Puyallup’s new city manager won’t have to spend time settling into his office or learning the names of staff members. Ralph Dannenberg is a veteran city department head who’s been doing the job for six months.
The City Council has decided to abandon its search for a new top executive and hire Dannenberg, a former city parks director who’s been filling in since spring.
It’s a change in direction from this summer, when a majority of the council voted to hire a Bellevue-based consulting firm to lead the search. That firm has billed the city nearly $17,000 so far.
While council members previously said they wanted to take the opportunity to do a thorough search this time, several said Tuesday they no longer feel the need to look at other candidates after watching Dannenberg the last few months.
“Ralph stepped in and calmed the waters of the city,” said Councilman Kent Boyle.
Dannenberg will run daily operations in Pierce County’s third-largest city, which has more than 300 employees and an annual general fund budget of more than $36 million. He took over when City Manager Gary McLean resigned in April, and soon began grappling with an anticipated $5 million shortfall for 2011.
He’s proposed a budget for next year that bridges the gap through steps such as cutting vacant staff positions and reducing street work. His plan doesn’t include layoffs or new taxes, which has earned praise from the council.
“He possesses the qualities I look for in a city manager,” said Councilman Don Malloy, who brought up the idea of suspending the search at a council meeting earlier this month.
Dannenberg, 62, said he’s excited about the job.
“I’m honored by the opportunity to continue serving in this capacity,” he said. “We’ve started some good things. I want to continue that.”
The vote to offer him the job was unanimous and was followed by a standing ovation from many staff members and residents in the audience.
The council still has to approve a new contract for Dannenberg. He makes $139,224 as interim city manager.
The council’s decision means the city will terminate its deal with Prothman Co. to lead search efforts. The council voted to hire the firm in July, with the cost anticipated to be $25,000 to $27,000.
The city already has been billed about $16,900, and still owes some more for professional services and expenses, said city spokeswoman Glenda Carino. The exact amount wasn’t available Wednesday.
The search process had not reached the point at which candidate names or materials were brought to the council, Carino said.
There’s no additional fee for terminating the Prothman contract.
Mayor Kathy Turner said she wanted to hire Dannenberg because he’s the right person for the job.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s time to put the people above the process.”
McLean, Dannenberg’s predecessor as city manager, was also hired in 2008 from within city ranks without an outside search. He was city attorney for six years and interim city manager about three months before the council made the position permanent in a split vote.
McLean clashed with some on the council during his tenure and resigned without publicly giving specific reasons.
Dannenberg served as Puyallup’s parks director for nearly 13 years before becoming interim city manager. Before that, he worked for the City of Pullman for 20 years, most of that as director of public services.
Dannenberg lives in the South Hill area. He’s married with three adult children and four grandchildren.
Sara Schilling: 253-552-7058 email@example.com