Tacoma City Council terminates city manager's employment

Tacoma City Council voted Tuesday not to extend City Manager Eric Anderson’s employment contract. Anderson’s last day of employment will be Fri., July 15. Deputy City Manager Rey Arellano was appointed as the interim city manager effective July 16. The City will conduct a nationwide search for a new, permanent city manager, according to a statement released by a City of Tacoma spokesperson.

During Tuesday’s Tacoma City Council meeting, Mayor Marilyn Strickland and councilmembers David Boe, Marty Campbell, Jake Fey, Ryan Mello, and Victoria Woodards voted against the resolution authorizing an employment contract through Dec. 31, 2012. Councilmembers Joe Lonergan and Lauren Walker voted for the resolution.

The vote came at a time when the council completed a performance evaluation for Anderson that covered his time at City Hall from July 15, 2010 through July 14, 2011. The evaluation listed “commendations” and “needs for improvement” in six categories: organizational and human resources management; fiscal/business management; relationship with mayor and council; long-range planning/strategic plan; relationship with public/public relations; and intergovernmental relations.

The performance evaluation criticized Anderson for the following reasons:

— There is the impression that staffing is not balanced to best meet the needs of the City. Some departments are completely over-worked and understaffed, while others have too many employees without enough work to keep them busy. This erodes the concept of a high performing government;

— When asked to make additional cuts to the budget, the City Manager chose to largely address the shortfall with changes in revenue and expenditure assumptions instead of making actual budget cuts. We can only hope the economy recovers in a manner that will bring increased revenue;

— The City Manager needs to do a better job reaching out to various stakeholders in the business and development community to improve trust in City government. Some stakeholders, who have historically been influential, now feel ignored and marginalized. There is an opportunity to collaborate, solicit ideas and build momentum to improve outcomes for the City;

— The City Manager must do a better job of providing Council with timely, complete and accurate information. Some councilmembers feel that choices presented to council for policy making decisions are used to frame and strengthen pre-determined decisions, with little room for council deliberation and research;

— Lack of long-range planning has resulted in budgetary and process mis-steps with the Cheney Stadium remodel and the parking garage at the Tacoma Dome;

— The City Manager and communications staff appear to take a reactive, not proactive, approach to media relations. The recently revealed information about the Zina Linnik tragedy, and the City Manager’s handling of it caused confusion, seemed to erode public trust and was perceived as damaging to the City’s reputation.

The performance evaluation commended Anderson for the following reasons:

— Overall, the City Manager is making progress with staff to implement the priorities identified during the 2010 Council Workshop: hiring those with expertise in specific areas and providing opportunities for crossfunctional training such as the Safe and Clean Teams, TIDAL Wave and other initiatives. The City Manager was quick to propose use of city-owned property for Community Gardens which was a big boost for the initiative;

— Managing the individual priorities and personalities of nine council members can present challenges and opportunities for any City Manager. The City Manager does a good job understanding the priorities of the council as a whole, and the interests of individual councilmembers.

— In carrying out policy direction from Council, the City Manager has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to making Tacoma a safe, clean and attractive community. Maintaining funding in budget recommendations for things like neighborhood clean-ups, expansion of Community Based Services and ongoing support for code enforcement and TPD CLO positions, the City Manager has signaled strong and continued support for this first priority;

— The City Manager is well respected in his field by his peers and elected officials. Government relations staff work well with other organizations including Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and other regional, state and national organizations. Getting complete harmony from a group of CEOs is a tall order for anyone. The City Manager has done a good job navigating the political climate and putting the needs of Tacoma front and center when interacting with other agencies and agency chiefs.

Prior to arriving in Tacoma, Anderson was Des Moines, Iowa’s city manager beginning in 1995, where he served as a policy advisor to Des Moines City Council and prepared the operating and capital improvements budgets for council approval. He was also the city manager in Evanston, Ill., from 1991 through 1995, and in Eau Claire, Wis., from 1984 through 1991. Anderson was selected for Tacoma’s city manager position from an original field of 41 applicants and a select field of three finalists. On May 24, 2005, Tacoma City Council unanimously approved a two-year employment contract with Anderson. He began working at City Hall on July 15, 2005. Subsequent employment contracts were approved in 2007 and 2009.

