BREAKING NEWS — City Council fires city manager, cuts more than $1 million from budget

January 13, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

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NEW — 12:22 a.m. Jan. 13, 2010

At a special City Council meeting Tuesday night, the City Council voted 6-1 to terminate City Manager John Starbard’s contract, effective immediately.

The City Council appointed Rob Wyman, a former community development director for the city, to take over as interim city manager for the next six months.

During the four-hour meeting, the City Council also cut more than $1 million of expenses from its 2010 budget. Of those cuts, more than $800,000 was cut from the 2010 capital budget.

Shortly after the 7 p.m. meeting began, the City Council moved into a 45-minute executive session for what the meeting agenda said was to “evaluate the performance of a public employee.” Immediately after returning from the executive session, Councilman Bill Erxleben moved to terminate Starbard’s contract. Councilman Rich Crispo seconded the motion.

During discussion of the motion, nearly every member of the City Council gave his or her opinion.

“Voters want the city to head in a new direction,” Erxleben said regarding why he made his motion.

Crispo said there was a discrepancy between Starbard’s vision for the city and the wishes of city residents.

“I believe that what he thinks it can become is very different from what the residents want it to become,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Steve Buri said the city’s relationships with other agencies have deteriorated with Starbard as city manager, and he said he would support the motion because of that.

“I think those relationships, sadly, have been damaged beyond repair,” Buri said.

The only dissenting opinion was that of Sonny Putter.

“I think this motion is far too premature,” he said.

After voting to terminate Starbard’s contract, Mayor John Dulcich asked if Starbard would be willing to privately meet with several city officials to discuss the details of the termination. Starbard declined, saying he would not discuss the matter with city officials without legal representation. He then set his keys on his desk in the council chambers and left the meeting.

Next, Erxleben motioned to appoint Wyman to the position. He said he previously spoke with Wyman, and Wyman said he would agree to take the position.

The City Council appointed Wyman by a 6-1 vote, with Putter again dissenting. Wyman will leave his job as a real estate consultant and take over today as Newcastle’s new city manager. The city will pay Wyman $10,000 a month, which is one-third less than what Starbard was being paid.

After the City Council finished its city manager deliberations, it proceeded to make changes to the 2010 budget. Facing a $363,000 budget shortfall this year, Erxleben motioned to direct city staff to take steps to reduce operating expenses by 3 percent, which translates to about $186,000 in cuts.

“I think it can be done,” Erxleben said. “I do see the opportunity to do it.”

The motioned passed unanimously.

Next, the City Council voted to terminate is contract with its lobbyist, Mike Doubleday. Through the contract, city officials must give 30 days’ notice of termination, thus forcing the city to retain Doubleday’s services for another month.

“This is not a reflection on Mike, but on the shortfall we’re facing,” Buri said.

The City Council voted 6-1 to terminate Doubleday’s contract, with Putter dissenting.

Furthermore, the City Council also voted to halt expansion of the Lake Boren Park playground in favor of just making safety improvements, and it also voted to put a halt on the creation of signs for the transit center.

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Comments

20 Responses to “BREAKING NEWS — City Council fires city manager, cuts more than $1 million from budget”

  1. Jayne Bell on January 13th, 2010 9:24 am

    I am glad to see hard decisions being made that will help protect our city from the economic downturn, and a council that listens to the Newcastle residents. I understand these are difficult decisions. But these are difficult times, and the fiscal heath of the city requires a council that can re-prioritze to keep what is essential and let some of the “wish list” things go. Soon enough, essential things will need to go too, but this council has my vote in steering through this and keeping the City on track. Bravo! This city is worth protecting and as an 11 year resident, I believe they are taking the first steps to ensure that Newcastle moves in the right direction.

  2. Sue Stronk on January 13th, 2010 11:35 am

    I love it!! I’m excited to get our city back and see this new direction. We have a “spine” back–people that aren’t afraid to get the job done!! And no new taxes–I like the vision of the city’s direction!! Sonny Putter must feel pretty lonely sitting amongst this new council!! Bravo to the six to make sense in this small community!! If the council doesn’t accomplish another thing–they have us headed down the right road again. And they are right –Starbard had an attitude problem that needed to be taken elsewhere!!

