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LOCAL NEWS: Tacoma sacks city manager

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After receiving a mixed job review,[1] Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson failed to win a contract renewal when a 6-2 City Council vote went against him on Tuesday.[2]  --  On Friday the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) characterized his departure as a "whimpering exit" after Anderson refused the paper an interview.[3]  --  Anderson's deepest problem, Lewis Kamb opined, was that he "held so tightly to control he lost it."  --  His relationship with the City Council deteriorated over time, and Anderson, once a champion of open government, "halted his weekly press meetings" in his final months.  --  BACKGROUND:  Eric Anderson, previously the city manager of Des Moines, Iowa, Evanston, Illinois, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Munster, Indiana, was hired in 2005 after the 13-year 7-month tenure of the previous city manager, Ray Corpuz, self-destructed owing to personal problems in 2003.  --  COMMENT: Anderson's 2011 job review (available online here) shows that there were many areas in which he was vulnerable to criticism.  --  But his involvement in covering up the negligence of a Tacoma Police Department sergeant who fell asleep instead of transmitting an Amber Alert after Zina Linnik was kidnapped, raped, and murdered on July 4, 2007, and his resistance to disciplining the officer involved, probably sealed his fate; the comments on the local blog Feed Tacoma indicate how strong are feelings of local residents on the subject.  --  It is regrettable that the News Tribune failed to mention in any of these articles the city government's problems with the Tacoma Police Department.  --  For a glimpse of how rancorous this relationship is, see a May 13, 2011, News Tribune story entitled "Citizen's Critical Remarks Draw Police Union's Ire." ...




By Lewis Kamb

[Print subhead:  ** 'GOOD, BUT IN DECLINE': Relationship with Tacoma council shows strain as it considers contract extension **]

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
July 12, 2011
Page A1


Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson won praise for his budgeting skills, staff recruitment, and a strong understanding of how state and federal issues relate to the city, according to his latest report card from Tacoma City Council.

“The (City Manager) still remains highly capable of managing the budget during challenging economic times,” the evaluation says.

But council members also criticized Tacoma’s chief administrator for failing to develop a clear economic development plan for the city, and at times, for keeping them in the dark about significant city issues.

“There is major concern about economic development leadership by the City Manager and at the Senior Management level,” the evaluation states.

The city manager’s 2011 performance evaluation, which covers Anderson’s work from July of last year to the present, is a collaborative but anonymous document that incorporates critiques submitted from all nine of the city’s elected council members.

Commentary at times was mixed, even contradictory, providing Anderson with a range of feelings about his performance in six major categories.  The council's current evaluation provides only written feedback; a point-ranking system was dropped two years ago.

(We’ll have more details tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s the full report card.)

Required under the city’s charter, the evaluation is a precursor to city policymakers’ decision of extending Anderson’s contract, which expires this month.

The council is set to consider an 18-month extension for Anderson at Tuesday’s regular meeting, but questions linger about what might happen.

This year’s evaluation appears more critical than last year’s report card.  It provides a mixed-bag of commendations and criticisms, including several disapproving remarks about a string of recent issues -- from developments in the Zina Linnik case to procedural “missteps” in the Cheney Stadium renovation project.

“Some Council members rate the relationship between the (City Manager) and Council as good, but in decline,” the evaluation noted.

Councilwoman Lauren Walker today described the evaluation as a strong guideline for Anderson, adding she doesn’t believe his contract extension will be an issue.

“My experience is evaluations always have a mixed area of praise and areas of needs of improvement.  And this evaluation reflects that,” Walker said.

Several other members have not yet returned calls today. Councilman David Boe declined comment.

In a prepared statement issued Monday, Anderson called his job a “privilege” and accepted the evaluation as a way to improve his performance.

“I am very grateful to the Council for their hard work and candor” he said.  “As in previous years, I commit myself to using their appraisal to do a better job."

Hired in 2005 after serving as Des Moines, Iowa's chief administrator, Anderson, 65, oversees the city government's day-to-day operations, more than 2,000 employees and a $1.7 billion general government budget (including the city's $399 million general fund), among other responsibilities.

Under his current contract, Anderson earns $236,373 per year, gets 50 days off per year*(see update below) and a $550 per month automobile allowance.  Just before a city employee wage freeze kicked in, Anderson took a 17.4 percent pay raise -- giving him $35,000 more per year -- that he’d previously deferred due to city budget woes. The pay hike made Anderson the city's second highest paid employee after Utilities Director Bill Gaines.

UPDATE: I've misstated Anderson's time off clause in his current contract.

When Anderson was initially hired in 2005, he received “an initial bank of 50 days of administrative leave,” with an additional 14 days added to this paid time off bank the following year.  He has since accrued time off according to leave accrual formulas under 1.12.248 of the city code, his contract states.




by Lewis Kamb

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
July 12, 2011


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.”


