City administrator talks heat up in Aberdeen

The city of Aberdeen is discussing a city administrator position to help Mayor Pete Schave focus on the bigger picture.

On Wednesday night, April 27, the city council discussed whether to adopt the job description for the city administrator, and authorize advertising to fill the position. The council approved the measure with a 7-5 vote.

The council did not vote on approving the hiring of a city administrator.

If a city administrator position was approved, Ward 3 Position 6 Councilmember Kati Kachman said the earliest they could be hired and begin would likely be in July 2022.

The total cost for the position would run between $189,269, in step 1, and $221,783 in step 5. The total cost includes operating expenses, such as travel, a laptop, advertising for the position, and office furniture, according to Aberdeen Finance Director Patricia Soule.

The salary the city would pay runs between $171,025 and $203,539. The salary for the position would include “fringe” costs, such as insurance, pension, and social security.

Schave disclosed the city has budgeted for the salary.

”We have $170,000 in total budgeted for this position (only,)” Schave said in an email to The Daily World.

Schave seemed to strongly support the idea of having a city administrator when the subject was broached at the meeting. He explained how someone with management training, and who deals with personnel — roles a city administrator would fill — would help him.

The time Schave currently spends on daily tasks seemed to be a concern, as well.

“It seems like I get focused on more day-to-day operations, than going out and visiting Hoquiam, or talking to Mayor (Ben Winkelman,) over there, or things like that I’d like to do,” Schave said. “Or going up to the high school and talking with the students up there. It just seems like those things get sidetracked from the day-to-day operations.”

Kachman explained how a city administrator in Aberdeen would operate like a company’s chief operating officer, which is usually the second in charge of a business. The city administrator would report to the mayor.

“(They) would oversee the daily operations of the city,” she said. “The mayor (would) act more similar to a CEO, with a focus on bringing investment to town and advocating for Aberdeen with our county, state, and federal legislators.”

As a department head who would report to the city administrator, Aberdeen Police Department Chief Steve Shumate gave his opinions on the matter. Shumate, who worked for Grays Harbor County for 29 years before he started working for Aberdeen, said it would be “extremely valuable” for Aberdeen to hire a city administrator, as working with other department heads can be “rewarding” and “challenging” at the same time.

“The mayor is a part-time position,” Shumate said. “It was very challenging at times with some former department heads to work with. If you look at it from a business standpoint, the city of Aberdeen is worth over a billion dollars.”

Shumate explained how the city is missing a piece — a “chief operating officer.”

“And so, the city has spent a lot of money for managers to lead the various departments,” Shumate said. “But we are not efficient.”

For example, Shumate asked, if a department head is not doing what he or she needs to do, how would the city get them back on track or address substandard performance, and give them the tools to succeed?

Ward 1 Position 2 Councilmember Kacey Morrison said she was “absolutely against” hiring a city administrator.

“It’s the wrong priority at the wrong time,” Morisson said. “I think we would be better served better equipping our staff, (with) better salary. I want to see how this amount of money is sustainable over time. Where are we getting that money from? That’s my biggest concern.”

Pieraccini was also “completely” against the potential addition of a city administrator.

“I don’t think we can afford it,” said Pieraccini. “I don’t think it’s necessary at this time, financially. It’s not just one position, it’s two. And it’s over $200,000 per year. There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to afford it the following year.”

Ward 6 Position 12 Councilmember Dee Anne Shaw later addressed the concern that Pieraccini had about how hiring a city administrator meant hiring two positions.

“Regarding that part about two positions?” Shaw said. “We did lay off a clerical position this year that’s also funded.”

After the meeting, Kachman addressed the issue of a second position being hired along with any potential hiring of a city administrator.

“I do not believe there are plans at this time to hire an assistant for the city administrator,” she said. “That would need to first go through the mayor.”

Pieraccini also pointed out the city has other priorities to address, such as the police department.

“I think we need to pay them a higher wage so that we can keep them,” she said. “That’s more important to me, and I think (it is) to the community.”

While there was some strong dissension about the necessity of a city administrator, the support within the council chambers was supported by more voices.

Ward 4 Position 8 Councilmember Deborah Ross supports having a city administrator. She said she recently talked to a resident about the issue. The resident felt someone needs to be in charge.

“He said, ‘You’ve got all the pieces in place but you need that one person who’s overseeing the whole picture,’” she said. “It really made a lot of sense to me when he said that to me.”

While there is a complete list of the tasks for a city administrator on the city website, here would be a few of the “essential job functions,” according to the city’s position classification:

■ Regularly report to the mayor concerning the status of the assignments, duties, projects, and functions of the various city offices, departments, boards, and commissions

■ Coordinate day-to-day department and interdepartmental operations to achieve goals with budgeted funds and available personnel; reviews progress, communicates changes in priorities and schedules as needed.

■ Provides managerial leadership and advises the selection, supervision and evaluation of staff.

■ Work with department heads to recommend and establish administrative objectives of the budget, identify budget constraints, monitor the city’s financial condition by regularly evaluating revenues and expenditure trends.

The education and experience for a city administrator would include the following equivalent qualities:

■ Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, Political Science, Business, or a related field.

■ Five years of management and professional level experience as a municipal administrator.

During the meeting, Ward 2 Position 3 Councilmember David Gakin asked about the hiring process.

Kachman explained the applicant would go through interviews with city staff, a mayor’s panel, and council members. Then there would be discussions about the applicants’ qualifications. Then the mayor would decide to approve or deny. If approved, the city council would approve or deny.

Shaw provided an additional point — last year’s budget didn’t have a city administrator position in it as Schave didn’t think the city could afford one. But, now, it’s back on for discussion.

“The fact this is even on the agenda tonight should tell us that the mayor has reevaluated his position and actually thinks this is something that he needs,” Shaw said. “And, we put it back in the budget so that the mayor had the ability to change his mind. It’s budgeted.”