Prior to the vote, councilmembers commented on the issue. Here are some excerpts from their comments:

Councilmember Joe Lonergan

I received a phone call yesterday that was a courtesy to me — and I appreciate the courtesy — that indicated that this decision had been made to not review the city manager’s contract and I might look like a fool if some people have decided to surprise me and change positions based on what I heard. But I was personally disappointed and professionally dismayed to receive that call. I think that I wasn’t involved in those — in any discussion to that end. It is not something that I was expecting to hear and as a result, well, I didn’t sleep very well last night. I think my role as a representative of the 5th District for the citizens of Tacoma — and specifically the 5th District — is to do what is best for the city. Not approving this contract or an amended contract to allow for an orderly transition is unnecessarily creating an emergency situation for the City of Tacoma and putting ourselves, this council, into a position where we are forced to undergo a process that we haven’t even started talking about, at least not publicly. So I’m going to be voting for this reconfirming the appointment of Eric Anderson. I believe Eric has done a good job in many regards. As I read through the review, I wouldn’t have expected that to be a document that leads to termination of employment with the City of Tacoma. It certainly was an opportunity for some correction and to build on some strengths and to continue improving some weaknesses, but didn’t rise, to me, to the level of what I believe we’ll hear tonight. That being said, we have great employees in the City of Tacoma. We have a fabulous management team. We will rise to the occasion and we will weather the storm and at the end of the day, hopefully, we will be able to attract someone who is willing to work in this environment where the council may become passive-aggressive and simply not renew a contract. And I hope that we’re able to attract the best next city manager.

Councilmember David Boe

Thank you for those comments, Councilmember Lonergan, but it is a decision that — I don’t know what he is alluding to because this decision I didn’t make till I got the packet. And when I got the packet and began reading through it, to be honest with you, didn’t make the decision of how I was going to vote till late this afternoon. For me, my vote is really about the future of Tacoma. I think Eric Anderson stepped in and did a fantastic job where we were in 2005 but we’re in a different place in 2011, a lot because of his good work and leadership. I just see this vote for where we’re going as a city in the future and I will be voting not to renew this contract.

Deputy Mayor Lauren Walker

I will also be voting to renew Eric Anderson’s contract. It’s a disappointment to me to find that most of the councilmembers are thinking of not renewing his contract. I think Eric has done an excellent job and I think he could take us into the future. I have been impressed with many things about his work and, most of all, I have been impressed with his connection with the people of Tacoma and his love for the city. I have also been impressed with his interests in under-served communities like the Hilltop and South Tacoma. I have been impressed with the passion he has had and has shown, and I have particularly been impressed with the relationship that I have seen him have with the staff. I can speak for myself, but it has been a good relationship with him as a councilmember and as the deputy mayor. I think he has become kind of the scapegoat for some of the problems we have been seeing and I am sad about that. Though I support the mayor’s decision, I think it is ill-timed and I am not happy about where we are at the current time. I will be voting to renew his contract this evening.

Councilmember Marty Campbell

I, too, have been very impressed by Eric Anderson. I remember I was first starting to watch politics and consider getting into politics when he was first brought into the city. And he came in, I think, with a very steady hand at a very good time. I had an opportunity to work with him, quite frankly, extensively, before I was on council and sometimes we agreed, sometimes we didn’t, but we were able to have a dialogue. And I found that since being on council I have enjoyed working with Eric. With that being said, I sat down [and] re-read the review that we submitted. I re-read my comments and my thoughts that I had and that I wrote over several weeks because I would write and re-write, and as I pondered and really gave this good thought, it occurred to me that the best vote for me would be to vote no on this contract.

Councilmember Victoria Woodards

Tonight’s vote is not about what has been done. Tonight’s vote is [about] what needs to be done and how we will move forward. It is for the future of the city that I will be voting not to renew Eric’s contract.

