Terrace police guild has ‘serious concerns’ with new city manager

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The new city manager has years of experience when it comes to the inner-workings of Mountlake Terrace.

However, not everyone’s been happy with that experience. The city faces an ongoing labor dispute with the police guild, in addition to a looming budget shortfall from renting office space.

Scott Hugill, the longtime assistant city manager, has been named the new city manager. Hugill, 49, was one of three finalists for the job from dozens of candidates.

The City Council voted to hire him May 16. Hugill has worked for the city since 2004. He has been working as interim city manager since the last city manager resigned in lieu of termination in September.

Earlier this month, the City Council considered reopening the application process and prolonging a hiring decision but then discarded that plan.

Hugill’s new job is among several political developments in this south Snohomish County city of nearly 20,700.

The city also has a proposed levy lid lift set to go before voters on the Aug. 2 primary election. The levy would collect nearly $1 million a year to fund rent for City Hall and parks and recreation programs, City Clerk Virginia Olsen said.

In addition, police guild leaders say they have serious concerns about Hugill. He and the guild repeatedly have sparred over the years on labor-related issues. The guild is in ongoing labor negotiations with the city since the last contract expired Jan 1.

In Mountlake Terrace, the city manager reports to the City Council and runs day-to-day business.

It’s the only position that is hired and fired by the elected council members, one of whom serves as mayor.

The city manager is paid up to $160,000 a year, depending on qualifications. Hugill’s new salary is not yet final. In his interim role, he was paid $139,386 a year.

The job application packet said the city was looking for an energetic leader who would listen to others and keep the council informed.

“Timely communication is important as is the unvarnished truth,” it read.

Despite having earlier raising concerns about Hugill, after news of his hiring, guild leaders said they are looking ahead. They hope “we can repair that relationship and move forward for the good of the police guild and the city,” said detective Heidi Froisland, who is president of the guild. The guild represents 22 police officers and sergeants. That number doesn’t include the chief and others in the command staff.

The police department has been shedding specialty assignments in recent years, including traffic enforcement, a narcotics detective and a school resource officer, she said.

“We’ve just been gutted,” she said.

The city was budgeted in 2015 for 29 police officers but has kept some positions vacant over the years as a cost-saving measure, Hugill said.

Froisland said at least three positions are vacant and need to be filled. The guild also disagrees with Hugill’s decisions on deploying police resources, accusing him of intimidation and micromanaging. Hugill declined to comment on the police guild’s allegations.

Guild members boycotted an employee breakfast in December and took a no-confidence vote for Hugill in recent weeks.

For the breakfast, “we didn’t go because of not agreeing with how they’re spending their budget,” Froisland said.

Hugill wrote a memo in December saying the guild’s concerns should be taken in the context of ongoing contract negotiations. He said the city was taking steps to ensure “we will have a full contingent to meet patrol and investigative needs.”

Olsen, the clerk, noted that many city departments have seen cuts since the recession, including a reduction in overall hours worked by employees.

“The impacts are great in other areas too so we are all doing more with less resources,” Olsen said.

While the challenges in the police department have attracted attention, the city also is facing a growing need for a new city hall.

The city recently sought volunteers to work on voters pamphlet statements for the levy lid lift, called Proposition 1. The proposed ballot measure would tax property owners an additional 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $250,000 home would pay an additional $110 a year under the new tax, if it’s approved by voters.

The money would be used to pay the rent for City Hall, which is located in leased office space along 219th Street SW, and for parks and recreation, Olsen said. The City Hall rent is nearly $450,000 a year.

Since July 2009, the city has spent nearly $3 million in rent and moving expenses, Olsen said.

For comparison, the city’s general fund budget for 2016 is $14.7 million.

The city since 2014 has been using money from the general fund to make the rent. Without a change, the general fund will be depleted by December, she said. It was a tough decision for the council to run the levy, she said.

“That is our biggest issue,” Olsen said. “If it doesn’t pass, we will either come back and ask the citizens for a levy lid lift or we will cut services or we will do both.”

Three ballot measures to build a new City Hall have failed in recent years. If approved, the levy lid lift would allow the city to pay rent while also making plans for a permanent home, Olsen said. Aging infrastructure was listed as the city’s most significant challenge in the city manager hiring packet.

Of the 44 cents, 19 would go toward the four-year City Hall levy. The remainder, 25 cents, is a permanent parks and recreation tax.

Hugill’s employment contract is expected to undergo council review this week and is scheduled for a vote June 6.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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