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Job description tweaked

Thu., May 6, 2010

Council discusses desired qualifications for city manager applicants

After a lively discussion Tuesday night, the Spokane Valley City Council decided that their new city manager should have a college degree, but doesn’t need to have any experience as a city manager.

Council members reviewed the city manager job description and Councilman Dean Grafos suggested adding language that called for the candidate to have a bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field “or a background of equivalent real world experience in the management of large multifaceted organizations.” The use of “or” in the sentence would have meant that a candidate would not have to have any degree at all. Grafos also wanted to strike language requiring five years experience as a municipal administrator.

Councilman Bill Gothmann made some suggestions of his own, adding back in the college and experience requirements. “It would be my desire to have a professional city manager,” he said. “It’s my concern that this be indeed someone who knows the job.” Gothmann also said that all the city staff has degrees and certifications, and if the city manager is to lead them then he or she should have a degree as well.

All the council members went along with his argument on education, but Councilman Bob McCaslin objected to the sentence that would have required “five years of experience as a senior municipal administrator in a city of at least 50 employees.”

“It’s too demanding,” McCaslin said.

Gothmann pointed out that the language required administrative experience, not necessarily experience as a city manager. “I think you need an experienced person,” he said. The majority of the Council agreed with McCaslin that no previous experience as a city administrator was needed.

The discussion might have bogged down on the issue of the salary range, but Mayor Tom Towey made a suggestion that was readily accepted by the Council. Acting City Manager Mike Jackson is currently making $144,000 a year. Towey suggested using 10 percent below that amount and 10 percent above it as the salary range. Jackson’s salary is significantly less than the $175,000 a year former City Manager Dave Mercier was making when he was asked to resign in January.

Councilman Gary Schimmels said the Council should consider hiring Jackson as the permanent city manager before spending money in conducting a search. McCaslin objected. “I think he can put his application in along with anyone else who applies,” he said.

Councilwoman Rose Dempsey liked Schimmels’ suggestion. “We could save ourselves a lot of trouble,” she said.

“That’s your opinion, madam,” said McCaslin. “You voice it often, and it always disagrees with mine.”

Grafos said the Council should go through the application process in the interest of being open and transparent after “all the uproar with Mr. Mercier.”

The next step in the process is to advertise the position, but the Council has not established a timeline for the completion of the hiring process.

In other business, City Attorney Mike Connelly went over several options the Council has in regards to zoning complaints aired at the last City Council meeting. The owner of the Elephant Boys store is involved in a legal dispute with the city over the sale of boats on his property, which is not allowed. The case is currently awaiting a hearing in Spokane County Superior Court. Another resident complained about not being able to put a coffee shop on a parcel she owns on Bowdish just off Sprague. Coffee shops are allowed on Sprague but not on side streets, Connelly said.

In both instances the city can pass a resolution changing what types of businesses are allowed in the zone each property falls under without running afoul of the Comprehensive Plan, Connelly said. But he cautioned that while the changes might be designed for only those properties, it will affect every property in the zone. They might create a larger problem by trying to fix a small one, he said. “You’re doing them in a vacuum,” he said.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she was in favor of city staff creating a resolution to fix the zoning on those properties. The change would then go before the Planning Commission for public comment before coming back to the Council for final approval.

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