To the surprise of many – including three members of the City Council -- Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson was asked to resign by the council majority on Tuesday night.
The move came after a 45 minute executive session – closed to the public – that began an hour before the council’s usual 6 p.m. start time. An announcement of the special session was made public on Monday.
Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard joined Mayor Rod Higgins along with Council Members Ed Pace and Sam Wood to demand Jackson’s resignation. Wood joined the council in January after defeating incumbent Ben Wick last November.
Council Members Bill Gothmann, Chuck Hafner and Dean Grafos voted against the move.
The addition of Wood has shifted the balance of power on the council – one deemed too conservative by some.
“I feel you have made a big mistake,” former Mayor Diana Wilhite told the council. “(Jackson) is hard-working man who worked to see the city survive…shame on you.”
Former Spokane Valley Planning Commissioner Marcia Sands called Jackson’s ouster, and the secrecy leading up to it, a “horrible travesty” with a political motive.
“We will be watching,” she said.
Jackson has been with the city of Spokane Valley since incorporation in 2003, when he was hired as the director of the parks and recreation department. He was promoted to deputy city manager in 2007.
Jackson was offered the job as city manager in 2010 after that council removed David Mercier as city manager. Under the Spokane Valley’s council-manager form of government, the only city official that can be hired or fired by the council is the city manager.
Grafos said Tuesday’s action was “a dangerous move” by the new majority and the first step to forming a new Spokane Valley Police Department run by the city. Currently, Spokane Valley contracts with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
Both Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Police Chief Rick VanLeuven were in attendance Tuesday night.
“Mike Jackson has been one of the finest people we’ve had to work with. He’s always been a straight-shooter,” Knezovich said. “We’ve not always agreed, but we’ve always been able to find a compromise.”
Hafner said none of the three council members who voted against Jackson’s removal – who did not comment from the dais -- knew Tuesday’s action was coming.
“They have the power, they have the muscle,” Hafner said of the majority. “It’s a puzzle…a tsunami is just beginning.”
While a dozen spoke in favor of Jackson, Gene Strunk did speak in approval of the council’s action, saying that errors in leadership were costing the city millions of dollars.
“Jackson didn’t know what he was doing,” Strunk said.
Jackson has nearly 35 years in the public sector. Before coming to Spokane Valley, he worked as the director of parks, library and recreation for the city of Sterling, Colo., and as a Utah state parks superintendent.
Mark Calhoun, deputy city manager, will take on Jackson’s duties until a new city manager can be hired.
Jackson will be on paid leave until his contract is terminated, which will be no later than March 30.