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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The highest integrity of any man I have met’: Spokane Valley City Manager Mark Calhoun retires

After more than 30 years in municipal government, Spokane Valley City Manager Mark Calhoun retired last week.

Calhoun came to Spokane Valley in 2011 to be the city’s finance director, after holding the same position in Wenatchee for 16 years.

In 2014, Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson promoted Calhoun to deputy city manager. Two years later, the City Council made the controversial decision to fire Jackson – Councilmen Dean Grafos and Chuck Hafner resigned in protest – and Calhoun was unanimously approved as his replacement.

The city manager oversees Spokane Valley’s day-to-day operations. He answers only to City Council and is the city’s most powerful nonelected official.

“He is the chief executive officer,” Spokane Valley City Councilman Rod Higgins explained. “He makes the decisions and makes sure the city runs, because he’s the guy with the helm in his hand.”

City leaders said Calhoun’s financial expertise has been a tremendous boon to Spokane Valley.

Higgins and other council members said Calhoun was a master at city finances and had an incredible ability to explain complex budgeting realities in a way anyone could understand.

“It was almost magical,” Higgins said, “because the very first financial statements he produced were so much more understandable, comprehensible, than his predecessor.”

Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said Calhoun knew seemingly everything about the city’s finances off the top of his head.

“It’s going to be hard to find somebody who’s as great at numbers as he is,” she said.

Attempts to reach Calhoun for this story were unsuccessful.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard said Calhoun was “an extraordinary steal from Wenatchee” and that he has helped the city develop a more business friendly environment.

Woodard noted that Calhoun was a tireless worker. He often started his days at 6:30 a.m. and would still be at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. It was common to find Calhoun working on weekends, too, Woodard said.

“It’s not about him, he wants to make the organization he works for the very best it can be,” Woodard said.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Tim Hattenburg said when he joined the council, Calhoun helped him learn how the city government operated. Hattenburg also said Calhoun did a great job of keeping council members informed and was always available.

“He didn’t want anybody caught off guard,” Hattenburg said.

Calhoun met with every council member monthly, one-on-one. Hattenburg said he looked forward to those meetings.

“I always learned something,” he said.

Higgins said Calhoun has been a collaborative city manager. He advised City Council, but he never worked with council “in a dictatorial way,” Higgins said.

“Our ideas had merit,” Higgins said. “He didn’t just pat us on the head and go do what he was going to do.”

Hattenburg shared a similar sentiment.

“He was straightforward,” Hattenburg said. “You didn’t feel like you had to agree.”

Calhoun’s retirement will be a major loss, council members said, but they noted that he’s put together a great staff and has passed on his city government knowledge.

“The good news is he left kind of a legacy,” Hattenburg said. “He didn’t leave any holes; he didn’t leave anything undone.”

The city employees Calhoun leaves behind have a lot of the same attributes he does, city leaders said.

Higgins pointed to the city’s current finance director, Chelsie Taylor, as an example of someone who shares Calhoun’s financial skills and dedication to detail.

“As a student of Mark, Chelsie is very, very good,” Higgins said. “In that regard, we will have lost the experience of Mark, and the maturity of Mark in that position, but not the expertise.”

The City Council hasn’t yet decided who will replace Calhoun. Spokane Valley Deputy City Manager John Hohman is currently serving as interim city manager. The council hired a contractor this fall to conduct a national city manager search, but Woodard and Higgins said the search is on hold. City Council has not formally voted to suspend the search. 

Higgins said he wishes Calhoun wasn’t retiring.

“Mark’s departure didn’t need to happen,” Higgins said. “It was a political move brought on by people in the city who were trying to change things in a manner that couldn’t be changed and shouldn’t be changed, and they chose attacking Mark – which he took personally – to get their way. Mark opted to just retire.”

Higgins said he didn’t want to share more details about the situation publicly.

Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick and Spokane Valley City council members Pam Haley and Linda Thompson did not respond to requests for comments.

Woodard spoke glowingly of Calhoun when he summed up the city manager’s decade in Spokane Valley government.

“I love Mark, I really do. I believe that as far as the city goes, he has been, and may be, the best city manager we will experience as long as I’m alive,” Woodard said. “He has probably the highest integrity of any man I have met in my lifetime.”