Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze’s swan song from city hall ended with the echo of a few sour notes at this week’s city council meeting.
Tuesday marked the first council meeting since Schulze submitted his letter of resignation on Aug. 3. But the buzz on Bainbridge about his departure has intensified since last week after news articles in local newspapers depicted Schulze as a “frustrated” city employee who complained about the oversized influence that citizen comments have on the council, a “ridiculously long” work plan faced by city staff, and the council’s alleged lack of focus on priorities.
Schulze also called Councilman Ron Peltier “a bully” in news stories and complained about council decisions on projects that included the proposed Highway 305 pedestrian bridge for the Sound to Olympics Trail, a project derided by critics as an expensive “Bridge to Nowhere” that was scuttled by repeated council votes earlier this year.
Schulze has been city manager for Bainbridge Island since November 2012, and has accepted the city manager position in Banning, California. In his departure letter, he touted the accomplishments of the council and city staff during his 70 months at the helm.
“I have served to the best of my abilities and successfully built a management team that is talented, experienced and dedicated to public service,” he wrote. “The city of Bainbridge Island is fortunate to have such a strong management team. I urge you to give them the trust and respect they deserve.”
City staff has worked hard to adapt to changes and adopt new programs in recent years, he added.
“It has been a privilege to work with such a wonderful group of employees.”
He also wrote: “When I became city manager for the city of Bainbridge Island, I fully intended for this to be the last stop of my career. Bainbridge Island is a fantastic place to live and I have built personal and professional relationships with many people. However, I have determined that it is best for this city council to hire a city manager that will be a better fit for the direction it is moving. I have not made this decision lightly and appreciate the support expressed by those members of the council who took time to talk with me about this decision.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, talk quickly turned to Schulze and his impending departure. (Schulze’s last day as Bainbridge’s city manager will be Oct. 2.)
Bonnie McBryan, the owner of the Eagle Harbor Inn, pointed to Schulze’s comments in the recent newspaper articles as she defended Schulze and repeated his claim that Peltier is a bully.
“I believe our community has been really lucky to have Mr. Schulze serving our island,” McBryan said.
“We don’t always agree, Doug and I … but Doug treats people with undeviating respect and kindness,” she said.
Saying that someone from the public had to stand up and address the issue, McBryan asked the council to look into “Ron’s behavior” and the comments he has made to community members, in public settings and on social media.
She said the council should determine if his words and actions had breached ethics or etiquette.
“If you are going to make accusations you need to substantiate those,” Peltier responded. “Be specific.”
McBryan didn’t give further details.
Mayor Kol Medina, however, quickly picked up the topic — and Schulze’s comments to the media — and recalled how he had been on vacation when he heard of Schulze’s plan to seek employment elsewhere.
“Personally that made me sad,” Medina said of Schulze’s departure.
Opinions were split on Schulze’s comments, he added. And the North Ward councilman also stressed that the council would work hard to make sure the city would not be impacted by the changeover in city hall’s top post.
“Your city council is going to manage this transition process well,” Medina said.
“I am going to personally devote as much time to this as is needed to make sure that we are able to replace our current city manager with another city manager who is just as qualified and is just as successful as Doug has been.
“And I believe all city council members feel the same way,” Medina said.
“Maybe the most important job for the city council is hiring and managing the city manager. And we are going to take it very seriously. We are going to take as long as it takes to do it right.
“I want everybody to be rest assured, everything is going to be OK,” he added. “We are going to get through this.”
Medina also said Schulze had told him he had regretted some of his comments to the news media, and that some things were taken out of context.
“I think we all make mistakes in life,” Medina said before offering Schulze a chance to explain his comments.
Schulze did not apologize.
Instead, he said his comments about labeling council members as “volunteers” was not meant to be hurtful.
“In no way were my comments meant to be derogatory toward the council. In fact, just the opposite,” Schulze said.
He praised those who serve the city as volunteers, and said they come into office without training on how to be a public official, and learn on the job how to be effective. Their decisions are subject to much criticism, he added.
“It’s your life, in a public way, before the community. I think the community needs to remember that. You’re making a sacrifice.”
Schulze similarly tried to downplay his comments that some members of the public were “armchair quarterbacks.”
He did not address his complaints about Peltier, though, who has been the city manager’s most persistent faultfinder on the council.
Peltier responded to the criticism at the end of the council meeting, although Schulze had already departed for the night.
He said he was angry about untruthful accusations that had been made about him, and threatened to file a complaint against Schulze with the International City/County Management Association.
“I just want to put you all on notice that I’m considering filing an ethics complaint with the ICMA because I feel like the city manager has violated the code of ethics of the ICMA,” Peltier said.
“I’m not going to tolerate being attacked,” he said. “I’m kind of pissed off and I’m not going to just take it and let people lie about me.”