Doug Schulze will be assuming the role of Bainbridge Island City Manager effective November 5, 2012. He was hired unanimously by the City Council on September 20 after a search process that took much of the year. He leaves a position as city manager of Normandy Park, population 6,500, a quiet waterfront community west of SeaTac Airport. Schulze ran Normandy Park starting in 2006 after leaving a ten-year stint as city manager of Medina, a small upscale community on Lake Washington.
I sat down with Schulze in his new office in the southwest second floor corner of City Hall, which affords views of Madison Avenue, part of Winslow Way, and the treelines beyond. Schulze explained that he is still moving back and forth between Bainbridge and Normandy Park as he gets settled in here.
Schulze, a mild-mannered, thoughtful man, answered my questions directly but with restraint and diplomacy.
Q: What attracted you to the Bainbridge Island city manager position?
A: The community. It’s a beautiful place. Also the new challenges of working with a bigger organization and community. And I liked the idea of being able to get back to doing the work of a city manager. In Normandy Park [the financial situation was such that] I was doing much of the day-to-day work that staff should do. Normandy Park as a community is a lot like Bainbridge, but it’s in King County, where I no longer want to be.
Q: In selecting you from among the other city manager candidates, at least one councilmember praised your management plan for the city. Can you outline or describe highlights of the plan? For example, how high a priority is our police chief appointment?
A: I made the plan based on limited information as part of the application process. But I would think most of it is going to be applicable. The issues with the police are front and center. During the first couple weeks I’ve got Kate [Brown, Executive Secretary] setting up briefings with each department manager. These meetings will be opportunities to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the departments, red flags that I need to pay attention to, and what staff needs are.
I intend to do a lot of listening in the first couple of months, to spend a lot of one-on-one time with the councilmembers. I want to speak with organizations, walk around, pay attention to what’s happening in the community.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a good listener?
A: I’ve been told that’s one of my strengths.
Q: How will you transition with Morgan Smith [Deputy City Manager and currently Interim City Manager] and the staff?
A: For the first two weeks or month I will be doing a lot of briefings with Morgan. I plan to leave Morgan in charge of day-to-day operations so I can meet with community members and get up to speed.
Q: You are the fifth manager since the city switched to a city manager form of governance in 2009. Do you think Bainbridge understands how to run a city manager form of government?
A: A lot of cities that make the switch have trouble. It’s common in most cities to go through some growing pains. Both outside and internal influences can be obstacles. I’ve gotten a whole lot of emails.
Q: From citizens?
A: Yes. I’ve worked in communities where there are a lot of outspoken people. There is a feeling that the city is not in step with community desires. Perception is not necessarily the reality. . . .
Q: Is this sentiment mostly directed at the city council?
A: My sense is people are saying this about city hall in general.
Q: Can you explain for readers the basic difference between a mayoral government and a city manager form?
A: I’ve always struggled with the term city council form of government. I prefer to call it a strong council form of government. The manager’s role is obviously the CEO of the municipal organization, and the council is the board. As city manager, there are many different hats I wear—a therapist, an advisor, a manager. . . . One of the things I can do is help councilmembers when they have different opinions understand one another and have discussions where there is a way to disagree and get your position out there without creating a bigger problem. But my role with the council is to advise them. Ultimately the council is going to make the policy decisions. They may or may not agree with my opinion; in the end the council rules.
Q: Given the divided nature of our current city council, how do you intend to work productively with them and avoid the pitfalls of previous managers, such as Brenda Bauer who was fired shortly after the January induction of the four newest members of council?
A: I’ve talked about this with different councilmembers. They have to want to change the way they interact. There is a way to create a dialog without creating a divisive atmosphere. I feel that there is trust from the council toward me. The challenge is transitioning from the honeymoon of the new guy people are hopeful about because people have trust in my abilities and my experience.
Q: What is the state of affairs in Normandy Park as you leave your position there given the large budget shortfall? Is disincorporation likely?
A: No. That was trumped up by the press. It appears they will raise their tax levy.
Q: I understand you will learn more as you go, but at this point what are the biggest problems facing our city as you see them?
A: There are a couple different things going on. The police department issue and the hiring of a police chief. That’s going to be a major focus. The other issue I intend to spend time on is the dialog in the community.
Q: How do you see that dialog taking shape?
A: I’m no sot sure how that will take shape. There has to be some process that people will participate in that is constructive. Maybe some people enjoy the ugly back and forth, but I don’t think most people want that. I didn’t apply without understanding a little bit about the community. Some people in my profession say, well, good luck, and laugh about it [the Bainbridge city manager position]. It’s discouraging to me, because it’s our job as city managers to come in and be a good manager and hopefully help improve things for the community. I felt a connection here that I think I can work with.
