Mayor hires Ohio official as Issaquah city administrator
September 21, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
The next Issaquah city administrator is a plainspoken Midwesterner and longtime city manager of a Cincinnati suburb.
Robert “Bob” Harrison — the city manager in Wyoming, Ohio, for the past 12 years — has accepted the No. 2 position at Issaquah City Hall and is due to start Oct. 11.
Harrison, 42, emerged as the leading candidate last week during closed-door interviews with community leaders and city department chiefs. Mayor Ava Frisinger announced the appointment Sept. 16.
The mayor offered Harrison the job Sept. 8, the same day as the interviews. Frisinger hailed the hiring as the “perfect match” for the community.
“I wanted someone who would be high energy, because I think that this community requires that. It’s an energetic community and very passionate about things,” she said. “I wanted somebody who would have those characteristics and who would provide the mentoring and support to our employees, to help them do the very best job for the people.”
City department leaders and community leaders sought someone able to make difficult decisions, a successful communicator and a supportive manager.
Frisinger said positive feedback about Harrison started soon after a Sept. 7 reception for the finalists at Tibbetts Creek Manor.
“People afterwards commented to me that they were impressed,” she said. “I got feedback from folks that said they really thought that he was somebody who just immediately seemed likeable, not someone who would be distant.”
‘The right choice’
Harrison inherits a role defined by Leon Kos, the city administrator for 33 years. Kos retired in April, and the city launched a search for a successor weeks later.
The top choice outpaced four officials from Washington, including the Lake Forest Park city administrator, the Thurston County manager, the San Juan County administrator and the Yakima assistant city manager.
“All of them had very positive things to say about Issaquah and why they wanted to be here,” Frisinger said.
Harrison stands to earn a $150,000 base salary, plus benefits. The city also offered him $15,000 if he relocates to the Issaquah School District.
The position required City Council approval.
“I think what really sold me was meeting the mayor and the council members, and all of the employees and, really, all of the citizens during that interview process,” Harrison said after the Sept. 16 announcement. “You could tell they were really visibly committed to public service and excellence in governance. I just can’t imagine a better team to join.”
Harrison serves as the top appointed official in Wyoming, a city of about 8,300 people located 10 miles northeast of Cincinnati. For about 18 months before the Wyoming appointment, he served as the city manager of Mosinee, Wis. — then a city of 4,000 in north-central Wisconsin. (Issaquah has about 27,000 residents.)
Harrison, a Wisconsin native, started seeking municipal jobs elsewhere after wife Carrie developed heat hives. The condition has left her relegated to air-conditioned environments after the mercury climbs higher than 80 degrees.
“Where would it be cloudy and cool most of the time? How about the Pacific Northwest?” Harrison said.
The next Issaquah administrator also reached the final stage of the city manager search in Milwaukie, Ore., in early September.
Harrison said he plans to reside in Issaquah or, at least, inside the Issaquah School District. He is the father of four girls and a boy, ages 15 months to 13.
“The community is beautiful, and it’s got very consistent core values with my own and our family’s,” he said. “They’ve got the focus on environmental stewardship and innovation, community involvement and, of course, excellent schools — which is important with five children. This is the right choice.”
Harrison cited a love for the outdoors and a commitment to environmental sustainability as additional reasons for applying for the Issaquah post.
“I tell you, I get in trouble if I use plastic bags at the grocery store,” he said during the Tibbetts Creek Manor reception. “My wife reminds me I’m not supposed to do that.”
Under Harrison, Wyoming received the top recycling rate in Hamilton County, promoted “green” development, earned a top bond rating and ranked as a 2010 All-American City finalist.
The city has 112 full-time employees and a $22.7 million budget. Issaquah has about 200 full-time employees and a budget of about $100 million.
Harrison also serves as a part-time faculty member at Northern Kentucky University.
Wyoming leaders named him a Citizen of the Year in 2003 — a tribute he mentioned at Tibbetts Creek Manor.
“We’re not doing this for money, we’re doing this for a higher moral purpose, which is to truly serve our residents and the community in which we live,” he said then.
Harrison lauded residents in Wyoming and Issaquah for community involvement.
“In terms of community, I have had the benefit working in a highly democratic community — with a little D,” he said. “When I look at the core values here in this town, you guys are really engaged. I’ve had that opportunity to have a really engaged citizenry who are very involved, and that aren’t shy about letting you know what their themes are, letting you know what they think and the direction that the community ought to go.”