M’ville council debates future of administrator

By KRISTIN KINNAMON

Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE – Council members here are involved in an exhaustive tug-of-war over city administrator Dave Zabell’s performance.

Zabell was the topic of two closed-door city council meetings last month, including one that lasted seven hours.

A few city council members question Zabell’s performance, and his current three-year contract expires at the end of this year. Though no additional meetings to discuss Zabell are scheduled, more are likely.

Even his top supporter and boss, Mayor Dave Weiser, said the personnel issues discussed in the executive sessions are not yet settled. Under state law the city council can have closed sessions to discuss personnel, litigation or real estate matters.

Former councilman Brett Roark waited outside during both closed sessions and said the attempts to discredit Zabell were small-town politics at their worst. He said he had hoped to attend the meetings and show his support for Zabell.

Roark said when he was first appointed to the council he was approached by a few council members asking him to help remove Zabell. He expects this year’s new council members got the same call.

The city council does not formally review the administrator’s performance, but does approve his contract.

Any attempt to fire Zabell would need five votes to override the mayor’s veto, and no vote has occurred.

Zabell was the city’s public works director when he was sent to school by the city to train for the top position. Mayor Weiser hired him as city administrator in 1993.

Weiser attended the executive sessions even though some council members had hoped to meet without him. He said Zabell has consistently received high marks in annual performance reviews and has improved his employee relationships since no-confidence votes by the public works and police unions several years ago.

"The issues were more misunderstandings than anything else," Weiser said.

Councilman Jim Brennick said one reason for the meetings is that new council members have brought a new perspective to the city. Brennick, Suzanne Smith and John Soriano were all seated in January and each agreed to request one of the executive sessions.

Brennick said he didn’t see any reason for an immediate change in the city administrator’s office.

Zabell and Weiser work well together, Brennick said, "which is important."

The first meeting lasted five minutes when council members learned the mayor would attend. The second executive session lasted almost seven hours and included testimony from former police chief Bob Dyer and former finance director Ed Erickson. Dyer retired several years ago with a medical disability. Erickson left the city after about one year.

Three-year incumbent Normajean Dierck was the only member to sign on to both sessions. While she wouldn’t discuss what happened, she said she’d like the mayor and city administrator’s duties more clearly defined. Too often staff members seem to lead the council into certain decisions rather than requesting the council’s policy direction, Dierck said.

"A lot of times I feel we do our government backwards," she said.

The need for more definition in the duties of the administrator and full-time mayor was mentioned by several council members. The need for both full-time positions was also questioned in last year’s mayoral election.

Councilwoman Donna Pedersen, a primary candidate, said she wondered about duplication and pay for the positions during the election. Since then she’s seen some changes and said she’s not concerned by the lack of a job description for the mayor.

Other council members said they were more concerned about the division of responsibilities at the top of the city administration. The council made the mayor’s position full-time three years ago.

Roark said he thought the two jobs were redundant, but that a change in the city administrator should result from a change in the city’s direction, not from old grievances against a qualified individual. Roark didn’t run for his appointed city council seat in 1999 because of his family and private business responsibilities.

He said his 21/2 years in office was long enough. "Long enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth for some of the politics involved in small cities," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Kristin Kinnamon at 425-339-3429or send e-mail to

kinnamon@heraldnet.com.

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