June 2, 2012 in City

Mayor changes utilities chief, services

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jonathan Brunt photo

Mayor David Condon talks about reorganizing city departments after a press conference Friday at City Hall.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane Mayor David Condon has assembled his team.

At a news conference Friday he announced several changes in leadership and shifts at City Hall that he said finalizes changes to his leadership team – at least for a bit.

“I would say that in today’s world that we need to continue to be flexible,” Condon said. “That being said, yes, I need my team together. I’ve got 36 months left, folks. From today, I’ve got three years to prove to the citizens that I’ve done what they’ve wanted me to do.”

Among the changes announced Friday, he appointed City Internal Auditor Rick Romero to be the city’s utilities director, pending confirmation by City Council. He will replace interim Director Gerry Gemmill, who was named the local government and labor relations director, a position that did not previously exist.

Condon said the city’s community development and human service departments will be combined and that he will shift the city’s street maintenance department from the utilities division to the business and developer services division.

Additionally, the Business and Development Services Department will become part of the Planning Department. Teresa Brum, who led business and development services, will take a temporary position overseeing a study on affordable housing, Condon said.

Combining community development and human services could spark tension with some neighborhood leaders who have been strong supporters of community development, which oversees several federally funded programs that benefit the poor. John Downes, the former chairman of Spokane’s Community Development Board, warned Condon against the move in a letter on Friday.

“You cannot imagine what an uproar that will cause throughout Spokane, and the negative impact that will have on your administration,” he said.

City utilities make up, by far, the largest part of the city budget and face expensive infrastructure dilemmas that have been forecasted to require major sewer and water rate increases.

Condon picked Romero to lead the effort earlier this year to restructure water rates. The plan that Romero worked on, which was adopted by the City Council, is forecasted to bring in $2 million a year less than the rates they replaced.

The mayor said he originally planned to pick a utility director with experience running another local government’s utilities.

“It’s going to be a financing issue and (Romero) comes with finance background,” Condon said. “We still have utility managers and department leads who know how to operate it.”

Romero, 56, joined the city in 2008. He previously worked at Eastern Washington University for 28 years, including as the associate vice president for business services. He is a graduate of Newport High School and has a master’s in business administration from Eastern Washington University. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Romero’s salary has not yet been set.

Gemmill will maintain his current salary, which is about $145,000, in his new job.

Councilman Jon Snyder said recently that he’s concerned that Condon is making decisions that should have input from the public and City Council. He noted that the council voted for a budget that funded the real estate employees for the full year.

Condon said he’s not bothered by that criticism, though he believes he’s acting on the public’s behalf.

“Having a good tension between the legislative branch and the executive branch is very fruitful,” Condon said. “I was elected to make significant changes in the administration of the city. I’m looking at those areas that work to enhance services to our citizens.”

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