The Spokane Valley City Council has made its change, now it just has to decide who’s in charge.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, City Attorney Mike Connelly laid out the options for appointing a replacement for City Manager David Mercier, who was released by the council on Jan. 5.
The most like scenario is that Deputy City Manager Mike Jackson will continue as the interim city manager until a permanent replacement is found. How that will happen, and the timeline involved, should become clearer after the council’s Feb. 2 meeting. That’s when it must take action on the matter, as Mercier’s position will officially become vacant on Feb. 5.
Mercier was asked to resign by the new council – boasting four “Positive Change” candidates elected in the November general election – in its very first meeting of the year as the council moved forward in “another direction,” according to Mayor Tom Towey. At that meeting, Jackson moved into the acting city manager role. If it is to continue, the council must formally ratify that decision on Feb. 2.
Jackson, should he accept the job, could stay on indefinitely if that’s what the council decides to do.
Should the council opt to find a new city manager, it can use a professional recruiting firm, which could cost the city $30,000 or more. However, Connelly said, it would allow the city access to a wider field of candidates. He added, though, that the city’s human resources department also is qualified to conduct the search on a smaller scale and at around $10,000 or so.
“What I’m telling you is that you have the option of doing whatever you want,” Connelly told the council. He added that, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, “90 percent of cities” the size of Spokane Valley opt for a professional search firm to find a new manager.
The council plans to meet on Feb. 1 in an executive session – where the public is not allowed and no television cameras will be rolling – to discuss qualifications of a new city manager. If Jackson is given the job, he will also likely like the guarantee that he could return to his old job as deputy city manager “if it doesn’t work out,” Connelly said.
Also, if Jackson gets the nod, a new deputy city manager will need to be found.
The council’s decision to ask Mercier to leave will not be inexpensive. Mercier is, under his contract, guaranteed in severance a year’s pay and benefits, which adds up to over $175,000.
Council Member Brenda Grassel wanted to know how the process would work if the city were to move away from the current council-manager form of government to a strong mayor system or one where the mayor is elected by the people instead of appointed by the council. Connelly said it would be a separate issue that would take time to play out.
“It wouldn’t affect this process,” he said.
There will be no council meeting next Tuesday as members will be in Olympia to work with legislators. The next meeting will be Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. at Spokane Valley City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.