The city of Spokane is undergoing changes once again under Mayor David Condon, as he announced the creation of a new Public Works Division and the dissolution of the Business and Developer Services Division, which he created in 2012.
As part of the changes, Utilities Director Rick Romero will retire in April. Street and engineering services, previously part of the business services department, will be moved under utilities, which will be renamed the Public Works Division.
Scott Simmons, who was hired last year to lead Business and Developer Services, will take over the expanded department.
Romero, 59, has been unscathed by recent turmoil at City Hall and has been praised by City Council members for creative problem-solving. He led the effort to remake the city’s plan to nearly stop dumping untreated sewage in the Spokane River, reducing the cost and making it more comprehensive. Romero is credited with slicing nearly $150 million from the project.
Romero, who spent most of his career working in the administration of Eastern Washington University, said he will remain at City Hall part time through the end of the year in an economic development position.
“I want to feel good about what I’ve done here at the city,” Romero said, noting that he came out of an early retirement to work for the city and looked forward to working less.
Simmons, 44, previously was the vice president for service delivery at Ecova. He has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Idaho.
Other services from the now-disbanded business department – planning, developer services and historic preservation – will be moved to a consolidated Neighborhood and Business Services Division, which will remain under Jonathan Mallahan.
At a news conference Friday morning, Condon said the moves were done to “better align city resources to deliver the best outcomes” and will take place “over the next few months.”
Condon suggested the changes reflect how the city has been operating during his time as mayor, pointing to the “integrative” work the city has done primarily on street design and construction, which combines street and utility work.
“We’re already doing this, so it makes a lot of sense,” Simmons said, adding that the city is working “cross-departmentally, not vertically.”
“We have success working together, regardless of who we report to,” he said.
This is the second time in the last year that Simmons has been promoted to replace high-profile members of Condon’s Cabinet. After being hired as the city’s strategic business analyst last year, he was chosen to replace Jan Quintrall as head of Business and Developer Services when she resigned in the wake of her controversial firing of Scott Chesney, the city’s planning director.
Now, with Romero retiring, Simmons will lead the city’s largest department, both in terms of budget and number of employees.
Mallahan described the changes to his department as “fulfilling our vision of delivering a cohesive experience for our customers.”
While it’s unclear what those changes are, Condon said the city was creating “neighborhood resource teams.”
“People identify with their neighborhoods and desire local solutions to their unique needs,” Condon said.
Mallahan described it as way to facilitate citizen input at City Hall.
“My passion is helping people have an impact on government decisions,” Mallahan said.
Condon also said Tim Dunivant, the city’s budget director, would become the city’s director of finance and administration, a new Cabinet position. Gavin Cooley, who has served as the city’s chief financial officer under five mayors, will remain at City Hall and focus on investments, debt management and economic development initiatives.
“He has really been leading our investment efforts, seeing the magnitude of our realized gains from our citizens’ dollars,” Condon said of Cooley.
Cooley said he would continue to work closely with Romero, whom Cooley hired in 2008 as the city’s internal auditor.
“He’s one of the brightest thinkers I’ve met in my entire life,” Cooley said.
Condon said no other Cabinet members were expected to leave the city.
“At this time, these are the members of how we’re organizing to best meet the needs of the Cabinet,” he said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.