Spokane’s planning director was abruptly let go Tuesday night as part of a reshuffling of Mayor David Condon’s administration.
Officials said the goal of the termination is to increase collaboration between planners and neighborhood residents.
But several city lawmakers, who praised the work of former Planning Director Lisa Key, said they were blindsided by the move.
Dawn Kinder, the city’s recently appointed head of the neighborhood and building services division, said the decision to “lay off” Key, as it was described in an email to City Council members Tuesday evening, wasn’t because of her work on the city’s comprehensive plan or improving options for infill development.
“I have great respect for Lisa,” said Kinder. “She certainly helped us achieve some things in her time here, and we will help support her in this transition.”
Reached at her home Tuesday afternoon, Key declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding her layoff.
“I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving with some of the greatest planners I’ve ever known,” she said. “I know with the city’s talented planning staff that they will continue to do great work.”
City Council President Ben Stuckart and his colleague City Councilwoman Karen Stratton both said the move made little sense.
“Lisa knew how to work with everyone,” Stuckart said. “I think this is a blow to morale of our whole planning department.”
They also said that the City Council should have had advance notice about the administration’s plans.
“This is something that should have been brought forward in committees, where we could have had a discussion about it,” Stratton said. “It wasn’t.”
The move is the second time Condon has terminated a planning director.
In November 2014, the city fired then-Planning Director Scott Chesney over a perceived lack of leadership from then-Business and Development Services Division Director Jan Quintrall. Quintrall resigned two months later after developers and City Council members raised concerns about Chesney’s firing.
Key was appointed to lead the planning department in January 2016. She previously had worked for the city of Hayden and Kootenai County.
The decision will place Heather Trautman, who has overseen the city’s code and parking enforcement but has not been a planner since 2006, in charge of neighborhood services as well as planning. Neighborhood services acts as a connection between neighborhood representatives and City Hall.
Kris Becker, who had been overseeing development services, will take over Trautman’s previous code and parking duties.
Two department heads will oversee five city departments, down from three in the old model, Kinder said. She will supervise all of them as a division head.
Blending neighborhood services and planning will allow for increased communication between residents and city planners on major building and road projects, Kinder said.
She used the example of the North Monroe Corridor lane reduction, which has been opposed by a vocal group of business owners, and some South Hill neighbors pushing back on a potential mixed-use development at 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard as areas where the city could benefit from increased communication between planners and those living in areas affected by the work.
“We’re really going to be able to better prepare for and execute those projects that are ultimately good for the city, but have some difficult steps along the way,” Kinder said.
But both Stuckart and Stratton said they were impressed with Key’s devotion to speaking with neighborhoods. They also questioned if Trautman, whose background is in planning but has led the code enforcement and parking departments for years, was the right person to take on the planning role.
“Heather Trautman is known in City Hall, from the people that have dealt with her, that she knows how to say ‘No’ to anything,” Stuckart said. “The last thing we need, as the head of the planning department, is the person that says no to everything.”
Stuckart said he had no issues with how Trautman has led the parking and code enforcement departments.
Kinder said Trautman’s reputation is based on her work in her current position, and that she anticipated Trautman would continue Key’s momentum in working with both developers and neighborhood residents to advance planning for the city, including a continued push for changes to the city’s laws freeing up lots for infill development.
“I understand the concerns with Lisa’s departure,” Kinder said. “I think we can work through that and, over time, achieve a lot in this model without her being here.”