck of Strategic Government Services, the Texas-based executive headhunter firm that’s leading the search, led this week’s hour-long meeting. Muehlenbeck noted the importance of any city’s public works department and the person who’ll head it.
It will need to be someone experienced in local government, he said, a collaborator, a skilled professional, and a quick adapter who can quickly get to work.
“We’re looking for a very exceptional person,” he said.
It was an unlikely revelation to the gathered group which, with comings and goings of a few folks during the session, never numbered greater than eight, with that number including Muehlenbeck, City Manager Doug Schulze and City Councilwoman Debbi Lester.
The residents in attendance, which included Robert Dashiell and Debbie Vann. Some recalled, in detail, the pros and cons of previous directors of the department.
Some said the next director should be ready to tackle tough issues such as water resources, zoning and traffic — but also be someone not just “old school” but “open to new ideas.”
Residents said they wanted someone with experience in implementing sustainable practices, or someone who had “cut their teeth in the blue collar world,” as Dashiell put it.
Dashiell also said he wanted someone who wouldn’t be scared at the idea of outsourcing some city services.
“Two public works directors have been defensive of maintaining the status quo,” Dashiell said, adding that he wanted the new hire to have an open mind.
“I’m the taxpayer and a ratepayer, and I want my money’s worth,” he said.
Ted Jones said the city needed someone who can work well with other cities and agencies, and recommended the city hire a licensed engineer.
The new hire should also lead by example.
“The director sets the tone,” Jones said.
Bainbridge is currently looking for a new director to replace Lance Newkirk, the city’s former public works head who is currently on administrative leave.
The city announced Newkirk’s departure on April 26 in what City Manager Doug Schulze later described as a “negotiated resignation.” Newkirk signed a separation agreement with the city two days earlier, and the agreement guaranteed Newkirk a severance package of two months’ of salary of approximately $43,000, plus pay for unused vacation time, as well as paid leave from June 1 through July 31.
Newkirk, a 15-year employee with the city, had been the director of public works for the past four years.
Earlier this week, city officials declined to release his last four performance evaluations, as requested by the Review, and said the city was not legally obligated to provide the performance reviews because they “do not discuss specific instances of misconduct.”
Newkirk’s most recent performance evaluation was conducted by Schulze on April 26, the day the city announced his resignation.
John Cunningham, who retired as the public works director in Sammamish in 2004, is currently serving as Bainbridge’s interim public works director. He is expected to be in the job for four to six months.
Cunningham was one of three choices for the post; the other potential candidates were Timothy Heydon, who retired in 2012 as the public works director in Snohomish; and James Pemberton, the former public works director of Anacortes who has since served interim tours in Mukilteo, Kenmore and Sequim.
Cunningham is being paid $100 an hour for his services. The top end of the scale for the Bainbridge public works director is $63 an hour.