Building and Rebuilding: City of Sequim prepping for leadership change in 2015

City manager, attorney, others plan retirements in 2015 and beyond

Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett

Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett

 

As the roof and walls on the City of Sequim’s new city hall and police station go up, more changes may be under way for the city’s leadership.

Three department heads — City Manager Steve Burkett, City Attorney Craig Ritchie and Administrative Services Director Elray Konkel — say they plan to retire in 2015.

The news follows the upcoming Nov. 30 departure of Public Works Director Paul Haines who announced leaving the city in August.

Konkel said at a city leaders’ planning session, the group indicated that two-thirds of Sequim’s department heads would retire or leave by 2018.

However, Burkett said nothing is set in stone and that so far Haines is the only staffer to put his resignation in writing.

“We have been thinking about this for a couple of years with the leadership team talking about transition planning,” Burkett said. “So we’re not ignoring it but until someone says it in writing, it’s just a plan.”

Susanne Connelly, Sequim human resources director, said the city hasn’t budgeted to recruit for positions in 2015 but anticipates recruiting for the attorney, public works director and administrative services director positions in-house.

The city is likely to hire an executive firm, she said, to help recruit a new city manager.

“In my experience 99 percent of the time, councils all over choose an executive recruitment firm for a position as important as city manager,” Connelly said.

She said it broadens the scope and quality of candidates.

Burkett said hiring a new city manager is one of the most important jobs of a city council as it can have positive and negative impacts depending on who the city manager hires and how he/she handles financial planning.

“Depending on the timing, I may be recruiting and hiring or a new city manager may be doing that,” he said.

Burkett, who was hired Oct. 19, 2009, said when he interviewed five-plus years ago, he planned to be in the position 3-5 years.

“It just worked out,” he said. “Things change. Frankly, I decided once we do cut the ribbon on city hall, that would be a good time to retire.”

The civic center is slated for completion in mid-2015.

Burkett said the new city hall and police station could be an attractive draw for potential candidates.

“When I came here, one of the council’s goals was to get a new city hall, which was somewhat intimidating in itself,” he said.

“But now we’ll have an attractive new building and all the employees in one place for the first time in a long time.”

 

Council changes

Next year, four city councilors are up for reelection — Mayor Candace Pratt, Laura Dubois, Erik Erichsen and Ken Hays.

Hays said he hasn’t made a decision yet to run again for city council, but he does feel Burkett has been an effective leader.

Fellow city councilors seem to agree after giving Burkett near top marks in his annual reviews.

In a new city manager, Hays said he wants to see someone with the same degree of integrity and team building as Burkett but he doesn’t expect to find someone just like him.

“He’s made some profound changes in the organization, creating a different and effective culture,” Hays said. “Most of that has to do with team concepts with departments working as a team including the council. We have seven pretty different people on the council and we don’t always agree but we respect the leadership.”

Hays said much of the city council’s accomplishments stem from their discussions at their annual retreats.

“It’s a simple thing and it’s debated whether or not we spend a few thousand dollars to do it but without those we wouldn’t have accomplished as much as we wanted,” Hays said.

Dubois and Pratt are in Shiso City, Japan, and could not be reached for comment. Erichsen could not be reached for comment either.

 

Plans and costs

Ritchie, who was hired full-time in July 2007, said he does plan to retire in 2015.

“It depends on the sequence of the city manager’s retirement, selection of a new city manager and then the new city manager will pick a new city attorney hopefully with my help,” Ritchie said.

“It helps to have some continuity.”

Ritchie said some court cases may be going past his retirement date so he’d consider staying on as consultant, too.

Konkel, who signed on with the city for a limited basis, has extended his retirement date to April 30, 2015, but said that could depend on how much work is left to do on city hall and police station.

Chris Hugo, director of community development, said he doesn’t plan to retire until 2017 after finishing the city’s comprehensive plan and updating the city’s zoning code.

“I want the feeling I left Sequim in good shape and with a modern plan and zoning code that everybody feels is doing the community a good service,” Hugo said.

Police Chief Bill Dickinson said he doesn’t have immediate plans to retire, however, he believes Deputy Chief Sheri Crain would be an excellent candidate to replace him.

“To that end I have been working with her to assure that she has all the qualifications to be one of, if not the best choice for the city when I do retire,” he said. “I do not get to select the Chief of Police but she would certainly have my endorsement when the time comes.”

Burkett said they develop and encourage staff inside the city to move into higher positions.

He said Crain is a good candidate as are Sue Hagener, accounting manager, and David Garlington, city engineer, for Konkel and Haines’ positions.

“Frankly, I’d like to have a lot of people qualified as department heads because then we’d be a lot better as an organization if we have a lot of highly qualified people who are able to move up in a position in your city or another city,” he said.

As city leaders move on, Burkett said there will be some transitional costs such as paying for half of unused sick time and all unused vacation.

Current non-union employees were grandfathered in two years ago to collect 50 percent of unused sick time. Current union employees can collect 50 percent of their sick time upon leaving and new non-commissioned staff and some police officers can collect 25 percent under a new contract.

With recruiting in-house, Connelly said there will be some savings as she does posts and notifications for leadership vacancies aside from the city manager position. Connelly said hiring a recruiting firm for a new city manager may cost $15,000-$20,000.

Burkett said no salaries will be adjusted for incoming positions in 2015’s budget.

Combined, the city manager, public works director, administrative services director and city attorney’s current salaries are $437,544.

 

 

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

 

 

 

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