Newcastle City Council fires city manager, cuts more than $1 million from budget

January 13, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

NEW — 12:22 a.m. Jan. 13, 2010

At a special Newcastle City Council meeting Tuesday night, the council voted 6-1 to terminate City Manager John Starbard’s contract, effective immediately.

The council appointed Rob Wyman, a former community development director for the city, to take over as interim city manager for the next six months.

During the four-hour meeting, the council also cut more than $1 million of expenses from its 2010 budget. Of those cuts, more than $800,000 was cut from the 2010 capital budget. Newcastle is located within the Issaquah School District.

Shortly after the 7 p.m. meeting began, the City Council moved into a 45-minute executive session for what the meeting agenda said was to “evaluate the performance of a public employee.” Immediately after returning from the executive session, Councilman Bill Erxleben moved to terminate Starbard’s contract. Councilman Rich Crispo seconded the motion.

During discussion of the motion, nearly every member of the City Council gave his or her opinion.

“Voters want the city to head in a new direction,” Erxleben said regarding why he made his motion.

Crispo said there was a discrepancy between Starbard’s vision for the city and the wishes of city residents.

“I believe that what he thinks it can become is very different from what the residents want it to become,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Steve Buri said the city’s relationships with other agencies have deteriorated with Starbard as city manager, and he said he would support the motion because of that.

“I think those relationships, sadly, have been damaged beyond repair,” Buri said.

The only dissenting opinion was that of Sonny Putter.

“I think this motion is far too premature,” he said.

After voting to terminate Starbard’s contract, Mayor John Dulcich asked if Starbard would be willing to privately meet with several city officials to discuss the details of the termination. Starbard declined, saying he would not discuss the matter with city officials without legal representation. He then set his keys on his desk in the council chambers and left the meeting.

Next, Erxleben motioned to appoint Wyman to the position. He said he previously spoke with Wyman, and Wyman said he would agree to take the position.

The City Council appointed Wyman by a 6-1 vote, with Putter again dissenting. Wyman will leave his job as a real estate consultant and take over today as Newcastle’s new city manager. The city will pay Wyman $10,000 a month, which is one-third less than what Starbard was being paid.

After the City Council finished its city manager deliberations, it proceeded to make changes to the 2010 budget. Facing a $363,000 budget shortfall this year, Erxleben motioned to direct city staff to take steps to reduce operating expenses by 3 percent, which translates to about $186,000 in cuts.

“I think it can be done,” Erxleben said. “I do see the opportunity to do it.”

The motioned passed unanimously.

Next, the City Council voted to terminate is contract with its lobbyist, Mike Doubleday. Through the contract, city officials must give 30 days’ notice of termination, thus forcing the city to retain Doubleday’s services for another month.

“This is not a reflection on Mike, but on the shortfall we’re facing,” Buri said.

The City Council voted 6-1 to terminate Doubleday’s contract, with Putter dissenting.

Furthermore, the City Council also voted to halt expansion of the Lake Boren Park playground in favor of just making safety improvements, and it also voted to put a halt on the creation of signs for the transit center.

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14 Responses to “Newcastle City Council fires city manager, cuts more than $1 million from budget”

  1. Chris A on January 13th, 2010 11:15 am

    Finally the Newcastle City Council is making some smart decisions.. What were were paying this Starbard guy? Putter needs to go next!

  2. Charmaine on January 13th, 2010 12:37 pm

    This is a great decision by the City Council. The City has needed new direction for some time and I agree with the sentiments of the council members. Great news for the City, employees and the City council.

  3. Mike Stanger on January 13th, 2010 12:49 pm

    I don’t know much about Newcastle, but I do know a fair amount about how local governments work, and if I can believe what I see in this story, the city council (and maybe Starbard, too) has their expectations out of whack.
    It’s not the manager’s job to choose a “vision” for the city–it’s the council’s. Conversely, it’s the manager’s job to achieve that vision, not the council’s. If the council’s looking for a manager who can divine what the city is to become, they’re not doing their job. And if they’re too busy second-guessing how Starbard’s managed the city, then they’re doing his job.
    All the council has to do is decide, on behalf of their citizens, what “direction” the city will have, communicate it to the manager with sufficient resources, and then stay out of his or her way. If they do that, I’ll bet they can get the manager they need for a lot less than $180,000.

  4. Connie on January 13th, 2010 12:52 pm

    Way to go new council members – you are listening to the people who put their faith in you to do the right thing. The citizens of Newcastle need to evaluate Mr. Putter’s value on the city council and take action the next chance they get.

  5. Allen D on January 13th, 2010 2:35 pm

    All it appears the new council has done is pave the way for removal of the fruitstand to put in a Walgreens on the corner. What a shame.

  6. Evans on January 13th, 2010 4:27 pm

    How about fixing that stoplight on Coal Creek where Safeway is. Jesus, traffic gets so backed up now in the am/pm commutes.

