The Spokane Valley City Council’s new majority ousted the city’s top administrator Tuesday evening.
Spokane Valley Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard’s announcement that City Manager Mike Jackson had been asked to resign “in the best interest of the city” was met with loud boos from the audience that packed the Spokane Valley City Council chambers.
The City Council announced it was firing Jackson after a 45-minute executive session that began at 5 p.m.
But the decision apparently was made in private last week. Jackson said in an interview that Woodard and Mayor Rod Higgins told him Friday he would be fired.
Higgins said it was “diverging opinions on which direction the city should take” that led to Jackson’s firing.
“There was no malfeasance or incompetence or wrongdoing on Jackson’s behalf,” Higgins said.
Councilman Ed Pace said the same thing, adding the council has a right to hire or fire the city manager.
“We just don’t think he’s right for the city,” Pace said.
Hired as parks and recreation director in 2003 when Spokane Valley incorporated, Jackson was promoted to deputy city manager in 2007. He became acting city manager in January 2010 and took the job as city manager in August of that year.
Councilman Dean Grafos said Jackson was fired because he’s become an obstacle to the City Council’s desire to start its own police department when Spokane Valley’s contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office expires this summer.
Grafos called Jackson one of the most talented, competent and professional people he’s known.
“The firing is a travesty and a dangerous move by the new City Council majority,” Grafos said.
Councilman Chuck Hafner said Jackson has been an outstanding city manager, providing excellent services and a fair approach to growth and development, and he’s balanced the city’s budget.
Hafner accused the new council majority that skews further to the right – Higgins, Woodard, Sam Wood and Pace – of having a hidden political agenda.
“Our city will no longer be the envy of other cities, but will be known as the city of ‘No,’ ” Hafner said.
The minority on the council – Grafos, Hafner and Bill Gothman – said they had not been involved in the discussions that led to Jackson’s firing and had not received proper notice of the executive session. An email went out to subscribers to Spokane Valley’s email server Monday morning, but the executive session was not added to the agenda online.
No one from the council majority addressed the crowd from the dais, except when Woodard made the motion to fire Jackson and Pace seconded it.
During 45 minutes of public testimony that followed the announcement, a dozen people praised Jackson’s leadership skills, commitment and track record. Only Gene Strunk spoke in favor of Jackson’s firing, saying he was costing the city too much money.
“Getting rid of him is going to be a lot cheaper than keeping him here,” Strunk said.
Former Mayor Diana Wilhite, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and former Councilman Ben Wick were among those who praised Jackson.
Wilhite took an extra step and scolded the council.
“You talk about transparency and you are not being transparent,” she said. “Shame on you.”
Jackson did not address the meeting but was hugged by many afterward.
“It’s been an honor to work for Spokane Valley,” Jackson said. “The city has an outstanding staff. It’s been great.”
He was placed on paid leave immediately and will receive full pay and benefits until his contract is terminated, which will be no later than 4 p.m. March 30.
Mark Calhoun, assistant city manager, has taken over for Jackson.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.