Sequim city councilors last week narrowed their search for Sequim’s next city manager to five, a list that includes interim city manager Charisse Deschenes and four out-of-state applicants.
To start the Aug. 26 special meeting to select city manager finalists, consultant Colin Baenziger said a seventh candidate had withdrawn, leaving six from a pool of more than 40 applicants. His team selected the seven and compiled comprehensive packets while recommending the Sequim city council choose five finalists.
After meeting in executive session for more than an hour, councilors voted 6-1 — with Mike Pence opposed — to interviewing five candidates: Deschenes, Patrick Comiskey, Jeff Durbin, Matt Huish and Joe Lessard.
“I prefer you pick five because at this point, you’re just dealing with paper, and you won’t really know who you want to select until you meet them in person,” Baenziger said. “If you have five, better chance than four.”
Pence said he voted against the motion because, “I don’t want to interview that many people.”
Pence, mayor William Armacost and councilor Sarah Kincaid voted to interview the same four candidates while councilors Rachel Anderson, Tom Ferrell, Brandon Janisse and Keith Larkin voted for all five candidates.
Which candidates were voted for was kept anonymous, and one finalist was not voted for in the tally.
Larkin, who serves as the council liaison with Baenziger during the search, said he was set to meet on Aug. 30 to discuss the logistics of interviews and a public reception Sept. 9-10.
Emily Stednick, Sequim’s human resources director, said staff is working on a virtual, public reception for Sept. 9.
Earlier that day, each candidate will interview one-on-one with each city council member. On Friday, Sept. 10, there will be three separate panels of interviews including one with the entire city council, a portion of city staff leadership, and a community panel with representatives from the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sequim School District, Economic Development Council, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the North Peninsula Building Association.
For more about upcoming city meetings and events, visit sequimwa.gov.
More about the candidates
Patrick Comiskey, city manager for Cambridge, Md., a city of 12,3735, since 2018. Prior to that he was city manager for Thomaston, Ga. (pop. 8,962) for 14 years and city manager in Wellsburg, W.Va., (pop. 2,810) for four years.
According to a City of Sequim press release, Comiskey said he “enjoys bringing people together to work on a problem and then stepping back and allowing the group to work out solutions.”
Comiskey considers his achievement thus far the development of the Lake Thomaston Reservoir in Georgia, a multi-million-dollar project that required: the acquisition of land; setting up a public bond issue; and working with engineers, biologists, state regulatory agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers, neighboring property owners, the state’s electric utility, the railroad and two different general contractors, the city press release noted. The multi-year project that resulted in the city having a half a billion-gallon reservoir that insulated the city from late summer droughts.
Comiskey has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Florida, a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from Middle Georgia State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from West Virginia University.
See Comiskey’s resume here.
Charisse Deschenes, interim city manager for the City of Sequim and a city employee since 2014. Her prior roles with Sequim include serving as a senior planner, assistant to the city manager and assistant city manager. Prior to working at Sequim, she was a consultant for one year and worked in the planning department of Olathe, Kan. (population 128,050) for 10 years, the last two as a senior planner.
According to a city press release, Deschenes describes her management style with the current team is “to provide the support they need to put out their best work.”
She said one of her greatest achievements was a Service Fest event in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and other local organizations. The event lasted two weeks and hosted Habitat Caravanners — skilled volunteers that travel all over to help build houses. They were able to place 16 caravanners in Sequim to work on private property improvements for residents meeting specific income requirements. Through neighborhood meetings, community members indicated what service projects were needed throughout the public space. The City, Habitat and other volunteers worked on the service projects across the city, the release noted.
Deschenes earned a bachelor’s degree in park and resource management from Kansas State University and an executive master’s degree in business administration from Benedictine College. Additionally, she has completed 86 hours towards a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at Eastern Washington University.
See Deschenes’ resume here.
Jeff Durbin is interim town manager for Frisco, Colo. (pop. 3,116). Prior to that, he worked for Fraser, Colo. (pop. 1,532) for 20 years, with the final 16 years as town manager. He earlier served as the community development director for Plainfield, Ill. (pop.13,665) for six years.
According to the City of Sequim press release, Durbin describes his management style as collaborative — “he believes in people and relationships. “As leader, he recognizes he must make difficult decisions and is not afraid to make those decisions.”
Durbin said a success he saw in Fraser as town manager was putting the strong financial position through tough decisions when the town was expected to experience a 40-percent reduction in revenues with no reserves, the city release noted.
Durbin has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Michigan State University.
View Durbin’s resume here.
Matt Huish has been the chief administrative officer for Sandy, Utah (pop. 96,127) since 2018. Previously he was the administrative director for the University of Utah for 14 years.
“Experience has taught Mr. Huish the value of building strong teams and listening openly to all points of views to obtain the best solution,” the city press release noted.
Huish said his greatest success in Sandy was “using change management to create an innovative environment so they could better attain their new value-equation, mission, vision, and foundational values,” according to the release. “One aspect was implementing Smart City technology. The result has been improved, more efficient municipal services and increased customer (coworker, citizen, business) service. At the same time, they have decreased costs. Now Sandy’s operations more closely mirror those of business organizations.”
Huish has a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from the University of Puget Sound and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Utah. He has also completed some coursework towards a master’s degree in healthcare administration from Chapman University.
Joe Lessard is currently self-employed; previously he was the senior planning director for Knudson for 11 years, an assistant city manager in Austin, TX (pop. 578,608) for nine years. He also worked for the City of Dallas, Texas (pop. one million) for four years, the final two as the assistant to the city manager.
“He meets his leadership responsibility by visibly modeling the values he articulates and desires from the staff and larger organization, the city press release noted. “He motivates employees by giving each team member an opportunity to contribute.”
Lessard said the professional achievement that he has the most pride in is the successful planning and establishment of the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan for the protection of endangered species in the Central Texas Hill Country. He met U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements and coordinated staff support from the City of Austin, Travis County, the Lower Colorado River Authority, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The result is the preservation of at least 30,400 acres of habitat in the western portion of Travis County.
Lessard has a master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University and bachelor’s degrees in political science and business administration from Washington State University.
See Lessard’s resume here.