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Tacoma: City staffers’ emails to Anderson after firing express sadness, thanks

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
September 26, 2011 9:25 pm

At 6:51 p.m. on July 12, moments after the Tacoma City Council voted to fire him, then-City Manager Eric Anderson sent out a mass-distributed email to the city’s general government staff under the subject line, “Message to Employees.”

Anderson in happier times
In it, Anderson bid city staff farewell, thanking them for their “partnership over the last six years.”

He added:

I am proud of the work we have accomplished as a city during my tenure, such as 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.  I have complete trust that you will lead this organization in the years ahead as it continues to strive to reach the City Council’s strategic goals.  I am truly thankful to have been able to call Tacoma my home and to be part of a coproduction community that has worked toward solutions to the many challenges our City faces.

Anderson’s email drew a wave of responses, many of them expressing regret and sorrow for his firing and thanking him for his service and leadership.

“My heart is breaking,” city auditor Scottie Nix wrote. “Eric, you are one of the brightest, honorable, and greatest leaders in government. It has been the highest honor in my life to have worked for you.”

“To say this is shocking and unbelievable would be an understatement,” emailed Tory Green, the Fire Department’s Medical Services Officer.  “I am speechless.”

The emails, obtained by The News Tribune under a broader public records request submitted more than two months ago, were released on Friday. According to the city clerk’s office, they represent only the city’s first installment, with another batch of emails expected to be released in about a month.

Some of the emails to Anderson directly questioned the city council’s wisdom.

“Needless to say I am totally shocked by the council’s actions last night,” wrote Lisa Spielmann, of the city’s economic development department.  “If it were up to the citizens of Tacoma the outcome would be different.  I, and many others think you are the best thing that’s happened to Tacoma in 50 years.  My wish would be for you to stay in Tacoma and run for council, you would win hands down.”

Others applauded Anderson for helping to save city workers’ jobs during tough economic times (The city largely avoided lay-offs during Anderson’s tenure).

“I want to thank you for your efforts on behalf of the employees of the City of Tacoma, by working to keep us employed during very trying financial times,” Renee Mattsen, a secretary in the Tacoma Police Department, wrote to Anderson.  “I was very impressed with your commitment to that goal … I do not envy anyone in your position, because there are always so many who think you should do things differently and you cannot please or meet everyone’s expectations.”

Lorna Sutton, a city public relations officer, sent Anderson a photo of himself at the downtown farmer’s market, smiling and holding a big bouquet of flowers.

“I want you to know that I’ve enjoyed working with you and learning from you,” she wrote. “Your many contributions to the City of Tacoma are a wonderful legacy that this community will benefit from for decades to come.”

Anderson wrote personal responses back to most of the employees who emailed him, with few exceptions. To an email, his responses took the high-road, steering clear of any criticism or complaints about his firing. Instead, he largely praised individual employees for their work.

Among those who sent Anderson an email but didn’t get a written response was Councilman Marty Campbell, who voted to oust Anderson. Nonetheless, Campbell emailed to thank Anderson for “being a friend.”

“You are an honor to your profession and a good person,” Campbell wrote.

Of the roughly 40 city employee emails sent to Anderson about his dismissal that so far have been released, just one criticized him.

Police officer Andrew Hankins, a sometimes fill-in for the department’s spokesman, Mark Fulghum, told Anderson:

“I personally do not feel you done anything in your time here that was consistent with developing a good relationship with the Tacoma Police Dept. I wish you the best but I am not upset that you are leaving. In the future you might attempt to tone down elitest attitude and your tenure might extend past six years at your next position.”

What exactly Anderson’s next position will be remains to be seen. At least one city already has contacted him about potential employment.

Two days after his firing in Tacoma, a consultant working for the City of Littleton, Colo., emailed Anderson to ask if he had interest in that city’s vacant city manager’s position.

Records show that Anderson, 65, whose severance with Tacoma paid him more than $261,000, did not respond to the message – at least by email.

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