Northwest NEWS

June 22, 1998

Local News

Split council ousts city manager

   by Andrew Walgamott
   Staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--A slim majority of the Woodinville City Council took the first steps toward firing the city's top official last week. The council voted 4-3 to have the city attorney draft a resolution of intent to remove City Manager Roy Rainey from his office. Mayor Don Brocha, Deputy Mayor Scott Hageman and Councilmembers Randy Ransom and Carol Bogue voted in favor. The council will formally vote on the resolution this Tuesday.
   Rainey, 68, who was away most of the week at a conference, said he will return to retirement on Anderson Island with his wife. He called managing Woodinville "an interesting experience."
   Brocha said turnover of city employees and issues with the council's citizen boards concerned the council. "I don't care what it looks like. If there's a problem, we'll fix it," he said. If council approves the maximum severance for Rainey, it will have spent almost $150,000 on city manager separation packages and searches over the past 14 months.
   Some councilmembers called the removal an overreaction and said it appeared to have been orchestrated. Councilman Bob Miller, who strongly supported hiring Rainey as the permanent manager last September, said he was "very disappointed" with the action. "We're throwing out everything all at once, and not doing anything to rectify what's going on," the former mayor said.
   Before moving into a closed-door Executive Session, the council heard from members of the city council's Tree Board who detailed grievances about their treatment at the hands of the city administrator. Molly Beck, a former board member who said her expertise as an arborist was ignored, characterized meetings with Rainey as "encounters." Also, the council received copies of an unsigned letter from an unknown person or persons calling themselves "concerned employees." While Miller and Brocha said they gave the anonymous letter "no credence," it asked the council to put an end to the "outdated" management style of the executive before more employees left.
   A number of staffers have left City Hall in the past several months, though there are widely differing opinions as to reason ranging from a hot job market to Rainey himself. Staff took an employee morale survey June 11, the same day the letter was written. While the letter's author was unsure if the results of the survey would reach council in time, Rainey believed they would "shock" the council. The council deliberated for nearly three hours in Executive Session with their attorney before voting. At one point they brought in Rainey for five minutes then excused him. They may have asked for his resignation which he apparently refused, forcing the council to remove him. Later, Rainey said there was little monetary difference in severance packages whether he resigned or was removed.
   Brocha said the council now has two options: they can suspend Rainey this Tuesday with pay or keep him as City Manager for the next 30 days. "Unfortunately these things are cast in the worst light," Brocha said, "like there are some terrible things going on. But like the admissions tax, this was just something the council had to consider and decide on." Rainey will have an opportunity to appeal the decision and hold a public hearing, but has indicated he likely won't.
   His maximum severance could equal over $63,000 for wages, vacation, housing and other benefits, according to the city. The separation package for Joe Meneghini, manager prior to Rainey, totaled just under $63,000. Afterwards the council spent nearly $23,000 searching for a new manager before settling on the man who'd been sitting next to them all along. Brocha said the council will likely do an abbreviated search for an interim city manager to contain costs. A staffer will be named acting city manager.
   A majority of the city's elder statesmen, those who have been on council more than two years, voted against removing Rainey. While Councilwoman Marsha Engel acknowledged he could have been more diplomatic, she believed the employee survey would have shown Rainey's management to be "top notch." She said that many of those who couldn't abide by his rules had already left. Ransom, in office only 160 days, made the motion to remove Rainey. He didn't return a phone call last week.
   There is fear that more jobs at City Hall are in jeopardy. "It's something we will address," Brocha said. Meanwhile, a building inspector resigned last Friday. But this time Rainey can't be blamed for it. "What's going to happen now," Rainey said, "is you're going to start losing the best people."