Former Mill Creek finance director offered new role

Jeff Balentine has been assigned deputy city manager and internal auditor. The position was created last month.

Jeff Balentine (City of Mill Creek)

Jeff Balentine (City of Mill Creek)

MILL CREEK — Former Mill Creek Finance Director Jeff Balentine has been offered another high-ranking position at the city, less than six months after he stepped down due to what he called “philosophical differences” with municipal leadership.

City Manager Michael Ciaravino has assigned Balentine the title “deputy city manager and internal auditor,” a job created in December to replace the position of Ciaravino’s chief of staff, according to a recent news release from the city.

The former chief of staff, interim employee Grace Lockett, was laid off because she did not apply for the new position, according to the news release.

Lockett, who began working for the city early last year, was paid more than $150,000 annually.

Ciaravino faced harsh criticism from city employees and others in the community when he chose last summer to lay off longtime staff members while keeping Lockett and another interim employee on the city payroll. He hired both of the women after working with them at past jobs in other states.

Balentine’s resignation came in August, just days before former former Mayor Pam Pruitt abruptly resigned.

He returned last fall, saying he would at least work until the city approved its next biennial budget, spent federal coronavirus relief funding and completed a routine audit.

“I do see some good positive things going on, so that’s why I’m back,” Balentine told The Herald in September. “If we keep moving forward in this positive way, I’m hoping it’s long-term.”

The Mill Creek City Council voted to create the new deputy city manager and internal auditor position at Ciaravino’s request at a Dec. 8 meeting.

The position would allow the city to have someone “in-house,” other than the finance director, who would ensure that the city is in line with its own administrative code, state law and best practices in accounting, Ciaravino said. The person chosen for the job would also perform Ciaravino’s role if the city manager were to be terminated by the council or otherwise become unable to do his job.

“Paying attention to the city of Mill Creek’s most recent history, nobody likes to think they’re replaceable, but I think the more humble approach is to understand that we’re all here and we serve at the pleasure of the council,” Ciaravino said. “If the good lord takes me away, there’s got to be a plan for continuity.”

Ciaravino said at the meeting he intended to post the position online and also hoped to receive applications from current city staff.

“There’s one internal applicant, in particular, that if they apply, they are going to be the candidate to beat, just to be perfectly transparent,” he told the council on Dec. 8.

That night, he introduced the city’s new finance director, Laurel Gimzo.

Balentine was assigned the new position on Jan. 1, according to the city news release, issued last week. He has not yet accepted the offer.

“Mr. Balentine is currently on approved leave and is scheduled to assume the new post upon his return,” the news release says.

The annual salary for the position ranges from about $121,000 to $159,000 under the city’s eight-tier employee pay plan.

A previous version of this article inaccurately stated the current position of Mill Creek employee Jeff Balentine. The story has been revised to correct the mistake.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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