Q: During the hiring process, there was much talk among individual citizens and organizations alike of finding a manager who would preserve Bainbridge Island’s “special nature.” In fact, it was the number-one criterion for choosing a city manager. What is your sense of what that is, and how you will work to preserve it?
A: Special nature. I think I have a general idea of that here, but by no means would I bet my paycheck on that. . . . [mutual laughter]. You could probably ask ten people in a room and get nine different answers. There are a lot of communities that feel their community has a special nature. It’s going to be important to talk to people. The small town atmosphere. Protecting the environment but protecting private property rights is a balance. Clearly people are concerned about the cost of government and the value of their tax dollars, as well as open and transparent government. I want to hear from everyone.
Q: What organizations have you connected with here so far?
A: The Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary, the Kitsap Realtors Association, Friends of the Farms. . . I want to learn more and hear from others. There will be some commonalities and challenges.
Q: I appreciate that you want to spend time up front listening and learning about our community, but you must have a sense of your priorities in the first weeks and months. Will you hire a new police chief right away?
A: I won’t hire a new police chief right away. I want to find out what the Citizens for Collaborative Policing study’s recommendations are. I want to see their profile for the new chief before making any decisions.
One of the other things I want to initiate during my first year here is to move toward a focus on high-performance organization—a lot of what that will involve is a common vision throughout the organization from the city manager’s office to the staff in the field, limiting micromanaging. It’s all going to come down to communication with the council about what I’m trying to do so they understand and have it fit with what they want and what the community wants.
Q: Will this involve cutting jobs?
A: High-performance organization will involve performance reporting benchmarks, making sure the organization is operating as efficiently as it can. It doesn’t necessarily mean cutting jobs. I’m not in a position to make that call yet. I don’t have an opinion yet about whether this organization has the appropriate number of employees.
Q: I want to ask you about our nonmotorized transportation plan, established back in 2003. The plan committed to creating 40 miles of walking/biking trails. I believe about 2 miles have actually been created in the nearly ten years since that plan was made. Studies, staff time, and tax dollars were spent creating that plan. Citizens want safe routes for their kids to get to school. We’re caught in a “rurban” environment here, not quite rural anymore but not quite suburban or urban. . . .
A: Having safe routes to schools is an important need and an important part of what the city should be doing. There are a number of grants available—state and federal—as well as working with legislators in the area to get funding. We should be able to find financial support without great city expenditure. Connectivity of trails—there are many sources of funding for this. The city has limited funds, making it that much more important to find outside help.
Q: Early this year the city had an opportunity to apply for a giant federal grant to create a separated path along Highway 305, but it was voted down in council because of a relatively small outlay of money required from the city, perhaps as a reaction by some councilmembers against the quarter-million-dollar cost of finding a new city manager. It would create the crucial missing link on the Sound-to-Olympic Bike/Ped Trail. The same federal grant opportunity is coming up in 2013. Will you support it?
A: Recently my wife and I were on 305 when the bicyclists were coming off the ferry. We were amazed by the dozens and dozens of commuters we saw. I used to commute on bike between Bothell and Medina and rode through a lot of traffic in Kirkland. I’m familiar with the need from a bicyclist’s perspective. Complete streets are a quality of life issue. Not all streets can be built that way, but it makes sense to update the key thoroughfares. And like I said it doesn’t need to happen with a lot city expenditure.
High school sweethearts, Doug and his wife Lisa have two sons and a daughter, all in their twenties and in school. The couple plans to move to Bainbridge Island the first of the year. “We’ll probably get an apartment first and get familiar with the community before buying. We plan to settle here,” he said.
- Bainbridge City Manager Pick Leaves Behind Fiscal Problems
- Let’s Play the Dating Game: Meet Our City Manager Contestants
- Morgan Smith for President of Bainbridge Island
- Surprise! City Manager Applicant Turnout Low; Concerns about Working with Council Cited
- City Manager Search Update: Mother Teresa, MLK, and Lincoln Unqualified for Job
- Update: City Hosts Public Forums for Citizen Input in New City Manager Search
- City Council Appoints Morgan Smith Interim City Manager
- Acting City Manager Offers to Assume Interim Role but Council Undecided
- Bauer Is Out; Scuffle Erupts at City Council Meeting
- 250K Search for New City Manager Derails Sound-to-Olympic Bike/Ped Trail?
- City Council Estimates Search for New City Manager Will Cost $250,000
Photo by Julie Hall.