Frank Sylvin Fulwiler, who served as Spokane’s city manager from the planning of the World’s Fair through its aftermath, died Monday, just eight days short of his 95th birthday.
Fulwiler, Spokane’s second and longest-serving city manager, was described by former Mayor Dave Rodgers as a mild-mannered executive who spoke up to his bosses – the Spokane City Council – whenever he thought they were headed the wrong direction.
“It was one of the best hiring decisions we ever made,” said Rodgers, whose time on the council and as mayor coincided with Fulwiler’s time as manager. Fulwiler, who was known as Syl, was respected by employees and trusted by the council, Rodgers said.
City voters had switched the municipal government system to a council-city manager form of government in 1960, and the first manager, Henry Nabers, only lasted about two years before clashes with the council prompted him to leave. City officials recruited Fulwiler, a former Spokane resident and University of Washington graduate, from Chula Vista, Calif., where he had served first as parks and recreation director, and city manager from 1957-63.
As the day-to-day head of the city, it was Fulwiler’s job to hire most department heads, from police and fire to parks and streets, Rodgers said.
“He knew how to get the right people in there,” Rodgers said.
In the mid 1970s, the council that had hired Fulwiler was changing and trying to take a more active role in the workings of city government. He resigned to take a job with the state Department of General Administration in Olympia, saying he was moving on to a new job and the city could bring in a new manager to deal with new challenges. He declined comment on speculation about any rift between him in the council, saying that voters had elected the council.
“I feel I’ve lived through an era with the city. But I’d just as soon not start a new era,” he said in an interview after his resignation was announced.
Despite the friction, Fulwiler was lionized at his last council meeting, with Councilwoman Margaret Leonard giving him a surprise kiss goodbye.
Fulwiler returned to Spokane after retiring in Olympia.
Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 5 at Riplinger Funeral Home.