[Print headline:  IN LIKE A BULL, OUT LIKE...]
By Lewis Kamb

** He came to town a bullish leader with bold ideas, lavished with superlatives such as “big time” and “world class” that helped him quickly earn a change agent’s reputation when Tacoma leaders were calling for a cleansing of City Hall. **  [Print subhead:  ERIC ANDERSON: Tacoma's recent city manager arrived after the David Brame scandal; he leaves after others]

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
July 17, 2011
Page A1


He came to town a bullish leader with bold ideas, lavished with superlatives such as “big time” and “world class” that helped him quickly earn a change agent’s reputation when Tacoma leaders were calling for a cleansing of City Hall.

He leaves unceremoniously six years later, having lost the trust of a refashioned council that grew to view him more as problem than a prophet along a new course charted for the City of Destiny.

A grand entrance.  A whimpering exit.  A career administrator out of a job.

Eric Anderson, 65, whose six-year run as Tacoma city manager ended Friday, carries a legacy of contradictions:

The outsider tapped to lead Tacoma out of an inside scandal.  The manager who held so tightly to control he lost it.

Anderson steadied the city bureaucracy with one hand, and molded a staff to loyally do his bidding with the other.

He battled to retain big business with grand gestures but put off mid-range economic development projects, frustrating key business leaders.

He guided the city through a deep recession, trumpeting nip-and-tuck budgets to avert layoffs and service cuts.  But he depleted tens of millions of dollars in reserve funds and relied on a balancing act of paper adjustments.

He announced a citywide wage freeze, then took a $35,000 pay raise before the freeze kicked in.

Under Anderson’s watch, Tacoma cleaned up tons of trash from its neighborhoods, shut down scores of blighted properties, and cut some crime rates by double digits.

It built a state-of-the art waterfront laboratory, helped a ballyhooed car museum finally break ground, launched a downtown pay-for-parking system, and revamped an aging baseball park.

It also lost Russell Investments, razed the Luzon building, paid big to build a gifted Chinese pavilion, and botched an Amber Alert response for a little girl who was abducted and murdered.

Anderson, who declined interview requests for this story, cannot be fully credited or blamed for any of these events.  But as Tacoma’s headstrong top official, he made sure to have his hand firmly in all.


In 2005, with Tacoma still wounded from the David Brame scandal two years earlier, the council unanimously tapped Anderson as city manager following a nationwide search.

Longtime city bureaucrat Jim Walton, acting as interim manager, ceded to Anderson in July.  But the outsider from Iowa effectively replaced Ray Corpuz, the downtown-centric deal-maker who had held the post for 13 years until 2003.

Anderson, then 59, with a decade of experience as Des Moines’ city manager, brought an impressive résumé that included managerial stints in Evanston, Ill.; Eau Claire, Wis.; and Munster, Ind.

“He’s big-time,” then-Councilman Tom Stenger said at the time.

Anderson’s reputation as a budget hawk helped push his résumé to the top of a stack 41 deep.

“One of the things Eric did as soon as he arrived is he brought the budget process under control,” recalled Julie Anderson, the councilwoman-turned-Pierce County auditor.

Within three weeks of his hiring, Anderson proposed doing away with the city’s share of property taxes in favor of monthly user fees for basic services.

“This idea was so radical at the time, it could get no traction,” former Mayor Bill Baarsma recalled.  “But people were intrigued by it -- and by him.”

Anderson quickly floated other bold ideas, including selling the aging municipal building and using proceeds to build a new city government campus.

“He was ready, fire, aim,” said Steve Marcotte, a longtime city finance director who retired under Anderson, then went to work for Fife.

“Almost always, nothing ever happened.  But if Eric wanted something done and you told him it couldn’t get there, he’d go around you to find someone to say it could.  Then they’d go through months of work to find out, ‘Hey, this really can’t happen.’  That was Eric.”

Soon after arrival, Anderson won the label of open-government advocate.  He held weekly sessions with reporters and made public thousands of pages of previously withheld records about the Brame scandal.

A short time later, the city reached a settlement with the family of Crystal Judson, the wife of the Tacoma police chief, who fatally shot her and then killed himself.

Taking note of Tacoma’s improved public image, council members praised Anderson in a glowing 2006 performance review for obtaining a “high degree of credibility with the public and the media.”

Anderson, who with his wife, Linda, had settled in a home in North Slope, quickly set his focus on the city’s neighborhoods.

In 2006, he launched the Community Based Services pilot project in four neighborhoods.  The idea was to break down walls between departments, creating multi-disciplinary teams to tackle crime and blight.  Volunteers joined code enforcement officers, street cops, permit officials and other city workers to rid streets of junk cars, drug-houses, vandalism, graffiti, and other nuisances.

