Steve Schuller (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Steve Schuller (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Snohomish mayor ousts city administrator, names a new one

After the announcement was leaked, Mayor Linda Redmon said she’s ‘revamping our internal functioning.’

SNOHOMISH — After serving Snohomish for over a decade, City Administrator Steve Schuller is on his way out.

“I am revamping our internal functioning in order to better serve our community,” Snohomish Mayor Linda Redmon wrote in a statement to city officials. “My priorities for how City Hall serves Snohomish are communication and customer service.”

Schuller’s last day will be March 18, Redmon told The Daily Herald on Saturday. Redmon has offered the job to Heather Thomas, the public and government affairs manager for the Snohomish Health District.

At the health district, Thomas “has made a real effort to figure out different ways to reach out — especially to marginalized members of the community,” Redmon said. “I feel like that’s something we haven’t always done a great job at here. … It’s something that we’re learning to do and I think she’s put in a lot of effort to figure out how to do that.”

Heather Thomas

Heather Thomas

City Council members are to vote on Thomas’ appointment at a meeting March 15. Her salary will be determined after contract negotiations, Redmon said.

Schuller was budgeted to be paid somewhere between about $167,000 and $184,000, but his job included serving as the utility general manager. The city intends to start Thomas at “step one,” Redmon said. There are also plans to hire a new public works director, duties now handled by Schuller, said Economic Development Director Wendy Poischbeg.

Thomas, a Snohomish High School alumna, said the offer to serve the city is “a full circle moment for me and my family.”

In her seven-year tenure at the health district, Thomas has led communications and public policy efforts related to the opioid epidemic, the COVID-19 pandemic and public health funding, said Shawn Frederick, administrative officer.

Last year, Thomas was awarded the Leadership Snohomish County Distinguished Alumni Award for her work at the health district.

Linda Redmon

Linda Redmon

Redmon said she was not going to make the announcement until Monday. But in a statement, she said information was leaked to “to the former Mayor, who shared it on social media, and to the Lynnwood Times, which has stated an intent to go to press with the information.”

Mario Lotmore, publisher of the Lynnwood Times, told The Herald “there was no correspondence with the former mayor, John Kartak.”

In a Facebook post late Friday, Kartak said he “received word of a big shakeup at City Hall and (had) spoken with those on the inside-know.”

Kartak did not immediately return a Herald reporter’s call.

The announcement came as a surprise to many, including former City Council members, city staff and Schuller.

“I called (Schuller) yesterday because I feel terrible about it,” Poischbeg said. “I’m not disagreeing with the decision, but I certainly enjoyed working for him and — my heart, it’s hard when you’ve worked side-by-side with somebody for four years.”

Redmon said while working with Thomas at the health district over the past few years she has admired her ability to perform under pressure and “make every situation manageable because of her expertise.”

Schuller, who holds a degree in civil engineering, was hired as the Public Works director in 2008.

In one of his first meetings, he sat in the back of the room while state department of Ecology officials reprimanded the city for failing to improve its wastewater treatment. Snohomish had racked up 109 environmental violations from 2006 to 2009.

The city initially OK’d a $44 million deal to connect to Everett’s sewer system, but Schuller pitched an idea to bring a new filtration system to Snohomish for one-tenth of the cost.

“Bacteria hotels” were installed in 2012, and by 2014 the city had reduced overflows into the Snohomish river from 100 incidents to one.

“And so at that point, the city manager really gave me a lot of freedom to run things at the Public Works Department,” Schuller said.

Schuller was promoted to deputy city manager in 2015, and he has served as city administrator for the past five years.

He was an advocate for expanding Snohomish’s housing options. His conversations with the city’s planning director and former mayor led to the creation of the Midtown Planning District Task Force and, in February, the creation of the Midtown zoning district. It aims to expand the amount of jobs, shopping and “affordable housing” in the city.

The restoration of the 1909 Carnegie building would not have been accomplished without Schuller, who led public meetings and helped secure state money for the project.

“I think Steve was really helpful in navigating the personalities of the community,” Poischbeg said.

He worked alongside elected leaders with widely varying priorities.

“I see myself as kind of outside of those politics,” Schuller said. “And again, politics are real, but I think that the problems that need to be solved are not political. Whether you have water to your house, or whether you can drive on a safe road, or whether you’re a pedestrian that can cross the street without getting killed, or whether you have a beautiful park system — those are not political issues.”

Redmon said Schuller “has served us well.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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