Walton extended, search for replacement continues

It appears the relationship between the city of Bainbridge Island and Lee Walton isn’t over yet.

The interim city manager has been extended for 200 more hours – the equivalent of five full weeks – while the City Council continues its search for another interim. Walton was brought in last October as a stop-gap option after the sudden departure of Mark Dombroski.

“I’m obviously not going to desert the city if it needs me,” Walton said. “Though, I’d like to see the transition done as soon as possible.”

Walton praised the council’s diligence in the search. He would prefer the search wrap up soon, but he doesn’t want the council to rush its decision.

“Quickness is important, but being careful and considerate is more important,” Walton said.

The contract of Deputy Manager Stan McNutt is set to expire at the end of April. Walton said he would like to keep McNutt onboard for another week or so to tie up some of the loose ends on his projects, but it’s not critical.

“Stan, I think, is ready to go,” Walton said.

Walton and McNutt together fit into the $213,000 budget hole for Dombroski. Neither of them received benefits.

The council has declined to reveal any specifics about the managerial interview process, which has been going on for almost six weeks in executive session.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Councilor Bill Knobloch. “I see a glimmer of hope that we can resolve the management issue.”

The council held a retreat in the middle of March when it decided to pursue a “change agent” who wasn’t afraid to shake things up. This person would be an interim manager for potentially up to a year or two, with the possibility of the job becoming permanent.

Since then, the council has used a number of executive sessions to evaluate candidates.

The first such session appeared on the council agenda as a standalone meeting for more than four hours on Monday, April 5. Four more sessions have taken place, including prior to Wednesday night’s council meeting.

Mayor Bob Scales said the council decided to speed up the process by conducting its interviews in exectutive session, a form of meeting closed to the public that can be called under a variety of circumstances. Because the council isn’t searching for the permanent replacement to Walton, the process flows better in executive session.

“We’re trying to do it relatively quick, and because it’s an interim rather than the permanent, it’s much easier to do it quickly in executive session,” Scales said. “When we’re doing the permanent replacement there will be a more open and public process,” he said.

In addition, councilors said, some applicants may be reluctant to have their candidacy known because, among other reasons, they may already be employed.

“It’s private, and you just don’t want to blow it,” Knobloch said.

At the retreat in March, Walton suggested that the council have someone in place by the end of April, to give the new manager time to get up to speed before the biennial budget process begins this summer. But given the potential timeline with an additional 200 hours for Walton, it’s possible a new manager may not begin until the end of May, early June.

“We’re coming to a critical part of the year,” Walton said. “We’re prepping the biennial budget and city goals. I think it’s important that the manager be involved in that process.”

According to the budget calendar the council passed this week, there will be a public hearing on the goals and objectives of budget and financial policies on May 19. Two weeks later the staff should have prepared the Capital Facilities Plan for the next five years, which guides the council on timelines and priorities of projects.

In addition to the budget, the council identified a number of other issues for the next manager to work on, which include: negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, developing a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability, completing the Shoreline Master Program update and managing the city’s legal issues.

While Walton advocates a careful selection process for the next manager, the quicker the next person can arrive the faster he or she can begin diving into the cavalcade of issues at City Hall.

“The sooner he or she can get here, the more they’ll be aware of the backgrounds of all these issues,” Walton said. “Otherwise, it’s a matter of getting up to speed. Depending on the city, it could take a couple months, or it could take a year to get up on the issues, and Bainbridge Island does have a lot of issues.”

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