An e-mail accusing University Place City Manager Steve Sugg of violating state law created a stir at City Hall on Thursday. The city attorney responded Sugg was following the law.
Greg Bodhaine, publisher of the website UPWatch.net, alleged Sugg was violating a law that requires a city manager to reside in the community he works for. Sugg lives outside Gig Harbor.
Bodhaine sent the e-mail to The News Tribune and carbon-copied the seven members of the City Council on Wednesday night. It doesn’t appear he sent the e-mail to Sugg himself.
“Our newly appointed City Manager is in violation of RCW 35A.13.050 – What a great way to start your tenure of City Manager,” he wrote.
The allegation also was published at the top his website under the heading: “Another Violation of an RCW by University Place City Council???”
One thing: He didn’t look at a copy of Sugg’s employment contract.
As City Attorney Steve Victor noted in a response to Bodhaine and the City Council, Sugg’s employment contract for city manager includes the following provision: “The Employee shall not (emphasis added) be required to relocate his residence to within the City.”
The law Bodhaine cited is clear that the residency requirement doesn’t apply if the council waives it, which the University Place City Council did.
“The approval of the contract, including that provision, fully satisfies as a matter of law any waiver requirement. The contract was published with the agenda and the residency issued was debated on the record prior to approval of the contract. It is regrettable that it appears no effort was made to verify the facts prior to the allegation being made,” Victor wrote.
Bodhaine did not immediately respond to a phone message and e-mail seeking comment.
Sugg’s contract as interim city manager also waived the requirement.
Sugg held the interim title from early last year — succeeding former city manager Bob Jean — until Dec. 31. He became city manager Jan. 1.
During discussions about whether to appoint Sugg or open up the job for recruitment, Councilman Javier Figueroa raised the residency requirement at least a couple of times during a Dec. 6 council meeting.
Mayor Debbie Klosowski came to his defense at the end of the discussion.
“He spends far more time here, and his family hardly even recognizes him anymore,” she said at the time.
The council hired Sugg the following week. The vote was 5-2 with Figueroa and Councilwoman Denise McCluskey opposing the appointment.
Sugg suggested to The News Tribune after that meeting that he wasn’t inclined to move. He said it was a bad time to sell his home given the market and it’s actually a quicker drive to City Hall from his home across the Narrows compared to living in the southern part of the city, as an example.