Councilmember Ryan Mello

Before coming to council, I had a great working relationship with Eric Anderson. One of the many things we have done together was acquire Julia’s Gulch in Northeast Tacoma, and he directed his staff to do everything to make it happen and they were highly creative and it got done and it was a really fun project to work with him in another role. I think Eric Anderson was appointed rightly by a few previous councils at the right time. He provided great leadership in an emotionally and psychologically and philosophically different time in Tacoma history. He balanced our budget, implemented community-based services. He made some really tough decisions and really steadied the City of Tacoma when it was, quite frankly, in crisis. I think Eric Anderson is highly skilled. He is acknowledged as such in his profession and I think he was the right city manager at the right time when he was appointed by the then-city council. You know, leaders in companies and organizations, every single day in America, make decisions about what kind of staff leadership they want taking them to the next level. Folks hire folks for very specific skill sets, get something specific done, and then sometimes they need a different skills set to get something else done. Companies and organizations do that every single day. And it is a really tough decision when leaders feel like they need to be kicking it up a notch, taking it to another level, maybe taking it in a slightly different direction. I understand my friend Councilmember Lonergan’s concerns about an emergency because we have a lot of things cooking right now in Tacoma. A lot of great projects on the brink of success like Point Ruston redevelopment, like the section on Broadway, like the LeMay Car Museum, like the streetscape — we have a ton of things cooking and I don’t see it as an emergency. I feel like we’re in very steady leadership with Mayor Strickland. Many of these items are done by a great staff and senior leadership in this city. Again, with this council and this mayor providing incredibly steady leadership and a deputy city manager who has been on staff for some time, I think involved in almost every major policy implementation over time. And so like a few of my other colleagues, my vote is about the future of the city and I think having a city council and mayor and city manager being highly communicative and highly in sync about energizing and taking the city to the next level is where I have discerned this really tough decision. Eric Anderson is a fantastic city manager and human being with a lot of skill and did what was asked of him at that time. But this council is going in a different direction, asking for a little different ability. I think we should applaud his efforts and everything he has been able to do for Tacoma for the last six years and try to implement our policy objectives and get us to the next level. So it is not with jubilation that I take this very tough vote. It is with a steady hand and a look to the future that I will be casting this very difficult vote in working with all of you to move Tacoma into our next phase of greatness.

Councilmember Jake Fey

I, quite frankly, know the position that we’re in as far as personal experience in that I am an at-will employee and every four years the university has the option of not continuing my employment, and it goes through a very formal process to do that. So going through this process, I took that responsibility very seriously and I didn’t come to reach the decision that I have without a lot of careful thought, a lot of soul searching about making decisions for the right reasons. And I really have appreciated — because I arrived here six months after Eric took over the city management position — I appreciate the work he has done to support many of the initiatives that I have been interested in and projects that I have been interested in. And so it is with a little gut check for me in terms of being faced with this decision, but like every decision, and this is the most important decision that we make as councilmembers, I did give a lot of thought about this. Like it has been stated by other councilmembers, I am convinced that the situation calls for a different set of skill sets and that the skill sets that were very appealing at the time Eric Anderson was hired are really not the same skill sets we need to move us forward. So with much regret in many respects, I have to make a decision about what is best for the citizens and why I will not be supporting this resolution.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland

Making a decision like this is never easy and every person sitting here tonight is making the decision based on what they believe is best for the city. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. When Eric got here, the city needed some stabilization and he provided that and there are a lot of amazing things he has done. He implemented community services and transparency and there were things that he moved forward on his watch and we’re really grateful for his leadership at that time. But as cities evolve, there are opportunities to have new leadership and I believe we need leadership that embraces our role in economic development and takes a more innovative approach to dealing with our challenges. I take this vote very, very seriously and I do it with some regret because I think Eric Anderson is a great person. He has done great things for the city. But we also have an opportunity to think about how we move the city forward. I want to take this time thank city staff and department heads. We work with amazing people who show up every day and work really hard and this decision is not a reflection on any of you. We just to want make sure as we talk about where we want Tacoma to go in the future, we have the right people in place. And to Councilmember Lonergan’s comment about creating an emergency, we work really hard and I am confident we will be able to do our job and move Tacoma to the next level. So I am voting no to renew the contract this evening.

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Tacoma City Council votes Tuesday on city manager’s performance review, contract — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2005142&more=0