Change is definitely in the air at Spokane Valley City Hall as the new council members take over, but what that will look like remains to be seen.
Longtime City Manager Dave Mercier was asked to resign during the council’s first meeting Tuesday, and information about what will happen next has not been made available.
What is certain is that Mercier’s contract calls for a year’s pay and benefits as severance since he was not fired for cause. He makes $175,362 per year. He is also on paid administrative leave until Feb. 5, which leaves the city paying 13 months of salary. Mercier could not be reached for comment.
Council member Brenda Grassel said Deputy City Manager Mike Jackson will take over Mercier’s duties in the short term. “Beyond that we haven’t worked that out,” she said.
Mayor Tom Towey refused to comment about what the city will do to fill the empty position and whether a search agency will be hired to find a new city manager. Council members Bob McCaslin and Dean Grafos also refused to comment and council member Gary Schimmels could not be reached for comment. All four, plus Grassel, voted to ask Mercier to resign. Council members Bill Gothmann and Rose Dempsey voted against it.
In the normal course of events an interim city manager would be hired while a national search for a replacement is carried out, said Gothmann. “What this council will decide to do, I don’t know,” he said. “I have heard no discussion about succession.”
The city has a written plan for Mercier’s duties that give authority to Jackson in his absence. Jackson has that authority even if his job title does not change, Gothmann said.
Dempsey said she also has no idea what is coming from the four new council members who, along with Schimmels, ran on a “Positive Change” slate that won voter approval in last month’s general election. “I have not been part of any of these discussions,” she said. “I don’t know what they have planned. I know they talked last summer about what they would do if they fired Mercier. They might be planning to hire Mike Jackson, but I don’t know because they have not communicated with me.”
The council caught some heat from the public during the meeting about the decision. Several people appeared upset that the item was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and no one knew in advance that it was going to be discussed.
Gothmann said he didn’t learn about it until he arrived at City Hall and found the new agenda waiting for him. “Everybody thought there was a good possibility it might be coming,” he said. “I thought they’d put it on the agenda for next week. It was really very much a surprise to me.”
Gothmann said he’s not angry that Mercier was asked to resign, since that was the will of the majority of the council, but he is not happy with the way it was done. “To do this totally violated two of the written, agreed-to rules in our governance manual,” he said. “Number one on the list is no surprises.”
The second item is known as the “three-touch rule,” which states that the council will have an item on the agenda three times before voting on it. “I do object to violating good, orderly government principles,” he said.
Dempsey was also concerned that the three-touch rule was not followed. “I’ve had a lot of people come up and talk to me about this,” she said. “They’re stunned at how it was done so quickly. Where were the three touches? Not in public.”