The successful initiative quickly expanded and spawned the citywide Safe and Clean campaign, with a goal to cut crime citywide by 50 percent.  The goal wasn’t met, but Anderson’s staff cited double-digit dips in violent crimes and property offenses.

“Eric Anderson was a breath of fresh air for Tacoma’s communities,” said Edwina Magrum, an East Side activist who worked with Anderson in an effort to restore junk-ridden First Creek into a historic salmon stream.

“His policies increased safety and reduced blight, things that need to happen before you can even start talking about economic development.”


In 2008, with two of Tacoma’s largest private employers considering moves, Anderson’s staff and other boosters cobbled together tens of millions of dollars in enticements to try to keep them from fleeing.

In the end, Russell Investments left, DaVita stayed, and Anderson drew praise.

“Eric made it very clear to us the city was going to do everything in its power to encourage us to stay,” said Jim Hilger, DaVita’s Tacoma vice president and controller.  “We appreciated that. It made our decision easier.”

But afterward, some downtown movers and shakers grumbled that Anderson was dragging his feet on pledges.  Progress on streetscape improvements and a new light rail stop was too slow, they griped.  Some, used to Corpuz’s alacrity, complained about Anderson’s lack of it.

“When it came to some big deals that we worked on, Eric was superb, and the city delivered under his leadership,” said Bruce Kendall, president and chief executive of the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County.  “On some infrastructure issues, things took a little bit longer than a lot of people expected.”

Anderson dismissed his critics as rash.

“These things take time, and people are impatient,” he said at one meeting.

By then, a repeated criticism showed up in his annual reviews.  Plans to draw new business and foster growth of existing ones needed to improve, went the council’s refrain.

While some downtown complained, others hailed Anderson for his methodical approach.  To shatter years of opposition to paid street parking, he built support slowly through dozens of public meetings.

“Instead of trying to impose the power of the city onto the community, I think he took a very unique position:  Let’s see what the community really wants,” said Steph Farber, owner of LeRoy Jewelers.

“Paid parking was a really hard thing to institute,” Farber added.  “But I know as a downtown retailer, what I thought would be the worst idea in the world has proved to be very valuable for my business.”

As the council changed into one mostly of new politicians, complaints hardened that the career administrator kept them in the dark on key issues.  Meantime, what once was considered Anderson’s strength -- budgeting -- began to draw doubts.

While other local governments announced service cuts and layoffs, Tacoma mostly avoided them by depleting $40 million of reserves and eliminating vacated positions.

With the reserves mostly gone, Anderson gave the council a choice:  They could support a new budget based on his preferred action of refinancing debt and selling bonds to pay for capital needs.  Or, they could lay off employees.  When city utilities officials complained that his budget had inflated projected tax revenue by about $7 million, the council asked Anderson to make trims based on real dollars.  He came back mostly with adjusted forecasts.

“This council member is concerned about whether we’re being real about our budget,” said Jake Fey, before voting against Anderson’s final general fund plan.


The last months of Anderson’s tenure were marked by surprises and miscues.

In February, to help cover mounting costs to erect a Chinese pavilion gifted to Tacoma, Anderson hastily placed a request before council to divert $250,000 from a long-planned highway project.  It caught some off guard.

Two months later, council members learned from a news story that Tacoma police officials had omitted details in public statements about why it took 12 hours to issue an Amber Alert after Zina Linnik was kidnapped in 2007.  An officer who’d been asked to activate the alert instead had gone back to sleep, the *News Tribune* reported.

Following the report, Anderson met privately with the council, convincing it that no further action was needed on the case.  He changed course when a reporter asked for pay records from the night of the incident.  They showed the sleeping officer had been on standby duty.

Anderson reprimanded the chief, called for an investigation of the officer and supported Mayor Marilyn Strickland’s call for an outside review of the Zina case.  He also claimed both he and the council learned together about the details of the sleeping officer’s delay during a closed-door meeting in 2009.

But nearly all members who attended the meeting told a reporter they didn’t recall ever getting that information.

More surprises came in June when the council was asked to approve an $821,000 increase to the Cheney Stadium project’s construction contract.  Anderson had known about the overrun for at least a month but hadn’t informed the council.

Before the council fired him Tuesday, Councilwoman Lauren Walker, who voted to renew his contract, said Anderson had become a scapegoat.

Most of the council simply said Anderson had served the community well, but that new direction was needed to shape the Tacoma of tomorrow.

Over his final two months, Anderson, the open government champion, halted his weekly press meetings.  Instead, he issued comments to the media through the city’s spokesman or in written statements.

In his final one, after the council’s vote Tuesday, Anderson called his service to Tacoma “a privilege.”

“I am comfortable that I leave the city in a good financial position,” he said, “and I look forward to my future endeavors.”

Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542


Last Updated on Sunday, 17 July 2011 18:45  

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