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Candidates tackle city manager issue

The first city councilor debate since sexual harassment allegations arose against city manager candidate Vernon Stoner provided an opportunity for two candidates to point fingers over the firing of the last city manager, Bill Elliott.

The five candidates - incumbent councilor Bill Huizinga is running unopposed - debated Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 16, at Clasen Cove Estates, where they took questions between their opening and closing statements.

They were united in saying that allegations against Stoner should be investigated.

And they mostly agreed that Waldron & Company, the city's Seattle-based executive-search firm, should have investigated the city manager candidates more thoroughly.

But Councilor Walt Schubert, who is being challenged by Planning Commissioner Ted Miller for his Position 2 seat, said all this could have been avoided by retaining Elliott.

Stoner, of Olympia, also is suing the state, claiming he was fired due to racial discrimination.



Other applicants

Besides Stoner, former deputy director of the Office of the Insurance Commissioners, the applicants are Steven Burkett, former Shoreline city manager; and Mark Gervasi, Tillamook, Ore., city manager.

Schubert said people are innocent until proven guilty and the allegations against Stoner still are being investigated.

They will decide what to do when the investigation is done, he said.

Waldron & Company should have told the council about the sexual harassment allegations and settlement and he's upset that the company didn't, Schubert said.

The city must be careful about withdrawing a job offer because Stoner just sued the state for wrongful termination, he said.



Schubert's 4th search

This is the fourth city manager search Schubert has been through. Heretofore, Waldron had done a stellar job, he said, so there was no reason to question them.

He added, "This wouldn't be a problem if the new councilors hadn't fired Bill Elliott."

In May 2008, the council voted 4-1 to fire Elliott. Schubert left before the vote, councilor Paul McHugh voted "no," and Huizinga was absent.

Police Chief Robert Spinks served as interim city manager until Linda Herzog was hired in December 2008. She left the job earlier this month after the city announced it would hire Stoner.

Miller said being a city manager is like being a baseball manager: You can get fired at any time.

The key is whether a manager was fired for cause and his impression was Stoner was not fired for cause, Miller said.

It's a strike against Waldron if the allegations are true, he said.

Miller said he was fine with what Schubert said until he brought up Elliott.

Elliott was uncooperative with the slow-growth policies of the new councilors, Miller said, and Miller agreed with Elliott's firing although he said it wasn't done correctly.

Mike East said he was upset to read the allegations against Stoner but that no one can convict him without having all the facts.

Stoner's position now is tainted, Miller said, and it would be hard for him to serve the city with a cloud over his head.

The city had a good field of finalists who could be reinterviewed, East said.

East is a planning commissioner who is running for Paul McHugh's Position 3 seat against Don Hall, a former councilor who lost his re-election bid to Susan Lorenzen in 2007.



Query female

employees

Hall said after he read the allegations regarding Stoner, he e-mailed Mayor Laura Dubois and said the city should stop the process until the allegations could be thoroughly reviewed.

Then he asked City Clerk Karen Kuznek-Reese to query the city's female employees to ask if they would have a problem working with Stoner, Hall said.

Huizinga said, "I don't have any answer until Waldron finishes its investigation.

"Newspaper articles can do a lot of damage, so we need to find out all the facts."

When the finalists were selected, Waldron said they had performed background checks on all of them, and councilors assumed they had done a thorough one, Huizinga said, adding that none of the three interview panels asked applicants about being fired from previous jobs.

Another applicant was fired as Shoreline city manager in 2007 so councilors assumed that question had been investigated for all the applicants, he said.

"We all missed it," Huizinga said.

Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@sequimgazette.com.

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