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Acting City Manager Smith Offers to Assume Interim Role but Council Undecided

At last night’s Bainbridge Island City Council meeting, Councilmember Bonkowski reported back from the ad hoc committee appointed to find an interim manager and a new city manager. He told the Council that they are looking for an interim manager to “carry us through essentially what we’re doing now—not making any massive changes.”

Bonkowski also said that he and Mayor Lester met with staff last Friday and tried “to assure them they were not looking for an interim city manager to be disruptive or to make any changes and act as a change agent. Instead we were looking for someone to assist Morgan [Smith] and the rest of the team.” Smith is currently the acting manager, having served as the Deputy City Manager under Brenda Bauer.

Councilmember Hytopoulos said that she understood that Smith had just recently announced her willingness to perform the interim city manager function. Given what Bonkowski had just said and given cost of hiring an interim manager, Hytopoulos wondered why the Council wouldn’t consider just keeping Smith on in the role of interim manager. She estimated that hiring an outside interim manager will cost about $130 an hour, more than what Smith is being paid. She also pointed out that bringing on a new interim manager will have a disruptive impact on staff.

Bonkowski said that he and the other two members of the ad hoc committee, Dave Ward and Anne Blair (Blair was not at last night’s meeting), had discussed that very subject, and they had decided to look for an experienced city manager to come in for the interim. He said, referring to the option of choosing Smith, “That was not the preferred approach if we could get an experienced interim city manager.”

Steven BonkowskiHe disagreed with Hytopoulos’s financial argument, saying that the money that was for the city manager has been budgeted for and that the money for an interim “is not likely to be substantially greater than that for that interim period of time.”

Councilmember Scales reminded the Council of the metaphor Blair had used at last week’s meting to describe the way the ad hoc committee was approaching the search for a manager. She had described it as driving a car steadily in the slow lane without sudden moves and trying to proceed on course. Scales said that Smith can take the wheel and keep the car moving forward. He added that a new person is going to have a learning curve.

Then he said that he’s finding out about what the committee has been doing at the same time the public is and that he is concerned about having the committee doing this work essentially behind closed doors, adding, “I think we have an obvious best option right in front of us.”

Hytopoulos agreed that a new person would have a learning curve. She described the situation faced by the City as getting more and more tumultuous with greater and greater expenditure of money. She said that, instead, they should be spending less and pulling back. She argued that hiring Smith as interim city manager would provide an opportunity to recoup losses and focus on getting a really good permanent city manager.

Scales then moved to appoint Smith interim manager, saying that they needed her and that she can hit the ground running. Referring to the ad hoc committee, he said, “You’re trolling for people. . . . You’re making it up as you go along.” He argued that it’s going to take a new interim manager at least a couple of months to get up to speed. He finished his comments by saying, “We have the ideal person sitting in this room . . . who is willing to continue in that role to provide stability for this administration, for this Council, and for this community and allow us to focus our energies, all our energies, on hiring the best permanent city manager we can find.”

Councilmember Blossom said she hadn’t known that Smith was willing to take on the role as interim manager. She said she had thought the committee would be bringing suggestions to the Council and that maybe those suggestions would now include Smith.

Ward and Bonkowski took turns objecting to Scales’s characterization of their committee work. Bonkowski said, “I really am insulted by that characterization,” referring to the description of them as “trolling” for a manager.

Hytopoulos seconded Scales’s motion but said it might be a little premature. She said she would like to hear that the committee is open to considering Smith as a candidate.

Lester thanked Smith for stepping up but she voted no on the motion because she said she wants the ad hoc committee to continue with their progress and she wants to wait to hear what Blair has to say too.

Scales withdrew the motion based on, he said, Blair’s absence and Blossom’s not knowing about Smith’s availability. He said he thinks they should nevertheless act quickly and decisively on the matter. He moved instead that the ad hoc committee come back in two weeks with a recommendation that they can vote on. Bonkowski seconded the motion. It was unanimously approved.


Photos courtesy of City of Bainbridge Island.

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