Posted on 31 January 2012.
by Barry Peters, Former City Councilmember (2008-11), January 31, 2012
I believe that, if this change gets majority approval on Wednesday, the four Councilmembers (Lester, Ward, Bonkowski, and Blossom) who are pushing to replace our City Manager will find that the next applicants will be very leery of our City Council’s reputation for lack of collaboration with city management. (Disclosure: I was a candidate running for re-election against Mr. Bonkowski.)
For example, City Manager Mark Dombrowski resigned in October 2009 when he perceived that the City and his leadership were being undermined by some, like Councilmember Knobloch. As Mr. Dombroski left, as reported in the press, he filed a public records request for communications between Mr. Knobloch and the plaintiffs who attacked the City with the Bainbridge Ratepayer Alliance lawsuit (a lawsuit that the plaintiffs have not withdrawn).
Now, three Councilmembers who former Councilmember Knobloch endorsed for election last November (members Ward, Bonkowski, and Blossom) are working with Mayor Lester to replace our current highly qualified and experienced City Manager.
City Managr Brenda Bauer
The City Council has gone through 6 or 7 City leaders since 2003, and several have left because some Councilmembers (with some vocal citizens) have undermined public confidence in the City and its management. For example, in mid-2011, three Councilmembers (Lester, Knobloch, and Brackett) voted against changing Brenda Bauer’s appointment from “interim” to regular.
The City’s reputation for lack of collaboration is easy to find on the Internet. That reputation has hurt us in the past. Before finding Brenda Bauer, in early 2010, the Council had unanimously favored a very experienced City Manager applicant, but he decided he was unwilling to take the Bainbridge City Council’s offer.
Would this termination of Brenda Bauer without cause likewise result in the new Council having a hard time finding a competent replacement? I think so.
What else, and who else, might our city lose if Council votes this Wednesday to replace our City Manager? The City has regained financial sustainability and strategic planning momentum. I can see both being hurt by a disruption of management.
What’s our City Manager’s record? In May 2011, Brenda Bauer was unanimously selected by the seven-member Council. No one is perfect. No one walks on water. But Ms. Bauer accomplished the key goals that the Council set for her, and more:
- As requested by Council, she moved quickly to find and hire capable new leadership for City Attorney, Finance Director, and Deputy City Manager positions.
- As requested, she rebuilt the city’s financial sustainability.
- She exceeded expectations by improving the City’s General Fund finances by nearly three-quarters of a million dollars between her hire date in May 2010 and the end of 2010.
- For the City’s General Fund reserves, which had fallen from $2 million to zero in the first two years of the 2008-09 recession, her team and Council rebuilt reserves to $6 million by the end of 2011 (with $2 million coming from a legal settlement with Ferries, and $4 million from expense reduction, streamlining of operations, a couple of sales of surplus assets, and selective focusing of capital projects).
- She and her team implemented strategic planning, including completing a database of all 142 miles of city roads, identifying top priorities for restoration and preservation.
- Her team restored the City’s annual road preservation program, after a three-year hiatus due to inadequate funds. More than 4 miles were resurfaced in 2011, and 50 percent more than that is budgeted for 2012.
- She presented budgets that reduced expenses and streamlined staffing, and the budgets achieved their expected surpluses, which restored reserves.
- She and her team rebuilt market confidence in City finances, got the City off of the Moody’s Credit Watch, and successfully issued $6 million of muni bonds to restore utility reserves, thereby allowing rate reductions. The bonds were issued at the most favorable interest rate in City history (under 3.5 percent).
- She and her team improved efficiencies for the sewer and water utilities, enabling Council to slash water rates by 45 percent for this year and keep sewer rates flat in 2012 instead of the 20 percent increase that was previously expected to be needed for 2012.
- She continued the Council’s work of reorganizing and streamlining city staffing from 152 in Jan 2008 to about 125 when she was hired to 112 now. An arbitrator says that four were let go with inadequate attention to union seniority, but other aspects of the reorganization were validated by the arbitrator’s decision.
- At Council request, she negotiated with the city’s unions to achieve zero cost-of-living salary adjustments two years in a row for our police officers.
- As requested by Council, she and her deputy, Morgan Smith, transformed Eagle Harbor, providing an open water marina for liveaboards (a need that had defied solution for 15 years), and removed unoccupied derelict and trespassing vessels from the harbor.
- She and her planning team collaborated with Council to successfully implement a comprehensive rewrite of the zoning and subdivision code that provided new flexibility for local farming and much more internal consistency for citizens seeking quicker permits and more consistent requirements.
- She and her outstanding new City Attorney Jack Johnson reduced the number of pending lawsuits from over 30 in mid-2010 to about 18 in late 2011. Disputes were settled without city payouts, and sometimes with dollars flowing to the city. When Jack Johnson moved on to a top UW opportunity, she found a very highly respected replacement with especially excellent knowledge of utilities, Will Patton.
- She and Will Patton supported the Council’s desire to approve a solar energy rooftop for City Hall.
- She and her team reconstructed Winslow Way in 2011 ON BUDGET, with an all-in project cost that is less than half the amount originally estimated in 2007. Substantial completion of the complex project occurred prior to Christmas, only about six weeks beyond scheduled completion.
- She and her team attracted grant funding, such as the $1.1 million of federal road funds to repair Rockaway Beach Road, and other funds to make North Madison safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
- She implemented an Accountability Agreement process for strategic annual planning of the City workplan, with quarterly public reviews, and she and Morgan Smith developed a multiyear strategic planning process for capital projects, set to begin this year.
Notwithstanding all of the above, starting in mid-2011 (in time for the fall election season), discreditors of City government managed to capture news headlines to give the public the impression that the City was being badly managed, making mountains out of molehills, such as headline-grabbing attacks on the Civil Service Commission and a campaign to persuade utility ratepayers that the City’s water utility should be given away to a different government agency.
So, my question is, what will the four Councilmembers—the ones pushing Brenda Bauer out—tell the next applicants for City Manager about what the Council wants that they aren’t getting from our current manager?
Why should the next applicant accept a COBI City Manager job when the history shows that a handful of Councilmembers (with a kitchen cabinet of backers with large email lists) have repeatedly undermined COBI city administrators and COBI city managers in the past?
What do four Councilmembers think that the city will gain from the next appointee that justifies another period of rudderless, uncertain, confused transition of the type that has often accompanied a switch from one city manager/administrator to the next?