It started out as a discussion about the costs associated with an interim city administrator, but ended with the formation of a sub-committee and a consensus on hiring a consultant that would help the city of Liberty Lake navigate its way through a series of potential changes at City Hall.
The Liberty Lake City Council voted on Tuesday night to move ahead with a search for a consultant who could begin as early as Nov. 1. The job itself would encompass a minimum of two months at a salary not to exceed $35,000 and involve working with the mayor, City Council and staff on policies and procedures connected with a new system of government in Spokane County’s easternmost city.
R.J. Stevenson, Liberty Lake’s new finance director, introduced the job description on Oct. 4 by outlining three possible scenarios the city might face following the Nov. 8 general election. The first involved a ballot issue that asks voters to consider a change in leadership, from the current strong mayor/City Council structure to a city manager/City Council approach in which the mayor would occupy more of a ceremonial role.
The two remaining possibilities would be relevant only if the city manager initiative passed. The first involves the potential election of City Council Member Josh Beckett as mayor. Beckett has expressed support for bringing back the city administrator, a position that was jettisoned by former Mayor Steve Peterson at the end of 2006 when inaugural city administrator Lewis Griffin was at the post.
Peterson, who is running against Beckett in a bid to return as mayor, has spoken out against hiring a full-time city administrator, although at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Wendy Van Orman indicated that both candidates would be amenable to an interim city administrator.
Stevenson told council members that the cost to bring on a permanent city administrator would be in the range of $160,000 per year. The sum includes an annual base salary of $121,000 and another $39,000 in benefits, membership dues to various state organizations, plus fees associated with travel and training. Stevenson noted the numbers were taken from average compensation for both city administrator and city manager positions as reported by the Association of Washington Cities.
Council Member Odin Langford was the first to indicate concern about the narrow role of an interim city administrator, lobbying instead for a “consultant” who could assist with whatever transition the city faces and help with the job description for a full-time city administrator.
“If we want to prepare a budget, we need to get an advisor in right now,” Langford said.
Stevenson said the city would have around $38,000 to spend on the hire, based on savings from this year’s administrative costs plus a cut in the city’s budget for advertising related to economic development.
Van Orman noted that Liberty Lake is currently the only jurisdiction out of 281 Washington towns and cities that does not have either a city administrator or city manager on its payroll.
“That just underscores the notion that this is not a frivolous expenditure,” said Council Member Ryan Romney.
Upon the recommendation of Mayor Pro Tem David Crump, Romney, Lanford and Council Member Cris Kaminskas were named to the sub-committee to discuss bringing on a consultant. Council Member Susan Schuler will be an alternate. The group will also include three non-voting members from the community, representing the business sector, a nonprofit/civic agency or group and the city at large.
Stevenson mentioned Prothman Associates, a Seattle-based firm that provided interim administrators for the city of Spokane Valley, as a possible resource in Liberty Lake’s search.
In other council news:
- Council approved $4,500 in funds from the Lodging Tax Committee for the HUB Sports Center to promote future basketball tournaments. The list of previous recipients includes the Liberty Lake Farmers Market, Friends of Pavillion Park, and the Spokane Visitors and Convention Bureau.
- Van Orman indicated that she will have her preliminary 2012 budget ready by the next council meeting on Oct. 18, following a schedule that is ahead of the state mandate.
- The Liberty Lake Centennial Rotary Club presented the city with a donation of $1,000 to benefit the new arboretum near City Hall.
- Crump suggested an addendum to the city’s current policy dictating that council meetings end at 10 p.m. While Crump supports the idea of meetings concluding at the same time, he recommended that council wrap up discussion on proposed ordinances or other matters by 9:50, allowing 10 minutes for citizen comments. The remaining City Council members supported Crump’s idea, though no formal vote was taken.