It had the air of a cocktail party, but it was serious business for the five men vying to be the next Issaquah City Administrator.
The event could also have real implications for the residents of Issaquah, several of whom attended the community meet-and-greet on Tuesday evening. While most of the attendees The Reporter spoke with were just there to meet the candidates, a few had specific questions for the final five.
“The city won’t grow forever, but providing our basic services is based on growth,” said Issaquah business owner Connie Marsh. “What’s their solution to not building forever?”
The initial mingling portion of the meeting concluded when Greg Prothman, president of the recruiting firm hired to find and vet administrator candidates, gathered the finalists together to give them a chance to speak to the gathering as a whole.
One by one, the candidates talked about their backgrounds, experience, and a time when they had made a mistake (or as Prothman said, a time when they got “egg on their face.”)
David Cline, current city administrator for Lake Forest Park, grew up in the area and remembers Bellevue expanding from a small suburb of Seattle to the city it is today. As the ninth of 10 children, he had to learn how to get along with others, and that was a focus of much of his talk – building and maintaining relationships. He used a previous breakdown of those relationships as his “egg on face” experience, relating how he thought he had built strong ties while at the City of Burien, but after he left to pursue other interests the county chose not to honor the contract he had drafted.
Donald Krupp spent the last nine years serving as Thurston County’s manager and chief administrative officer. Over that time, he has worked with three successive county commissioners and 21 different elected officials.
He has previous experience working with community development and helping cities solve problems, and that is what he would like to do again. Krupp is completing his term as Kiwanis president in Olympia, and if hired for the administrator position he plans to get equally involved with the Issaquah community.
David Zabell comes from a transportation and public works background, and began his career in Marysville, where he saw the town grow from 5,000 to more than 20,000 residents.
After working for the City of Bothell as director of public works, he moved to Yakima where he has been assistant city manager for the last five years. Having watched a recording of a recent city council meeting, Zabell said he appreciated the courage of the council members to endorse the Issaquah Highlands/Park Pointe Transfer of Development Rights agreement, even though a vocal minority of residents were against the agreement.
Robert Harrison is the out-of-towner. He flew in from his home of Wyoming, Ohio where he has been the city manager for the last 12 years.
He said that people in this position need to be humble, “and there are plenty of opportunities to be humbled.”
While addressing the reason he would want to move half way across the country, he said that his family’s core values are reflected in Issaquah’s values. “We’re not doing this for the money; we’re doing it for a higher good.”
Pete Rose spoke last, calling himself the “clean up hitter” and alluding to his more famous namesake. He reflected on his 30 years of working in government, including eight years with the City of Woodinville and his current position as administrator for San Juan County.
In his three decades of experience, two lessons he learned were that you can be so smart that you can outsmart yourself, and listen to your department heads.
“What’s going on now [in Issaquah] is a convergence of community values,” he said. “The future will be an expression of those values.”
It won’t be easy to replace Leon Kos, the city administrator who served Issaquah for more than three decades. One of the considerations for Mayor Ave Frisinger in selecting the new administrator will be continuity.
Three of the finalists have been in their current position for five years or less: David Cline, David Zabell and Pete Rose. Two of the candidates, Robert Harrison and Pete Rose, are also finalists for a vacant city manager position in Milwaukie, Ore.
After each of the candidates had a chance to speak, Prothman wrapped up the session by saying this meeting was a way for the community to see if the finalists were a good fit, and for the candidates to see if Issaquah was the place for them.
That may have been the goal of the community meeting, but it was missing a key element – a way for the public to give feedback on the candidates. If someone felt strongly for or against a finalist, they will have to contact either Prothman or Frisinger to have their thoughts heard.
While Frisinger acknowledged the process lacked a formal feedback element, she said many of the attendees had stopped by and given her their thoughts directly.
With all of the candidates were similarly qualified for the position, perhaps the most valuable outcome of the community meeting on Tuesday was the opportunity for Frisinger to see how the candidates interact with Issaquah citizens.
On Wednesday, the candidates had more formal interviews with two panels – a community panel that included Council President John Traeger, and a panel of the city’s department directors.
The Reporter spoke with community panelist David Kappler on Wednesday afternoon, and though he remained tight lipped about their recommendations, he did say, “There was a clear consensus that there were two top candidates.”
After the interviews, the panels forwarded their recommendations to the mayor, which she will take under advisement when making her hiring decision, hopefully within the week.