The Poulsbo City Council recently revisited discussions surrounding a potential move toward hiring a city administrator.
Last November council members heard testimony from Tracy Burrows of the Municipal Research and Services Center. At the November meeting, Burrows noted that the city of Liberty Lake — which has a population similar to Poulsbo’s at 10,390 — maintains a mayor-council structure but also staffs a city administrator. The average annual salary for a city administrator in western Washington with a population fewer than 30,000, Burrows said, was $144,400.
“I was the one that initially brought this to the council,” Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said. “Right after I was re-elected to a third term, I pushed the council hard for a change. This city is large enough now that it needs professional management.”
“I’m fortunate enough that I have some experience in that regard,” the mayor said. “I’ve been managing people all my life. It works now, but if we were to elect a mayor that didn’t have that kind of background, it might be very difficult to have a well-running city government.”
During an April 17 city council meeting, council member Ken Thomas reminded those in attendance that the examination of the mayor’s executive office has been in the works for some time. The initial examination, Thomas said, was spurred by the steadily increasing responsibility of the mayor’s office.
“Over time, the duties that fall upon the mayor have been increasing the number of out-of-city interactions with regional groups,” Thomas said. “It makes it a little more difficult for the mayor to administer the city with so much time being spent on things of that nature.”
Now, the city council will be looking to examine the possibility of appointing a city administrator who would serve in conjunction with an elected mayor. The move to an administrator, Thomas noted, would also not require a vote from Poulsbo residents.
“[A city administrator] would be a chief of staff and operations manager for the city,” Thomas said. “Washington State law allows this setup without any kind of election by the citizens, which would be required if we went to a city manager.”
“This brings in professional help to the mayor’s office, to help run the city,” the councilor added.
At the meeting Thomas also outlined the possible timeline for moving toward a city administrator.
According to the materials provided at the council meeting, by November the city will be gathering public input on a potential move toward a city administrator. The council will then draft a non-binding resolution of intent to consider implementation of a city administrator position. Also in November, council members would vote on whether or not to move forward with preparations.
If council agrees to move forward, the summer of 2020 would see the beginning of structuring for the proposed 2021–2022 biennial budget, anticipating the addition of a city administrator and a revised incoming mayoral salary for January 2022. It would be at this time that council would determine an appropriate salary range for a city administrator and then put the decision to a formal vote. In March 2021, the city would begin searching for candidates for a city administrator with the intent of hiring one by October 2021. In November 2021 a new mayor will be elected and then sworn in by January of 2022. According to the timeline, a cap would be placed on the combined executive office salaries at $200,000. Initial conversations amongst the council have suggested a revised mayoral salary of $40,000 annually or a “salary that council deems appropriate.” Leaving a possible $160,000 on the table for a city administrator.
Erickson said her push for a city administrator came not from a lack of confidence in Poulsbo’s citizenry to elect a qualified candidate, but rather the increasing duties and complexity of city government.
“[The mayor] is still doing the same function, it’s just that there will be another piece that the mayor will have at their discretion to help run the government,” Erickson said. “Running city government has gotten far more complex.”
When asked what qualities a prime candidate for the position would have, Erickson pointed first to experience.
“A prime candidate would be somebody that has already had experience running a small city,” she said. A strong financial background and understanding of engineering and unionized personnel law would also help to shore up a prospective bid for the position, Erickson added.
Erickson said that when she hands off the keys to her office, she wants to be certain that the people tasked with steering Poulsbo, are well-equipped for the job.
“My goal is to protect Poulsbo, leaving city government in the best position I can, so our community stays true to it self: vibrant, thriving and beautiful.”
“[Poulsbo] is growing very quickly right now. We need someone with some real smarts that can manage that growth and make sure that we protect the qualities of our community. It’s a hugely important thing to me.”
When asked if she had considered applying for the administrator position herself, once she has finished her term as mayor — which happens to be what the former mayor of Wapato, Juan Orozco, did last year after resigning as mayor — Erickson said she was not interested in the position.
“At the end of my term I will be 67, almost 68,” She said. “Time to spend more time with my family.”