  3. MIlepost Resident on January 13th, 2010 2:31 pm

    I think this will be a great year for Newcastle, not because of who is gone, but the people that remain. That being said, “don’t let the door hit ya on the way out Mr. Starbard”.

    I’m also glad Sonny’s there to represent the people that feel as he does. There are some. Respecting different views, hearing different viewpoints is a good thing to come to a better end results. That being said, it’s nice to see his way of thinking on the short end of these votes.

  4. Gary Adams on January 14th, 2010 12:52 pm

    Two weeks in and the “new” City Council has already fired a City Manager, hired an interim, and taken a meat axe approach to the budget. Hey, I’m all for making changes but I have to ask how it is that the 3 new Councilmembers were able to come to these actions so quickly without review. Who authorized Councilmember Erxleben to negotiate with Rob Wyman and when did that occur? Before or after he was sworn in? Argue for or against the actions but let’s make the process transparent. Okay Council. Mr. Starbard didn’t match your vision. How about you tell us what is so we can let you know if we agree with it?

  5. Allen D on January 14th, 2010 7:11 pm

    I think someone should take a look at Dulcich’s campain finances more closely. I’d love to know how naming your second largest campaign contributor as City Manger within days of taking office isn’t a conflict of interest. It appears RTW Associates is just a corporate face for the very Robert Wyman that was just appointed City Manger. (It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet)

    Gary i’m with you. I thought this team was going to be about transparency but only 2 weeks in they are wielding an axe of “we’ll do what we want”.

  6. C K on January 15th, 2010 3:15 pm

    Does anyone realize that the Council saved NO MONEY WHATSOEVER in firing Mr. Starbard? That in fact, it’s going to COST MORE, because they STILL HAVE TO PAY HIS SALARY PLUS ROB WYMANS for the next 6 months.? How interesting the paper made absolutely no mention of this. Or the fact that the Council locked Starbard out of his own review.

    And isn’t it interesting how quickly the Council had a replacement? You would think this sort of thing would take a few months or so to work out…hmmm, about as much time as between the election and now! So, gosh, they decided to get rid of him all of a sudden-like? (Can you even coordinate City business before you’re sworn in? I’m just wondering.)

    And isn’t it interesting that the Communications Manager resigned last year a day or two after Councilman Jensen’s husband tried to manipulate him with written comments on the blog insinuating there was nothing wrong with using it advance his own agenda? This is why we have no blog. The Council’s not going to risk looking bad by spending more money to hire someone to do a new one, or by getting a volunteer to do one only for us to realize it’s either: A) all propoganda or, B) sucks.

    **Most interesting of all** – I saw the Seiligs (owners of the fruit stand property ) who so desperately want to put the Walgreens in so they can make a bazillion dollars, walk into City Hall TODAY. But that’s probably all innocent too, you think?

    The City Council thinks we’re stupid, people. They’re running our city on their own personal motivations, not our direction or interests.

  7. Newcastle Resident on January 16th, 2010 2:30 pm

    Everyone has a right to their own opinion but I think it interesting that a couple of people who have commented here have forgotten that those new council members were mostly elected by a resounding majority of Newcastle residents who are ready for a change. I also think it interesting they are throwing stones at the new council for what the old council made a regular way of doing business. As far as I’m concerned they are following their campaign promises along with getting rid of bad in one particular case and saving money as like they promised when they ran. And yes they will have to pay that particular case a 6 months severence but it is money well spent AND affordable due to all the other money saving measures they have taken. It would also be interesting to know if those people who aren’t happy with the new council have ever attended a council meeting. It is called putting your time where your mouth is. Mr. Putter must be feeling pretty sad and lonely about now. And these comments are my opinion.

  8. Long term Windtree Resident on January 18th, 2010 6:28 pm

    I am happy to see that the new council has relaized that Starbard was bad for the city and city employees. Since he became Manager there has been an unacceptably high rate of employee turn-over and dissatisifaction among city residents concerning the waste of taxpayer dollars and the direction the City was going. I hope the new council takes further steps to cut waste at City Hall and get rid of more dead wood.

