Mill Creek continues pattern of ousting city managers

MILL CREEK — The City Council might have set some sort of record, having forced half of its city managers to resign since Mill Creek was incorporated in 1983. The pattern has people concerned.

Most recently, city manager Ken Armstrong resigned, effective Jan. 2, after more than five weeks on paid leave. The council on Nov. 25 unanimously passed a resolution stating its intent to terminate Armstrong from his $144,200-a-year job and passed another measure that put him on leave.

Council members still won’t give a reason for the decision, citing concern for Armstrong’s privacy. Mayor Pam Pruitt said state law prevents her from discussing the matter publicly.

“If I did, I would be doing a disservice to the people I represent,” she said.

Armstrong said he wasn’t given an explanation, either. He decided not to request a public hearing before the council because that would have meant forfeiting his severance pay. Even if Armstrong had requested a hearing to voice a protest, he would have been owed no explanation.

“It seemed to be a waste of time,” he said. “It’s disappointing not to have that” reason for being forced out.

Armstrong instead signed an agreement to resign. His employment contract gave him the right to negotiate a severance package as long as the council did not remove him from the job for “cause.”

He negotiated an extension of his paid leave, from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2, to enable him to remain on the city’s health care plan through this month. In all, Armstrong will be paid for three months of regular salary.

Armstrong is the fourth Mill Creek city manager forced to resign.

In 2012, Timothy Burns, the city manager for five years, was forced to resign.

Steven Nolen was asked to resign in 2007 after two years as city manager.

In 1995, John Sims was forced to resign after two years. Mayor Pruitt was then a city councilwoman. The mayor at the time, Tim Austin, said Sims was a victim of a power play for control of the city.

At the time, he accused Pruitt of plotting to get rid of Sims during the year before the city manager was forced out. In an interview this week, Austin said that Pruitt in 1995 was trying to micromanage Mill Creek’s business.

“History tends to repeat itself,” Austin said. “Some things never change.”

In response, Pruitt this week said Austin was “bitter” that he was mayor for only one term. She denied his accusation of micromanaging.

“I have a day job and a night job,” said Pruitt, who works for Snohomish County Councilman Terry Ryan and has worked as city editor for the Mill Creek View newspaper. “I have no interest or time to stick my nose into operational business.”

As she said of Sims in 1995, Pruitt this week said Armstrong wasn’t “a fit,” and she encouraged people to “move on.”

“It’s over,” she said. “I’m excited about the future.”

The council Tuesday decided to spend $23,000 to hire the recruiting firm Colin Baenziger to find Armstrong’s replacement. Of the five firms that submitted proposals to the city, the Florida-headquartered recruiter had the longest guarantee. Baenziger will find a replacement at no charge for up to two years if the selected person leaves the job.

Armstrong said the fact that Mill Creek forced out several other city managers before him did not raise any red flags when he applied.

“They are developing a track record, however,” he said.

Austin wonders if quality people will want to work in Mill Creek with a “revolving door” for city managers. City Councilman Mike Todd said he is also concerned about Mill Creek setting that precedent.

“We want to look like a place people want to come,” Todd said. “I’m sad that we haven’t been able to keep some continuity.”

The council hired Armstrong because he was interested in “sticking with the community” long-term, Todd recalled. He pointed out that Pruitt, Brian Holtzclaw and Sean Kelly were elected to the council after Armstrong started in December 2012. With new people come new ideas for what the city needs, he said.

“It’s a tough job,” Todd said. “You’ve got seven bosses to please.”

Although Armstrong’s termination was unanimous, Todd said he would have liked to have talked to him about that decision.

“It’s not the way I personally would have handled it,” Todd said. “But this is not my singular decision.”

Council members Donna Michelson and Mark Bond were on a committee headed by Councilman Mark Harmsworth that interviewed city leaders and staff members about Armstrong’s job performance. Harmsworth, who resigned Dec. 31 after being elected to the state House of Representatives, declined to share the results of that evaluation.

Armstrong said last month that he had disagreements with Harmsworth and the mayor. He speculated that friction related to things he has written for publications and his planning for the city’s biennial budget might have played roles in his termination.

The council passed the budget after he was put on leave, with about $886,000 cut from it. Some of the reductions were on a list of suggested savings Armstrong provided, others were new ideas, Pruitt said.

“Ken was very reluctant to make cuts,” she said.

The approved 2015-16 budget that will run a deficit of about $1.8 million, with projected general fund expenses of about $25.5 million exceeding revenues of $23.8 million.

While the council looks for Armstrong’s replacement, finance director Landy Manuel is acting city manager. He will be paid a 10 percent premium on his $116,556-a-year salary until a new city manager is found. Manuel plans to retire this summer, so the city will soon be in the market for a new finance director, as well.

Armstrong is now looking for a new job. He previously worked for Seattle Public Utilities and served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He said he “enjoyed tremendously” his time in Mill Creek but he isn’t sure if he wants to be a city manager again.

“I would certainly go into it with my eyes more open,” Armstrong said.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Everett Police Department was investigating a woman's death Sunday morning after a driver hit and killed her on Broadway in north Everett. (Everett Police Department)
Woman killed by suspected impaired driver in Everett

A driver reportedly hit the person, which prompted the closure of Broadway between 17th and 19th streets Sunday morning.

Everett library, fire department will have social workers on call

Many 911 calls don’t require police or fire responses. City leaders want to ensure frequent callers get the help they need.

French fries and a fried chicken sandwich are shown at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in New York in 2015. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Michael Nagle
New Chick-fil-A restaurant coming to Everett?

An Everett Mall Way location would be the restaurant chain’s fourth Snohomish County store.

Charges: North Everett murder suspect caught on camera

Jeremiah Stringfellow, 27, is being held on first-degree murder charges for the fatal shooting of Naej Belledent, 22.

Meadowdale teen claims race kept her off varsity basketball team

The 15-year-old sophomore alleges that, consciously or not, a new girls basketball head coach limited players of color.

Everett resident Shon Grimes receives a flu shot from pharmacist Nisha Mathew at Bartell Drugs on Broadway on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Already, worst flu season in years has claimed 3 in Snohomish County

Statewide, 13 people have died, including two children, from the flu this season.

Scout Skyler MacKay, 14, sits amongst only a small number of the over 600 toys he has collected for local children in foster care as part of his Eagle Scout project Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at his family’s home in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen Santa: Scout brings toys and joy to foster kids, like he was

Skyler MacKay, 14, of Lynnwood is collecting 1,000 toys for his Eagle Scout project. Toys will be given year-round.

This screenshot shows the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office's new crime dashboard released to the public last week. It tracks crime trends over the last few years.
Sheriff’s new database gives window into Snohomish County crime rates

Homicides are up compared to 2021. Some other violent crimes and property crimes are down, data released last week shows.

Commander Rob Lamoureux speaks about his experience working on Jennifer Brinkman homicide case on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Suspect in 1998 Marysville homicide cold case released on $250K bond

Four days after his arrest, Jeffrey Premo, 52, was no longer in custody. He remains a suspect in the killing of Jennifer Brinkman, 19.

Most Read