  7. Scott on January 13th, 2010 4:47 pm

    What is the future of Newcastle that our City Council envisions ? More strip malls, if so, what a shame.

  8. Max on January 13th, 2010 8:12 pm

    So …. what is the new direction that the city council is taking us? I heard a lot of talk during the election, but it was mostly around things that they could not do without more money (politicians?).

    I am all for a new direction, but it should be laid out. Quickly.

  9. Abby on January 13th, 2010 9:02 pm

    As a Newcastle resident, all this sounds like a step in the right direction. Yes, Putter may no longer have a lock on his council position come next election, as another incumbent found out in the recent election.

    Considering how much Newcastle residents love our Fruit Stand, the council will NOT replace it with Walgreen’s if they are indeed listening to the citizens. We have Bartell’s, and there’s a Walgreen’s on Sunset in Renton – but no substitute for the wonderful Fruit Stand.

    Now, if we could only get Newcastle411 back – that blog kept us so connected.

  10. weegee on January 13th, 2010 9:33 pm

    No Walgreens on the corner of Newcastle Way and Coal Creek Parkway. The city of Newcastle has a ban on any new drive-throughs, and Walgreens has a drive-through pharmacy. We already have TWO pharmacies in Newcastle (Bartell and Safeway) we do NOT need a third one. We also do NOT need a large underground parking structure below the bank and McDonald’s. What the heck is the city council thinking? We live in Newcastle because we don’t want to live in downtown Bellevue. Seems like the council wants to make Newcastle into Little Bellevue. No Way! We need the Library built. The Transit Center was a horrible waste of money, and not needed at all. Transit Centers are built where there are many bus lines to Transfer to and from. We have TWO bus lines in Newcastle (and a little stub that goes from the Newport Hills Park and Ride to Lakemont). There are currently NO plans for any new routes through here. $10,000 a month?!!! For what? Sitting in on weekly meetings and eating doughnuts in the morning at your desk? Many of us are unemployed. No wonder the city of Newcastle is so in debt. How pathetic.

  11. Eric Charbonneau on January 13th, 2010 9:33 pm

    A significant portion of Newcastle is located in the Renton school district, not the Issaquah school district and has no interest in Issaquah school district priorities. Your article makes assumptions, many Newcastle residents have zero connection with the Issaquah school district and have zero interest in supporting Issaquah school district priorities.

  12. Paul Thomson on January 13th, 2010 10:52 pm

    Was there communication with the new “interim city manager” ex parte? Were any other council members part of that discussion?
    Were there emails between members?
    Is there a violation of the open public meetings act?

    This seems rather abrupt and rather shady.

    Anyone checking the emails, or asking to see if ‘impromptu’ meetings at starbucks (or someone’s home) occurred? If less than a quorum met and then one of those members met with other members, that is a meeting, and would be illegal…

  13. Allen D on January 14th, 2010 11:49 am

    Paul, your post got me thinking. I took a look at election filings and found that Mr. Wyman was one of the largest contributors to John Dulcich’s campaign. It is listed as RTW Associates but a quick web seach shows RTW and Mr. Wyman located at the same address and Robert Wyman as the owner. So WOW only days into his new term as mayor and Dulcich makes him city manager.

    I have always though Dulcich was OK but you are right this looks really SHADY! What other back-room deals are happening that we don’t know about yet?

  14. C K on January 15th, 2010 2:15 pm

    Does anyone realize that the Council saved NO MONEY WHATSOEVER in firing Mr. Starbard? That in fact, it’s going to COST MORE, because they STILL HAVE TO PAY HIS SALARY PLUS ROB WYMANS for the next 6 months.? How interesting the paper made absolutely no mention of this. Or the fact that the Council locked Starbard out of his own review.

    And isn’t it interesting how quickly the Council had a replacement? You would think this sort of thing would take a few months or so to work out…hmmm, about as much time as between the election and now! So, gosh, they decided to get rid of him all of a sudden-like? (Can you even coordinate City business before you’re sworn in? I’m just wondering.)

    And isn’t it interesting that the Communications Manager resigned last year a day or two after Councilman Jensen’s husband tried to manipulate him with written comments on the blog insinuating there was nothing wrong with using it advance his own agenda? This is why we have no blog. The Council’s not going to risk looking bad by spending more money to hire someone to do a new one, or by getting a volunteer to do one only for us to realize it’s either: A) all propoganda or, B) sucks.

    **Most interesting of all** – I saw the Seiligs (owners of the fruit stand property ) who so desperately want to put the Walgreens in so they can make a bazillion dollars, walk into City Hall TODAY. But that’s probably all innocent too, you think?

    The City Council thinks we’re stupid, people. They’re running our city on their own personal motivations, not our direction or interests.

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