  9. Gary Adams on January 19th, 2010 9:58 am

    My issue isn’t with whether or not Mr. Starbard should have been let go. Any Council has the right to do that after they’ve evaluated that person. My issue is with the process that was used, the lack of transparency, whether or not it was appropriate to be negotiating with Mr. Wyman prior to this action, who authorized it, what kind of collusion (if any) occured between the incoming Council members and the others on the Council that were so willing to go along with this action. I was not aware that Rob had made a contribution to John’s campaign but it certainly raises some ethical questions. Not so much on Rob’s part (who can blame him for taking a $10,000.00 a month job in this economy) but on the part of John and anyone on the Council that was aware of that connection. So, again, I’m calling on the Council to let us know what this “vision” is they referred to. And, one final comment to the person who mentioned the “resounding majority” that elected the 3 new members. Uh, take a look at the voter registration numbers and realize that a “resounding minority” elected them. And that does not signal the the “majority” agrees with their issues or campaign rhetoric.

  10. SalmonFisher on January 19th, 2010 6:33 pm

    Rob Wyman is a great guy. He helped with a traffic in our neighborhood 6 years ago. He’s always been a gentleman even to people who like to kick a city employee, Gary. He cares about and knows the city. As far as I know, with 100% turnover under Starbard, Rob has more time in the city than anyone at City Hall today. Welcome back Rob!

    As for the “ethical issue”. You might want to talk to Ron Sims, Gary Locke, Gil Kerlikowski, Fred Jarrett….. about supporting a candidate and then going to work for them. It happens. It does not have to be unethical, just good people who know, respect and trust each other working together. I doubt anyone sold their soul for $500. I think Rob got the job on his merits. I am sure he’ll prove it. I’m glad he’s back.

    Point taken on the lack of people exercising their right to vote. Following your logic, those that lost, lost by an even bigger resounding minority. Makes my head spin.

  11. Stuart Liddle on January 20th, 2010 11:52 am

    I agree with Sonny Putter and Gary Adams about the ethical issues surrounding the appointment of Rob Wyman to the position of interim city manager. While the new council certainly has the authority to let Mr. Starbard go, they should really be careful about how they choose his successor both interim and “permanent”.

    It’s funny how some people gloss over the double-salary payments that will be made over the next 6 months while at the same time wanting to be very cautious about any kind of city spending. Plus, don’t forget the costs that will be incurred when searching for a full-time replacement for the city manager position. (Unless the council decides to keep Mr. Wyman, but that raises other issues not the least of which are his qualifications for the job.)

    Openness & transparency in government was an important issue when I was on the city council. Gary Adams knows this and so does Sonny Putter. Apparently this is something that the new members of the city council need to learn.

  12. Gary Adams on January 20th, 2010 5:26 pm

    SalmonFisher:

    Please understand that my comments are not directed towards Rob. I know him as well so that’s not my issue. My issue is simply that you can’t run on the idea of transparency and honesty and then make the first major action look as if it was done in the dark of night. I hope we’re all on board with the idea that our Council needs to conduct it’s business on a high ethical level and with openness so we can all understand actions that are taken, whether we agree with them or not.

  13. SalmonFisher on January 20th, 2010 7:18 pm

    Gary,
    Great, I didn’t see the ethical issue either. I’m certainly willing to give this council a full month before I start chastising them for stuff I think they might do.

    I don’t believe in elected officials thinking they have mandates either. It gets them in trouble and subjects us to pendulum swings that are not healthy. But again, I’ll give them more than a month before I accuse them of not listening.

    We should see issues debated, in public. I’ll be with you if they don’t do that. Again, more than a month….

  14. Gary Adams on January 22nd, 2010 10:16 am

    I’m not quite so lenient. Two of the three “new” Councilmembers have served before so they know the rules and explicitly campaigned on the idea of being more open and transparent in their decision making. Two weeks in to be firing people, having a temporary City Manager already selected and ready to go, seems more like retribution to me. Like I said before, I simply want them to be honest, open, transparent, like they said they were going to be and this doesn’t seem like a good start.

  15. Stuart Liddle on January 22nd, 2010 5:46 pm

    I have to agree with Gary on this. Here you have one or two of the new councilmembers negotiating a deal with someone for the interim CM job PRIOR to being sworn in. Technically they were doing this as private citizens with no authority to perform such negotiations. Also, since it is before being sworn in, they don’t really have to adhere to any open meeting laws.

