Schulze’s days as Bainbridge city manager may be numbered

Decision Day is nearing in the city of Banning, California.

And that may mean Departure Day could soon follow at Bainbridge Island City Hall for City Manager Doug Schulze.

Schulze applied for the job of city manager in Banning earlier this summer, and advanced in the selection process as one of three finalists in late June.

Schulze, who has served as city manager for Bainbridge Island since September 2012, has been tight-lipped about his search for a new job since word leaked out more than a month ago that he was looking for greener pastures. When asked by the Review in early July about his seeking the job in Banning, he said only: “I can confirm I’m a finalist, but have no further comment.”

Schulze was more forthcoming about his future in an email to city staff and others, according to an email obtained by the Review under a public records request.

In the email, he said his plans to retire on Bainbridge had changed.

“You may hear or read news that I am a finalist for a position as city manager in Banning, California,” Schulze said in the July 2 email. “When I was hired as city manager by the Bainbridge Island City Council 5½ years ago, my intention was to finish my career with the City of Bainbridge Island.”

“I have realized that is not the best option for the city or me,” he continued. “If I am selected by the Banning City Council and decide it is the right move for me to make, I will be making that decision sometime in the next 2-3 weeks. For now, I am sharing this information with you so you hear it from me.”

The Banning City Council is scheduled to have a special meeting Tuesday, July 24, and move into a closed session to discuss the appointment of a new city manager.

Schulze, however, has already been told that he is the top choice for the job.

Bainbridge Deputy Mayor Joe Deets said council members were told within the past week that Schulze was Banning’s choice for new city manager and all that remains is ironing out an employment contract.

“He got selected, and now he’s negotiating terms,” Deets said Tuesday.

Schulze came to Bainbridge from Normandy Park, where he worked as city manager for six years.

The Bainbridge council approved a three-year contract for Schulze in 2012, then approved a new employment agreement — with an annual base salary of $170,000 — in November 2015. That contract was set to automatically renew on an annual basis unless Schulze retired or was fired.

Schulze will see an increase in pay if he becomes city manager in Banning, a Southern California town of 31,000 with the nickname of “Stagecoach Town, USA.”

According to the posting for the position by the city of Banning, the salary range for the job is $180,589 to $244,315 a year, plus benefits.

The differences between Banning and Bainbridge are stark.

Banning has been described as small working-class city with an economy that in past years relied mostly on the gas stations, restaurants and motels that pull motorists off Interstate 10.

Rapid growth in Riverside County has changed that somewhat.

Banning’s population surged by more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2016, from 7,272 to 30,834. In 2016, roughly 60 percent of households earned less than $50,000 annually, according to a 2017 report by the Southern California Association of Governments. The median home price in 2016 was $215,000, and the education sector was the largest source of local jobs (25 percent in 2015) followed by the leisure sector (23.1 percent).

Schulze, if he becomes Banning’s next city manager, will be stepping into a volatile political climate.

Banning has had nine people in the city manager’s position since early 2014, and the city has been the focus of three grand jury investigations over the past eight years, with the most recent ones centering on “handshake agreements” made by city officials with local businesses and other entities.