Saying it’s time for new leadership to take Tacoma into a new era, the City Council on Tuesday voted against renewing the contract of City Manager Eric Anderson, effectively ending his six-year tenure come Friday.
Then, after voting 6 to 2 against bringing Anderson back, the council unanimously appointed Deputy City Manager Rey Arellano as interim city manager. Arellano, a retired Navy officer hired by Anderson in 2006, takes over as the city’s chief administrator effective Saturday.
“Making a decision like this is never easy,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, before casting her vote against extending Anderson’s contract.
Joining Strickland to vote down the resolution to renew an 18-month employment extension for Anderson were Council Members David Boe, Marty Campbell, Jake Fey, Ryan Mello and Victoria Woodards.
Members Joe Lonergan and Lauren Walker voted in favor of extending Anderson’s employment. Councilman Spiro Manthou, now recovering after recent heart surgery, was absent.
Anderson, 65, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Earlier Tuesday, he informed his senior staff that his future employment was in jeopardy. As the council talked through it’s decision Tuesday, a few city staff members cried.
In a prepared statement issued Tuesday night, Anderson called his six years as Tacoma’s chief administrator “a privilege.”
“I am proud of the work we have accomplished as a city during my tenure, such as the reduction in crime, improvements in the neighborhoods, and that we have made it through the current economic crisis without a reduction in services to the residents who we serve,” the statement said.
“I am comfortable that I leave the City in a good financial position and I look forward to my future endeavors.”
The city will conduct a nationwide search for Anderson’s replacement; details of the search have yet to be formalized, city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said.
In the meantime, Arellano will fill in as city manager. After completing 22 years in the Navy, Arellano most recently served as deputy city manager and chief information officer in San Diego, Calif. He made $174,304 last year, as Anderson’s deputy.
The council’s decision came shortly after members formally accepted their 2011 performance review for Anderson, as required by city charter.
The report card on Anderson’s work over the last year praised him for his budgeting prowess, recruitment skills and policy work, but also offered more varied and harsher criticism than his past reviews.
Some remarks blamed Anderson for failing to develop an economic development strategy to attract new business to the city, and for keeping council members in the dark on important city issues. The evaluation reflected a growing strain evident in Anderson’s relationship with some council members in recent months.
“I think he’s kind of become the scapegoat for some of the problems we’re seeing,” said Walker, who voted in favor of the contract renewal. “And I’m very sad about that.”
The evaluation didn’t seem to justify Anderson’s removal, Lonergan said. The first-term councilman representing Tacoma’s South End added he “wasn’t involved in any discussions” about his colleagues’ plans to oust Anderson, learning of them in a phone call only Monday afternoon.
“I was personally disappointed and professionally dismayed,” added Lonergan, saying the decision is “unnecessarily creating an emergency situation for the City of Tacoma.”
But other members said they took the vote seriously and with much thought, some saying they came to the decision with difficulty.
“I don’t know what (Lonergan) is alluding to,” Boe said. “My decision was not made until this afternoon.”
Describing the vote on a city manager as “the most important decision a council can make,” Fey said he regretfully determined that, as skilled of Anderson is, he did not have the type of skill-set needed for the city’s future leadership.
“This was a gut check for me, in terms of making a decision,” he said.
Council members praised Anderson for his service and providing steady leadership for Tacoma in the aftermath of a tumultuous time in city government.
Citing a 2006 News Tribune article, Strickland said Anderson was appropriately hailed for helping to right a then-reeling city.
“Observers also praise Anderson for his strong leadership style, attention to neighborhood issues and stabilizing influence in a city that was still dealing with the lingering effects of the David Brame scandal,” the mayor read from the news story.
From a “Safe and Clean” campaign aimed at removing blight and cutting crime, to a paid street parking system in part meant to spur commerce downtown, council members lauded Anderson for a range of successful and ongoing initiatives.
But, Woodards noted: “Tonight’s vote is not about what’s done. It’s about the future of the city and where we move forward.”
Her comment struck a common theme among those casting “no” votes Tuesday.
“My vote really is about the future of the City of Tacoma,” Boe said. “Eric Anderson has done a good job, when he stepped in 2005. But we’re in a different place in 2011.”
Calling Tacoma’s city manager’s position his “dream job,” Anderson won council appointment in July 2005, replacing interim City Manager Jim Walton following a national search.
A longtime husband, father of two grown children and a grandfather, Anderson had previously served as chief administrator for Des Moines, Iowa; Evanston Ill., Eau Clair, Wisc. and Munster, Ind.
“This is a part of the country that I just love,” Anderson told The News Tribune after his swearing-in in 2005. “Tacoma is a city just under 200,000 people, which not only has an incredible set of resources, it has problems that are significant. They are important problems to deal with. The resources exist and the will exists to deal with them. . . . I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do.”
As city manager, Anderson oversaw day-to-day city government operations, more than 2,100 employees and a $1.7 billion general government budget, including the city’s $399 million general fund that covers basic city services. His annual salary was $236,373 per year.
“I think he was the right city manager at the right time,” said Mello. “… I think this council is going in a different direction.”