    I’m sure that council members Dulcich and Erxleben will argue that the agreement with Mr. Wyman may be a moot point since it was ratified by a majority of the council. I believe that this displays a disturbing arrogance with regard to the conduct of city business. In essence it is saying to the public “We can do what we want because we were elected by the people and we have a majority on the council that will back us up.”

  16. Sue Beverly on January 26th, 2010 12:18 pm

    What a lot of stones are being thrown at the new Council by people who chose to move away from Newcastle! Adams goes on and on about not knowing the newly elected councilors’ “vision”. Garry, if you still lived here, you’d have been doorbelled repeatedly by these folks and had plenty of opportunity to talk their ears off as well as hear what they wanted to change. The fact is, you don’t live here and didn’t bother to talk to them until now.

    Getting rid of Starbard was a critical first step in reining in City spending. The man spent money like it came out of a tap. But then, like you, he didn’t live here so it was just a game to him. The outgoing Council had a sorry record of spending our money on studies and consultants for projects the City didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Good riddance!

    As far as Wyman’s contribution to Dulcich’s campaign goes, your finger-pointing ignores the five other councilors who approved hiring Rob back. Three of them weren’t even up for election this time. Even if Dulcich’s campaign had failed for lack of Rob’s $500, the new majority would still have canned Starbard and hired Rob. Try to remember that his is an interim appointment, not necessarily a permanent position. Personally, I am glad to see a Council with a sense of purpose. It’s a nice change from the stalling and dithering of the previous bunch.

    And don’t even start in about behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Machiavelli would marvel at how Starbard manipulated the old majority, not to mention using City staff to thwart the efforts of the Council minority and Newcastle citizens.

    Face it. We were fed up with being alternately ignored and sneered at. The people who cared voted…and we’re mighty glad we won. The new majority is doing just what we hoped they would.

  17. Gary Adams on January 27th, 2010 4:31 pm

    Sue:

    First, I DO live in Newcastle so I believe I have a right to voice my opinion. Second, I have not personally raised the issue of the campaign contribution. i have simply raised the idea of ethics and transparency. I have not challenged the right of the Council to make a change. In fact, I have acknowledged that they certainly do have a right to make a change. I have, again, only challenged the process that was used and raise it because I, like you, will be affected by their decisions. As for the “sense of purpose” you refer to, and they call their “vision”, I have merely asked them to state what that vision is. If it’s clear enough to them to take action on it then it should be clear enough to verbalize it to us. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

    Sue, I believe in your right to state your opinion. But if you’re going to comment on me directly please be sure you have the facts. I moved from Newcastle for a few years and have been a fulltime resident again for quite some time.

  18. Stuart Liddle on January 27th, 2010 7:14 pm

    Sue,
    when you are speaking of “people who chose to move away from Newcastle”, I am going to assume that you are taking a shot at me. While you might have missed your mark by a wide margin when you took direct aim at Gary (who DOES live in Newcastle), you are correct in that I did move away from Newcastle.

    I take offense at your attitude when you imply that simply because I no longer live in Newcastle, that I have NO right to comment about the political issues affecting Newcastle’s future.

    I care about Newcastle because I spent so much time and energy getting it to even become a city. After incorporation, I spent at least as much time on the city council.

    Heck, if it weren’t for me and others in the Newport Hills Now group you would not even be posting opinions in the Newcastle News about your support of the council’s actions….you’d probably be a part of Renton.

    It seems to me that there were a lot of people in the Hazelwood community that opposed incorporation….but even if you were one of those people I would still acknowledge your right to your opinion.

    I would have hoped that others would allow me the right to my opinion as well.

  19. Gary Adams on January 28th, 2010 9:06 am

    For anyone interested there are additional comments/discussion in the comments section on the story regarding when the decision was made.

  20. Cathy on January 28th, 2010 5:17 pm

    Sue Beverly is not looking at the transparency issue. Seems we just can’t find politicians willing to actually do things the right way. It’s all about THEM and truly not about the people. SAD. And we are stuck with them.

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