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Arrested Development



Chief of Police Robert "Bob" Spinks is leaving Sequim after five years.

He and Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett issued a statement saying Spinks will step down later this year.

Both men claim they were and remain on good terms.

"The city manager continues to tell me that he has confidence in my abilities," Spinks said.

"We don't have any real disagreements in operations or expectations, and it's not based on performance or any issues with my management or how the police department is operating. My personnel file is clean. Honestly, there's no conflict."

Burkett, who started more than six months ago, said his ideal situation coming in would have been all department heads having similar styles and approaches to his.

Not right, right now

"The fact that I decided to change the chief doesn't mean he's not a good chief," Burkett said.

"It just means I came to the conclusion that he's not the right chief at the right time for my approach in managing the city."

However, city hall observers who spoke on condition of anonymity said Spinks' fate may have been decided with the 2007 city council elections that unseated the city council majority that hired him.

Council turnaround

That turnaround in the council was reinforced last November when Councilor Walt Schubert was defeated and Councilor Paul McHugh did not seek re-election.

Spinks also reportedly ruffled councilors' feathers with negative comments about the personnel his department had lost from budget cutbacks and councilors' intent to direct more resources to city planning, the sources said.

In March, Burkett and Spinks made the decision to make the change, so the chief has been looking for a new position since then.

Spinks is a finalist for police chief positions in Pullman and in West Richland.

'A great job'

"He did a great job in the five years he was here and I'm sure he'll do a great job for another city with the kinds of improvements he's done here," Burkett said.

Spinks served as police chief in Milton-Freewater, Ore., and worked for police and safety organizations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington before coming to Sequim.

He feels Sequim's direction is the driving factor behind the decision to move on.

"The story line to me is not where I'm applying but that the town is continuing to evolve," Spinks said.

"This is one of those steps."

Burkett also said the decision was not performance-related.

"It's similar to the city manager position - when it comes to a point in their tenure where they are less effective because they've been doing what they are supposed to do but use up their political capital," Burkett said.

Retirement

Spinks said his plan was to retire in Sequim.

"When I showed up here, my intent was for this to be a long-term commitment," he said.

"My wife and I really wanted to retire. We built a house here (which now is for sale)."

Spinks helped his wife's father, mother and grandmother move to Sequim, too.

"I guess that's going to have to change."

Decision made

Burkett said the decision is final and Spinks will move on.

"I've talked with city managers that are looking for chiefs and told them about Bob's strengths," Burkett said.

He and a number of other officials have written letters of recommendation for Spinks, including Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict and former city manager Bill Elliott, now city manager for Estacada, Ore.

Spinks filled in as city manager from May-December 2008 while Sequim city staff and the council searched for a new manager after firing Elliott and before hiring interim city manager Linda Herzog.

Burkett plans to keep Spinks working toward statewide accreditation for the department and to serve as a bridge before and possibly shortly after a new chief arrives.

In the dark

Sequim Mayor Ken Hays confirmed that the Sequim City Council did not know about Spinks moving on until Burkett called them.

"Obviously it's important for me to keep the council up-to-date on these kinds of issues but, on the other hand, it's an important personnel issue that it is the city manager's job to make these judgments," Burkett said.

"Frankly, how our city government is set up, the city manager is not supposed to be influenced one way or the other by opinions of the city council on performance of department heads."

Burkett said he didn't want the appearance that the council influenced his decision if he had told them.

"One of the big issues in this big economic environment is we're trying to balance our budget and natural integrity," he said.

"The police department is, of course, our biggest department and in terms of adequate budget, we have it at almost $2.5 million."

Informal meetings

Spinks likewise said that Burkett did not receive direction from the city council in the decision-making process.

He is on a first-name basis with the council members and has gone to coffee and lunch with many of them.

"I think he's done a great job and he's made a lot of improvements in the department," Hays said.

Still, Spinks said, "the police department has lost 41/2 positions in the last two years and that's about 20-percent reduction in our staff," he said.

"There's not been a huge reduction in our budget because jailing costs continue to increase and cost of filing court cases has gone up with fuel and medical. It's expensive."

The police department assumes about 30 percent of the city's annual budget.

"The last time we did an average of other cities, our budget was about that," Spinks said.

Possible changes

In his time here, Burkett said he hasn't seen many major changes in the police department because of timing but Spinks was receptive to all of his suggestions.

When he begins looking for the next candidate, being an excellent leader and having the technical skills are givens.

The Sequim Police Department generally has 24-25 employees.

"It's the chief's job to create an environment where all of those folks can maximize their effectiveness," Burkett said.

"And (I'll) look to continue a lot of things Bob did, like upholding standards in the department, the customer service orientation and community relations."

Future for Sequim Police

Spinks feels he's left the police department in a position to succeed and complete another strategic plan easily.

To finish their current plan, they need to complete the remodel and expansion of the police department and their accreditation process.

"When I showed up,

Sequim was your stereotypical small town that was just starting to be phased with significant growth to become a small city," Spinks said.

"In the past five years, the composition of crime, call load and expectation of the community has changed radically."

Reaction

The city of Sequim's employment overturn in the past two years was bumpy, Spinks said.

"I had hoped enough water had passed under the bridge and that we were moving ahead," he said.

Reaction from those in the community has been mostly positive toward him, he said.

Spinks said he's carefully tracked his hours since moving here and believes he's put in an extra 21/2 years of hours into the job.

"I didn't make a dollar more," he said.

"I had a vision and haven't asked my staff to do anything that I wasn't willing to do."

Through the transition, Spinks remains grateful for his time and accomplishments.

"The community has been very kind to me and I've appreciated working in Sequim," he said.

Accomplishments
Some of Chief Spinks' list of department accomplishments under his leadership:
  • Went under budget every year
  • Developed a case clearance rate twice the national average
  • Added officers in needed areas such as narcotics
  • Increased block watch and neighborhood programs
  • Instituted safety fair
  • Helped create a more informative Web site
  • Maintained a quick response time with increased call load
  • Increased awareness of the competency of staff
  • Increased driving under the influence arrests
  • Published a biannual report through the Sequim Gazette
  • Introduced www.crimeweb.net

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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