It wasn’t unanimous, but the Spokane Valley City Council picked a new man to be in charge Tuesday night.
It just happened to turn out, however, that he’s not so new to the job of city manager after all.
Mike Jackson, the city’s deputy city manager who has had the top administrative post since January, was picked in a 5-2 vote by the council over two other finalists and 26 total applicants.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Mayor Tom Towey said, adding the final choice would have a “tremendous impact on our city” and “we had excellent candidates.”
With Council Members Bob McCaslin – who initially wanted to abstain from the vote until informed by the city clerk that he could not do so – and Brenda Grassel dissenting, Towey was authorized by the others to enter into negotiations with Jackson to serve as city manager on a permanent basis.
Jackson has been at the job after the council asked for the resignation of former City Manager David Mercier on Jan. 5, the first meeting the council was dominated by the “Positive Change” membership elected the previous November.
However, three of the council members who campaigned on that ticket – Dean Grafos, Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels and Towey – all had glowing remarks for Jackson, who served as Mercier’s second-in-command since appointed to the job in October 2007 after the departure of former Deputy City Manager Nina Regor.
“Mike is not a ‘my way or the highway’ person,” Grafos said. “He’s just what the city needs.”
Schimmels – who was a council member when the 56-year-old Jackson was hired in 2003 as the city’s parks director – had previously suggested dispensing with the search process for a new manager altogether and entering into negotiations with Jackson.
Towey said he always wanted someone who is honest, has integrity and is a “people person.”
He also said that Jackson has been doing the job for seven months – which has required the negotiation of a new public safety contract with Spokane County – without a deputy city manager.
Jackson edged out two other contenders: Paul Schmidt, who lives in Cheney and is the acting city administrator for Oak Harbor, and Michael Wilson, the owner of a consulting company in Gig Harbor.
While all the council members took turns praising Jackson’s knowledge and experience – he has a master’s degree in management from Regis University in Colorado, over 21 years experience at senior and executive levels of municipal government and will be fully credentialed with the International City/County Management Association in November – it wasn’t all accolades Tuesday. Grassel, saying it “is a new beginning for the city,” announced she would support the council’s decision but would vote no because other contenders had been city managers for longer periods of time.
“For me, it came down to who had the most years of experience,” she said.
McCaslin said he preferred not to vote because he had a different candidate in mind. When informed that, under the city’s governance manual, he had to make a decision, he said he would vote no.
“This is a slam-dunk anyway,” he said.
Several members of the public present at the meeting commented on the selection. Gene Strunk, not mincing words, said he’s disappointed that the council chose someone so closely affiliated with Mercier. After the support the Positive Change camp got last fall, it could cost those members “in the next round of elections.”
Tony Lazanis, often a vocal critic of the previous council, said he somewhat agreed but believes “Mr. Jackson is his own man.”
Arne Woodard, a member of the Planning Commission, said that Jackson “has a sense of Spokane Valley.”
Jackson thanked the council “for its support” and said he wasn’t surprised not everyone was in favor of its decision.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” he said. “I truly respect the wide diversity we have in this city.”
Under Spokane Valley’s council-manager form of government, the city manager serves as the city’s chief executive officer, supervising all departments and providing long-range planning. He also implements policy directed by the council.
In other news, the council:
- Approved a second and final reading for a panhandling ordinance that would prohibit beggars from entering into roadways while soliciting, but specifically addresses major state routes, on and off freeway ramps, and major arterials like Sprague and Sullivan. A more stringent ordinance banning panhandling on sidewalks was not considered pending the outcome of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case involving Redondo Beach, Calif. Also ChangePoint will be initiating a “Change or the Better” program that will involve education – most panhandlers are not homeless, but use the money for drugs or alcohol – and implementing a system where donations to charitable organizations like Spokane Valley Partners can be made at local retailers.
- Agreed to a four-year interlocal law-enforcement contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for police service. While the contract still must be approved by Spokane County, the deal would sustain the current level of police service and adds compensation for shared services not included in the earlier contract. A cost-allocation plan is included to help ensure recovery of actual costs for providing services. Regular meetings between the city manager and sheriff will also be held to discuss goals, objectives and performance measures.
- Were informed by Deputy City Attorney Cary Driskell that Tuesday was the final meeting of City Attorney Mike Connelly, who has had the job for the past five years. Driskell said that Connelly, who will enter private practice, has a “very healthy approach” to municipal law and his experience would be missed. Connelly’s last day for the city will be Aug. 20.