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Voters: Make city manager move to Milwaukie

Decisive result coincides with release of study on relations since Bill Monahan's hire -


By a 71-to-29-percent margin, voters in Milwaukie sent a clear message to City Hall by rejecting a proposal to change local rules so their top administrative leader wouldn’t also have to become a citizen.

Because a former downtown business owner continued to raise the issue at meetings, the City Council felt it was time to clarify how the location of a city manager’s home could affect his or her employment, referring the “housekeeping” measure to this Tuesday evening’s ballot. Following the appointment of a city manager, current city law states that the appointee “shall take up legal residency in the city of Milwaukie within six months of the date of hire, or within such time as is agreeable to the council.” After the decisive vote, the provision will remain, but it won’t immediately take effect.

No city manager of Milwaukie has lived within the city’s limits for at least 25 years, but it had been easier for current city councilors to decide that “within such time as is agreeable” actually means “never.” When it came time to negotiate a four-year contract with current City Manager Bill Monahan, City Council agreed to include a provision saying he would not be required to live in the city.

Monahan started looking for other city-manager posts as some of those same councilors who voted for Monahan’s contract have now said that it’s time to enforce the provision. Monahan this year was a finalist to lead city staff in Burien, Wash., and Newberg, although neither city offered him the position.

“We’ve done it one way for the best part of 25 years, and I don’t think it’s worked,” said Council President Dave Hedges after the election results became clear. “I hope that some time in the near future we have a city manager who chooses to live in the city and takes a greater interest in it.”

Hedges, along with fellow councilors Mike Miller and Scott Churchill, argued a city manager should ideally engage more frequently in city events and meet more citizens, such as at his or her own neighborhood association.

Noting it can not make sense to force an administrator to move locally, Mayor Jeremy Ferguson and Councilor Mark Gamba argue that hiring a city manager from outside of the region can sometimes make sense. But the disadvantage of an outside hire would be the longer learning curve as Milwaukie’s new manager comes to understand metro-area structures and processes, creating a greater interruption in the handling of city business.

Management study

Results of a study that related to Monahan’s tenure in the city came in at the Milwaukie City Council meeting Tuesday night as well. Last year City Council hired Judy Clark of HR Answers for a management study due a perception that there was a higher-than average-staff turnover over the past four years due to tensions among staff and city councilors.

“It’s information that we really need to have presented to us,” Ferguson said.

Twenty-seven people, including city councilors and current/former staff members, participated in answering questions about causes for department-director turnover. They said “relations are a bit strained,” which creates a challenge for working together, but that tension had been in place since prior to Monahan’s hire by City Council in 2010.

Since “there isn’t one single unifying theme in the city,” it makes squabbles seem more significant, Clark concluded in a report to councilors May 20. Clark agreed with Milwaukie’s own HR director that reasons for department-director turnover were varied, and were more due more to “synchronicity” than interpersonal relations.

To improve conditions, she suggested that City Council review their own communications agreement amongst each other and the city manager and decide whether that document needs to be revised. According to Clark, many department directors would appreciate knowing in advance if city councilors have reservations on an issue so that they could be more prepared to address them.

Clark said the city manager’s expressing his own views on issues would be valuable in directing the city.

“At times, Mr. Monahan is reticent to offer his opinion,” Clark said. “It is requested he be more forthcoming.”