Town hall meetings, interview panels, a tour of the town – all this and more could be a part of the process of deciding upon a new city administrator in Liberty Lake.
Spokane County’s easternmost jurisdiction has changed significantly since Lewis Griffin was hired as the inaugural city administrator over a decade ago. Now a burgeoning community of nearly 8,000 residents, Liberty Lake has established its own police department and municipal library as well as entrenching its position as the region’s pacesetter in the area of trails and greenspace.
Griffin was unceremoniously removed from the employee roster at City Hall toward the end of 2005 when Mayor Steve Peterson announced a streamlining of the administrative structure. It was time, Peterson said, to turn more responsibility over to department directors and consolidate duties to improve efficiencies and save costs.
The experiment was less than a resounding success, according to residents like Mary Munger and Ron Ragge who led an initiative to change the form of government in Liberty Lake last year.
Supporters of the proposal to switch out the strong mayor/city council system with a city manager/council approach pointed to the city’s tenuous financial standing and implementation of a 6-percent utility tax on phone, electric, waste, cable and gas services at the start of 2011.
Furthermore, the new organizational chart would prevent a mayor from singlehandedly releasing a city administrator or city manager as was the case in 2005. Instead, the decision would take a majority vote from the City Council.
While the vote to install a city manager was soundly defeated in last November’s general election, the message had been sent. In organizing the municipal budget for 2012, the City Council set aside $160,000 for costs associated with a new city administrator. In late November, Mike Cecka, a former city manager and municipal consultant with Prothman of Seattle, was brought in to help the city navigate the options of potential reconfiguration.
Peterson, who won re-election in November after a four-year hiatus from City Hall, was also on board. After hedging on the idea of bringing back the city administrator while on the campaign trail, Peterson later acknowledged that Liberty Lake “has different issues now” and a city administrator “will provide good continuity as we move forward.”
At a special meeting on Tuesday, Cecka provided Peterson and the governing board with an update on the city administrator search. To this point, the city has received 34 completed applications, Cecka said. Later, during an executive session, Peterson, Cecka and representatives from the City Council reviewed the applications of a dozen of the most qualified candidates. An announcement on a list of five or six semifinalists is expected at the March 20 City Council meeting.
In responding to concern expressed by Council Member Josh Beckett that the city would be whittling down to a group of a dozen prior to the closing date of Feb. 29, Cecka said any applications that deserved inclusion could be added to the list.
Preliminary interviews with the remaining dozen will likely begin next week, Cecka added. Depending on proximity, some will be conducted in person while others will take place by phone. The goal, Cecka said, is “to provide information that can be presented to the mayor and the council.”
After the list of candidates is pared down in late March, the remaining semifinalists will be part of an interview process in Liberty Lake that could consist of open house gatherings with the community and various panels comprised of the City Council, the mayor and department directors. A budget of $8,000 has been set aside for travel expenses.
“Once we’ve gotten down to the interview finalists, we’ll have a better idea of what the costs will be,” Cecka said.
In response to a question from Peterson regarding the structural impact of hiring a city administrator – a decision on the appointment is anticipated in April – Cecka said he was in the process “looking at the organizational chart and recommendations of how things will be structured.”