Mill Creek casts wide net for a city manager — again

An executive headhunter assured officials “you’re a very attractive community.”

MILL CREEK — It’s been a turbulent year at City Hall.

Soon, the time will come to fill a void left by city manager Rebecca Polizzotto, who departed in October under less-than-ideal circumstances.

An executive headhunter told the City Council not to be daunted. The city’s recent history should pose no obstacle to finding a great candidate, Drew Gorgey said earlier this month. Nor should the fact that five of seven spots on the council are up for election in November 2019.

“I am not dissuaded, discouraged or frankly even concerned by some of the splashy headlines in the last month,” said Gorgey, a vice president with Peckham & McKenney, based in Roseville, California. “That motivates me.”

Gorgey went on to assure the council, “You’re a very attractive community in one of the most attractive parts of one of the most attractive states in the country.” Other cities have successfully recruited top administrators after similar troubles, he said.

Polizzotto’s tenure of three-plus years ended this fall when the City Council approved a separation agreement. She had been on paid leave for months after complaints about her treatment of staff and misuse of city credit cards. The settlement granted her six months of pay and benefits. She had been earning nearly $174,000 per year.

Polizzotto’s departure was no anomaly for the city of 20,000. Mill Creek had forced out several city managers before her, including Ken Armstrong in 2015 and Tim Burns in 2012.

The City Council on Nov. 27 agreed to pay Peckham & McKenney $25,000 for the search. The council discussed the process at two December meetings. They agreed to a speedy timeline.

They hope to keep recruitment open through Feb. 18 and to have a list of recommended candidates by March 12.

The schedule calls for interviews with finalists on March 22 and 23, with a decision by March 29.

Peckham & McKenney works throughout the western United States. The firm has recruited department directors for Bothell and Bellevue. It’s offering a guarantee that Mill Creek’s new city manager will stay in place a minimum of 1.5 years.

Gorgey said he can deliver.

“It’s a very attractive opportunity,” he told the council. “There are hurdles. I’m not ignoring that, but I’m certain we’re going to get a good pool there.”

Advertisements for the job will list a yearly salary of $160,000 to $195,000.

Bob Stowe, a consultant and former Mill Creek city manager, has been filling in on an interim basis since June. Stowe’s contract with Mill Creek pays a retainer of $5,500 weekly for a 20-hour week. Under the agreement, he is owed $275 per hour “at a minimum rate” beyond that.

Stowe’s contract is set to run through March. On Dec. 4, a motion to keep him around for nine months longer failed on a 5-2 vote. Councilmen Mike Todd and Jared Mead supported that motion.

Stowe’s performance this year has received high praise at City Hall, but it hasn’t been without incident. He was arrested at his Bothell-area home in October after deputies were called for a domestic disturbance. As of Tuesday, the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office had not reached a decision about whether to pursue charges.

Any incoming city manager will have to adjust to changes on the City Council.

Councilman Jared Mead plans to step down at the end of the month, after winning election to the state House of Representatives. The city is accepting applications for an appointment to fill Mead’s post. An election for the balance of his term would take place in November.

Four other City Council members are up for election in 2019: Mark Bond, Vince Cavaleri, Mike Todd and John Steckler.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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