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New management for City of Puyallup

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on April 11, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
April 9, 2010 6:01 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Time to push the resent button in Puyallup. The city government needs it.

The City Council accepted City Manager Gary McLean’s resignation last week and unanimously approved a generous severance package that includes eight months of pay. It’s one of the few unanimous decisions the council has ever made regarding McLean.

McLean was promoted from city attorney to city manager under a cloud in January 2008 – the cloud being the opposition of three of the seven council members. Since then, he has stayed in the job at the pleasure of a razor-thin majority in the face of often rancorous argument over his performance.

The circumstances of his departure remain mysterious. But he’d never won over his opponents, who complained that he systemically denied them information about his administration and the city’s operations. They and others also criticized what they saw as his heavy-handed management style. In the absence of details about the resignation, we can only assume that such concerns were ultimately shared by a majority.

Even McLean’s critics should grant him credit for helping keep the City of Puyallup in far better financial shape than most of its neighbors and for helping secure millions of dollars in outside money, including a $25 million state grant for downtown and transit improvements. May his successor be so skillful at snagging available state and federal dollars.

Speaking of his successor, McLean’s short and stormy tenure offers lessons for the City Council.

A city manager hired on a 4-3 vote must walk a tightrope from the first day. One political misstep and he’s out. It’s hard for a manager to relax and function as a true executive without a greater sense of his superiors’ confidence.

And a city manager becomes an automatic focus of contention when hired over the objections of a strong majority. McLean’s job has been in continual dispute for more than two years. He made his share of mistakes, but he also became a surrogate for factional tensions on the council.

We presume the council has figured out it ought to reach consensus or something close to it before hiring McLean’s successor.
It should also be obvious that there ought to be a much broader search this time around. McLean was hired in-house – he’d been the city attorney – with no prior experience as a city manager. The lack of seasoning showed, sometimes painfully, and always left him open to attack. A city the size of Puyallup needs the best executive the council can lay its hands on – and it won’t find that person without casting the net far and wide.

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