After a three month search, Sequim city councilors agreed Friday to begin negotiations with Sandy, Utah’s chief city administrative officer Matt Huish as the next city manager.
He was one of four finalists including interim city manager Charisse Deschenes to go through an interview process on Sept. 9-10.
Huish said last Saturday he’d prefer to wait until negotiations are finalized to comment on the position and being selected.
In a virtual public reception on Sept. 9, Huish said he “wants to be known as someone who builds teams, is in the middle, and listens to all sides.”
“I care deeply about transparency, and representation from all points of view,” he said in an interview later Thursday night. He added that one of his biggest personality traits is collaboration, too.
He’s lived in Utah for the last 21 years. As a preschooler, he moved to Seattle with his family and grew up in the Tacoma area graduating from Stadium High School and completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Physical Therapy, Athletic Training from the University of Puget Sound. He remembers going to the Olympic Game Farm as a child and the Sequim area, and enjoys hiking and sailing now.
He started his career in physical therapy before transitioning into healthcare administration and later city administration.
Councilor Keith Larkin, who served as the council liaison to the search firm, said Huish’s “energy and strong, strong desire to come here and really be a part of the community” stood out to him.
“We need someone with a new, fresh, energetic outlook on the city,” he said. “He wants to be a part of our community … and I think the community is going to find him to be visible, and they’re going to see him everywhere.”
Candidate Jeff Durbin, former interim town manager in Frisco, Colo, was the runner up as councilors were asked by search firm consultant Colin Baenziger for their top two choices in a preliminary vote.
All four candidates received votes in the preliminary voting, including Deschenes, and Joe Lessard, a self-employed independent consultant in Texas and former assistant city manager in Austin, Texas. To narrow the selection, councilors Rachel Anderson, Mayor William Armacost, Sarah Kincaid, Larkin and Mike Pence voted for Huish while deputy mayor Tom Ferrell and councilor Brandon Janisse voted for Durbin.
In a motion to begin negotiations, Ferrell was the lone vote against a motion for Huish.
“It was a very difficult choice,” Janisse said in Friday’s meeting. “I had no major issues with any of the four candidates. It was a difficult choice to make.”
Councilors agreed unanimously to appoint Armacost to represent the council in negotiations with Baenziger, city attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross and Huish starting Monday, Sept. 13.
Armacost said Monday that Nelson-Gross forwarded a copy of Deschenes’ interim city manager contract to Baenziger to proceed with negotiations, and that he intends to keep the council in the loop.
“I’m very excited,” Armacost said. “There were some tough decisions, and we were fortunate to break some new ground as a city council with (virtual) breakout rooms, a stakeholders group, as well as an amazing effort by city staff.”
Larkin said it’s unknown how soon Huish could start as it depends on contract negotiations, him giving notice in Sandy, and other arrangements, such as housing.
“We’d love to have him here as soon as possible,” he said.
“(The process) came out how I thought it would all along. We chose someone who I think is going to be a great city manager.”
Huish holds multiple degrees and honors, including most recently a Masters Certificate in Global Health from the School of Public Health in University of Utah in 2011.
In Sandy, Huish’s resume says he oversees 10 department directors, 600 full-time benefited staff and 300 seasonal part-time employees all under an approximate $115 million annual budget.
Prior, he worked as administrative director for the University of Utah’s School of Medicine Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department for about 10 years (April 2007 – December 2017), and as manager of neuroscience clinics at the University of Utah hospitals and clinics from Nov. 2003-April 2007.
Prior to interviews, Huish said one of his successes in Sandy was implementing Smart City technology that led to more efficient municipal services and increased customer service while decreasing costs and making Sandy’s operations more closely mirror those of business organizations.
In May 2018, Huish was cleared of alleged sexual harassment charges over emails to a coworker in Sandy, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
He was on leave for six days before being cleared after an investigation by Liesel Stevens of the law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker.
She reported in a city instigated investigation that “his emails “were unprofessional and inappropriate at times. However, they were not sexual in nature and did not create an abusive work environment.”
In the city report, Huish told Stevens he uses a “friendly and informal email style with everyone at work;” he “was trying to be funny, nothing else;” and he often sends work emails in the evenings to everyone because he is busy with meetings during the day.
He also denied romantic or a social relationship with the employee, and if he knew he made her uncomfortable, “he would have corrected his behavior and apologized,” according to the report.
Some of the emails from Huish said, “Of course! I ALWAYS have time for You! :);” and “… I’ve swing through several times hoping to “catch you,” but to no avail. But, I’m not a man who is easily dissuade, so expect to see me trying again soon! Haha.”
Larkin said all councilors were aware of the allegations but agreed it “wasn’t really a situation we felt required much consideration.”
“We know one thing with Colin Baenziger, they search and try and find everything they can,” he said. “The intent was to make that fully transparent, and all panels were aware of that.”
Assistant city manager
Deschenes said in a Tuesday phone interview she plans to return as assistant city manager to help Huish, so he can be successful.
“I want to connect him to the city’s culture, so things go smoothly,” she said. “Part of that is reaching out to various agencies and connecting him, and build on those relationships over my last eight years.”
She’ll serve as interim city manager until Huish is able to start. She served in the role following former city manager Charlie Bush’s resignation in January after a majority of councilors called for his resignation.
The four finalists, with a fifth dropping out prior to interviews, were selected by Baenziger and his team from about 40 candidates. He helped recruit Bush in 2015.
Deschenes’ contract stipulates that if she is fired within a year of Huish’s start date, she’d receive a severance.
Larkin said Deschenes “deserves to be a part of the team” with the city.
“(She) loves the community and wants to be a part of making Sequim successful,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a great team.”
Deschenes said she’ll reevaluate how things feel later on.