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Bauer is interim no longer
Brenda Bauer can officially introduce herself as the Bainbridge city manager, sans the obligatory “interim” and the weight of conditional employment that she’s carried since she started on the island more than one year ago.
“We’ve had a year-long interview process with Brenda Bauer,” said Councilor Bob Scales. “We’ve been able to see how she performs as a city manager, how she works with staff, and the staff and community have seen how she works with the city. We’ve seen some pretty amazing results.”
On a 4-3 vote Scales joined with Councilors Barry Peters, Hilary Franz and Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos who voted to remove the “interim” from the city managers title. In doing so, the city also formally waived the state mandated requirement that city managers reside in the communities in which they govern.
As per Bauer’s contract, which she first signed in May when she joined the city, the council agreed to perform a six and 12 month review before removing the title. Running about two months behind schedule the council made the formal vote at Wednesday’s council meeting.
“Brenda was a bit of a wild card because she had never been a city manager before,” said Hytopoulos. “But she came in and we put our trust in her that she could provide [financial stability]. She restructured the city administration and we gave her a budget number and forced her to do that and immediately she did.”
Bauer came from Seattle where she served as the director of the Fleets and Facilities Department from 2004 to 2010. Since coming to the island she was asked to cut $1,000,000 in the city’s already pared-down budget, and did so through restructuring city staff.
In this tumultuous year of change at City Hall Bauer equipped the city with a new leadership team in Morgan Smith, deputy city manager; Ellen Schroer, finance director; and Jack Johnson, the city’s new attorney.
“Many of the people who have been our harshest critics for the last 10 years are starting to say ‘we see a difference,’” said Franz. “That is a credit to the leadership team that [Bauer] brought in.”
Peters mentioned the successful budgeting process, the open water marina and bidding an under-budget contract for the Winslow Way reconstruction among successes in the city manager’s first-year.
Councilors Bill Knobloch, Kim Brackett and Debbi Lester, who all voted against removing the title, all reasoned that they wanted more time with Bauer before making a final decision.
“To me it isn’t just about getting a job done, it's getting a job done well,” said Lester. “I would like to have seen certain projects completed, and done well.”
Lester cited the Strawberry Plant restoration project, which she said is now overgrown with weeds and 50 some dead trees. Lester also cited the Winslow Way reconstruction delays and the need for Bauer to have more of an active presence in the community.
Knobloch felt that reviewing the interim status was a more appropriate end-of-year task. Knobloch said he also holds concerns with the fact that Bauer lives in Seattle, and the commute may restrict access to the island during time of crisis.
“I am very confident [Bauer] will rise to the occasion, but at this time there are certain things that have to be resolved,” said Knobloch. “As the voice of the community the residency requirement is there for a specific reason. As city manager you are involved with the community 24/7.”
Bauer said she would be happy to consider moving to Bainbridge, but she is limited by the current real estate market.
Brackett also stated that she wanted to see the end of year tally from the accountability agreement created by city leadership in the beginning of 2011. The agreement tackles city priorities by quarter, and gives a document to hold city staff accountable.
“There are some really big outstanding issues to come in the last quarter that are very important to me,” said Brackett.
Brackett also said she wanted Bauer to get out and interact with the community more, and to engage with ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, which provides training on professional management in local communities.
At the meeting Bauer said it was an extraordinarily challenging year for everyone, but she thinks the organization has moved to a place where she can now begin to take on the next level of engagement and activities that the council is asking for.
“It is something I embrace as well,” said Bauer.