Puyallup's manager announces departure
The City of Puyallup will soon be in the market for a new chief executive, as City Manager Ralph Dannenberg confirmed Thursday that he’s leaving his job.
Dannenberg told The News Tribune in a brief phone conversation that the City Council “feels a change is appropriate” and that he “(concurs) with their assessment.” He didn’t elaborate.
He said the details of his departure are being worked out, but that he doubts he’ll return to City Hall in an official capacity. He’s on a scheduled vacation through next week.
The 64-year-old met with the seven-member council behind closed doors Tuesday. Under state law, city councils generally can’t meet out of the public eye except in certain cases, such as for some personnel matters.
Mayor Rick Hansen said he can’t disclose details of what was discussed Tuesday, but “when we came out of that executive session, Ralph said he was going to retire.”
In interviews Thursday, Hansen and Deputy Mayor John Knutsen both declined to say anything else about the circumstances, including whether Dannenberg had a choice to remain with the city.
Dannenberg began working as city manager on a temporary basis in the spring of 2010. His predecessor, Gary McLean, clashed with some on the council and ultimately resigned without publicly giving a reason.
Dannenberg had been Puyallup’s parks director, and as interim city manager he quickly was faced with an anticipated $5 million city budget shortfall.
The City Council voted unanimously in October 2010 to keep him on permanently, praising his budget work and his efforts to stabilize the city’s government.
The council has seen significant turnover since then. This year, there are four new faces and a new majority that has undone some of the work of last year’s council. He said Thursday that such a transition “is a difficult thing” for a city manager and the whole staff.
News of Dannenberg’s departure comes during a tense week in the city.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Hansen accepted an admonishment from his council colleagues in response to a report made this spring by a female city employee of “unwelcome contact.”
The woman said the mayor touched her on the shoulder and on the hip during two separate interactions at City Hall.
Dannenberg’s staff investigated the report and Dannenberg followed up with a memo to Hansen in May advising him to conduct himself appropriately with city employees. Dannenberg also encouraged Hansen to attend “one-on-one training,” which he did.
When The News Tribune received the memo in early July through a public records request, Dannenberg declined to describe specifics, citing advice from city attorneys.
The city released more details Tuesday after a follow-up request from The News Tribune.
At least one council member found some fault with how the situation was handled.
Knutsen praised Dannenberg’s response to the employee’s complaint but said he “would have preferred that the news media had been handled differently by the city.”
Knutsen said once the matter became public, the city should have provided more details more quickly so that speculation would end.
Under Puyallup’s form of government, the city manager is the chief executive, overseeing staff and daily operations. The city has more than 280 employees. The city manager reports to the council.
Dannenberg was Puyallup’s parks director for nearly 13 years before he became city manager. Before that, he spent 20 years working for the City of Pullman.
Last year, his gross earnings were $172,027, according to the city.
While Dannenberg is on vacation, the city’s finance director is filling in. City staff this week contacted a consulting firm to discuss helping with the search for an interim city manager, said Glenda Carino, city spokeswoman.
Dannenberg has been formally evaluated once since he took the job. The council last summer gave him high marks.
Councilmen John Palmer and Kent Boyle both said Thursday that they do not want to see him go.
“We’re coming into a very critical budget cycle. He’s familiar with the operation of the city and has done a good job,” Boyle said.
Dannenberg said he’s pleased with his time as city manager, pointing specifically to his budget work.
“I’m very happy with what we’ve accomplished over the two-plus years,” he said.