The next city manager of Spokane Valley will likely make less money and could have less experience – but he or she will have a college degree.
That, essentially, is what the City Council decided last week when it tried to hash out the job description for the successor of David Mercier, the former city manager of the city of Spokane Valley.
Mike Jackson, the deputy city manager under Mercier, has been acting as the city’s top administrator since January at a salary of $144,000 a year. Mercier, who had recently gotten a raise before his dismissal by council members on Jan. 5, had been making $175,000.
That salary had been deemed too high by new council members elected in November, but it was a the desire to go in “a different direction,” according to Mayor Tom Towey that the council voted 5-2 to ask for Mercier to submit his resignation in a “no-fault” separation for the “convenience of the city.”
While the discussion over pay could have been a thorny one, but council members readily agreed to Towey’s suggestion May 4 that the advertised pay range for a new city manager be 10-percent below and 10-percent above what Jackson is making now.
Trickier, however, was the topic of experience. Last month, council members had been asked by city human resources personnel to come up with any changes to the current job description. Only two members – Bill Gothmann and Dean Grafos – had any suggestions. Each one had key points supported by the remainder of the council.
Gothmann was adamant that the successful candidate have a college degree, preferably a bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field, and not merely “a background of equivalent real world experience in the management of large multifaceted organizations.” That would have meant that a high school graduate who somehow rose to the ranks of a large business could be considered a viable candidate.
Gothmann said that it’s important that the candidate have accounting experience as well as some working knowledge of the various departments of a large city. He added that all city staff members have college degrees and required certifications – it’s important their leader do too.
“I just think we should have a professional city manager,” he said.
The majority of the council accepted this requirement, but did not believe it was necessary that candidates have at least five years experience as a municipal administrator – not necessarily a city manager.
“It’s too demanding,” said Council Member Bob McCaslin.
The majority also did not support Council Member Gary Schimmels’ suggestion to investigate the possibility of offering the job to Jackson before initiating a local search that would include advertising in The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Valley News Herald newspapers.
“We have a qualified person in this room,” Schimmels said.
“He should have to apply with the rest of them,” McCaslin said of Jackson.
Whatever the final outcome, Gothmann said he hoped that the final decision to hire a city manager would be a unanimous one.
“It shouldn’t be a 4-3 decision,” he said.
Grafos, who said the council was stung with criticism after Mercier’s departure, should go through a full search process “just for the transparency” of it.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Diana Sanderson – a Spokane Valley resident for 38 years – criticized the council for not being more demanding and that the city manager “must have a (college) degree.”
“We shouldn’t look for the minimum,” she said. “That’s not going to cut it. We’re a city of 87,000.”
She added that while the majority of the council may have received the necessary amount of votes last November to get into office, Sanderson told the elected officials “you represent all of us.”