City leaders announce up to 20 employee layoffs

December 6, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The city plans to start employee layoffs in February, as officials launch a wide-ranging reorganization at City Hall.

Under a reorganization plan prepared by Seattle consultant Moss Adams, the city could shed as many as 20 employees to retool the Public Works Engineering and Planning departments. Meanwhile, the city could hire additional administrative staffers to shift paperwork and other clerical duties from high-level managers.

“Layoffs are never easy,” City Administrator Bob Harrison said. “Some of it is part of the economy and some of it is just dealing with the new realities of what today is.”

The municipal workforce includes about 200 employees. Officials plan to offer severance packages to employees in the affected departments next month.

The plan also recommends a more muscular economic development effort from the city. Harrison announced the initial step Nov. 29 — a plan to promote Keith Niven, the longtime Major Development Review Team manager, to economic development director. Leaders intend to hire economic development managers to complete the team.

The recommendations, from a report released last month, called for Mayor Ava Frisinger and other leaders to restructure development and planning functions.

“Times have changed, as we know,” Moss Adams’ Tom Krippaehne said in a presentation to City Council members Nov. 29. “They’re changing in the city of Issaquah and they’re changing in the development functions. It’s a good time to take a look at how to update your business model.”

Harrison also announced a plan to promote Sheldon Lynne, the longtime No. 2 official in Public Works Engineering, to director. (Longtime Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock retired early last month.)

The city is also recruiting for a deputy city administrator — the No. 3 position at City Hall. The reorganization plan calls for the deputy city administrator to oversee building, public works and planning functions. Officials intend to fill the position in February. (Deputy City Administrator Joe Meneghini retired in August.)

The report also pushes for a grants manager to increase dollars steered to the city.

The plan recommends for Niven’s successor at the Major Development Review Team — the department-within-a-department focused on planning in the urban villages and Rowley Properties’ business district property — to be a planner.

The team — established before the building boom in the Issaquah Highlands — was scheduled to fold at end of the year, but ongoing large-scale projects mean the unit is needed for a while longer. Moss Adams recommended officials continue the Major Development Review Team through 2012 or 2013 to handle ongoing projects, such as the planned Bellevue College campus in the highlands.

The study also focused on efficiency and effectiveness. The consultant discovered different cultures, expectations and management styles across municipal departments. Moreover, the report pointed out the differences in coordination, scheduling and tracking across departments.

The report recommends consolidation in some areas, in part so city employees communicate better.

“We’ve allowed this culture to persist for some time, and it’s time to reconnect the dots,” Krippaehne said.

Moss Adams called for city leaders to slim down the 13 municipal boards and commissions to relieve employees’ workload and consolidate some functions.

Even as officials start to trim the existing boards and commissions, the council is scheduled to decide soon on a city Economic Vitality Commission. Creating such a commission is a top council priority for 2012.

The council is expected to vote on reorganizing the other boards and commissions in March.

Implementing recommendations from the Moss Adams report could take almost a year, as administrators and council members agree on proposed changes. The council still needs to adjust the 2012 budget to account for changes outlined in the plan.

“These studies are hard,” Krippaehne said. “They’re hard because of change. They’re hard because you talk about tough issues. We try to clearly recognize that in all environments there are some good things you have going, so to speak. The city of Issaquah has many.”

In July, Frisinger selected Moss Adams to examine how City Hall operates. The city spent $50,000 to conduct the study. The consultant lauded the city for a “committed, hardworking and diligent staff.”

“You’re in better shape than many of the governments we’re working with,” Krippaehne said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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