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Spokane Valley appoints John Hohman as new city manager

John Hohman, Spokane Valley Deputy City Manager, talks about structural issues at City Hall on Feb. 18, 2020.  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
John Hohman, Spokane Valley Deputy City Manager, talks about structural issues at City Hall on Feb. 18, 2020. (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Valley has a new city manager.

John Hohman, who has been serving as interim city manager since Mark Calhoun retired at the end of December, will now be the city’s most powerful unelected official. The city manager runs the day-to-day operations of city government and answers only to City Council.

Hohman, who has an engineering background, has worked in Spokane Valley city government for 18 years – nearly the entirety of the city’s existence. He became deputy city manager in January 2017.

“I’m honored that they have chosen me for the position,” Hohman said.

Hohman said he feels well-equipped to tackle the four priorities outlined in the city’s 2022 budget: public safety, pavement preservation, transportation and infrastructure and economic development.

“Three of those were under my purview previously,” Hohman said. “I feel like I’m highly qualified to step into this. My background aligns very well with the council’s priorities.”

An engineering background could be useful as city manager, too, Hohman said.

“What we (engineers) are there for is to solve problems and create solutions,” he said. “That’s what I hope to do.”

City Council’s original Tuesday agenda didn’t include any mention of a city manager appointment. City Council amended its agenda during the meeting so it could vote to appoint Hohman.

The motion to amend the agenda passed 6-1, with Spokane Valley City Councilman Ben Wick voting against it.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard then made a two-pronged motion.

First, Woodard wanted to suspend the city’s contract with Prothman, a consulting firm that does national hiring searches. With the second, Woodard wanted to appoint Hohman as city manager immediately following a new contract negotiation for the position.

The motion passed 5-2, with council members Wick and Tim Hattenburg voting against it and council members Woodard, Pam Haley, Rod Higgins, Laura Padden and Brandi Peetz voting for it.

Woodard said after the meeting on Wednesday that he didn’t see a compelling reason to continue the hiring search City Council had initiated in the fall because no outside hire would be able to match Hohman’s institutional knowledge. Continuity is invaluable for City Hall, Woodard said.

“He knows pretty much every department in the city and knows them in and out, and knows all the people that are there,” Woodard said. “It’s kind of pointless to me to go out and look for somebody that might have those capabilities when there aren’t many of them, and pretty assuredly not in the state of Washington.”

Neither Woodard nor Wick knew if the city would be able to get its money back after suspending the hiring contract. City staff have previously estimated the hiring search would cost roughly $25,000.

Wick said he wanted to move forward with the national hiring search so that the city could have a better understanding of all its options.

“Nothing against Mr. Hohman, I really hope that he would apply and we could evaluate him through the process,” Wick said.

Spokane Valley is a major city now, and it’s in excellent financial shape, Wick said on Wednesday. That makes the city manager position an attractive one, and a significant number of good candidates probably would have applied, Wick said.

Going through the formal process would also allow the community to weigh in on potential candidates, Wick said. It’s common for cities to bring in a few finalists for public meet and greets.

On top of that, Wick said that it’d be in the city’s best financial interest to carry out the hiring search. Completing the search might have cost $25,000, but if City Council decides to dismiss a given city manager, the severance package could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s well worth our initial investment to make sure that we pick the right person up front,” Wick said.

Hattenburg said during the meeting that Hohman “does a fantastic job,” but going through the full search process was still a good idea in order to let the public vet the candidates.

Peetz said Wednesday that she agreed with Wick and Hattenburg’s arguments despite voting with the majority.

“I voted yes because I wanted John to know that I think he’s going to do a good job and I support him,” Peetz said.

Woodard has spoken glowingly of former city manager Mark Calhoun. Calhoun’s financial expertise was second to none, Woodard said, and his retirement was a major loss.

But Hohman has a skill set that makes him a great replacement, Woodard said, explaining that what Calhoun was to finance, Hohman is to economic development, engineering and public works.

“I just think the citizens are going to get a second-in-a-row great city manager,” Woodard said. “I’m really hopeful and positive about what’s coming.”

Hohman’s wasn’t the only major appointment in Spokane Valley this week – Pam Haley was named mayor Tuesday. She could not immediately be reached for comment on Hohman’s appointment .

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