The Puyallup City Council has begun the process of removing City Manager Ralph Dannenberg.
Tuesday night’s split vote on the move came after a nearly two-hour closed-door session. Once the council emerged, four of the seven members said Dannenberg wasn’t meeting their expectations, had different goals and visions and had lost their trust.
“For me, there’s a black and there’s a white. There’s no gray. He stepped over the boundaries,” said Councilman Steve Vermillion, who voted with Mayor Rick Hansen and council members John Knutsen and John Hopkins to start the removal process.
Council members John Palmer, Kent Boyle and Tom Swanson voted against.
“This is a pretty sad day for the City of Puyallup,” said Palmer, who has called Dannenberg an “excellent” city manager.
“I do not agree with this move. This is a man who’s been evaluated once in his tenure,” added Boyle, noting Dannenberg received high marks in that evaluation, which was last summer. Boyle pointed out that the council on July 10 appeared willing to work with Dannenberg until at least into the fall. Most members agreed during a study session to wait until November to conduct his next evaluation.
But then controversy surrounding an “unwelcome contact” complaint made against Hansen came to a head at the July 17 council meeting.
The “situation with the mayor” clearly was a driving factor behind the vote Tuesday, Boyle said.
The council majority didn’t deny that played a role.
Knutsen said Dannenberg handled the initial report from the employee correctly. But once it became public that a report had been made, he didn’t release details, allowing rumors and speculation to swell, Knutsen said.
Knutsen said he feels Dannenberg’s personal feelings toward Hansen played a role.
Vermillion and Hopkins also criticized how information was released, and Vermillion alleged he was misled about the nature of the contact.
The employee reported that Hansen touched her on the shoulder and on the hip near the abdomen during two interactions at City Hall.
The council majority said there were other issues, too, including differing budget philosophies. Hopkins said Dannenberg restored transparency and trust when he took over as city manager in 2010, but he and the new council – there are four new members this year – began heading in different directions.
Dannenberg, 64, couldn’t be reached after the council meeting.
It became clear he was leaving after the July 17 council meeting. During the session in front of a large crowd, the council admonished Hansen in response to the employee’s report.
At the tail end of the meeting, members met with Dannenberg in a closed-door session.
The city manager told The News Tribune two days later that he didn’t expect to return to work from a previously scheduled vacation. He said the council felt a change was needed, and he agreed.
Several council members said Dannenberg indicated he would be retiring, but he didn’t confirm that.
Dannenberg has 90 days to request a public hearing; if that doesn’t happen, the removal becomes effective.
The council on Tuesday hired a consulting firm to help in the search for an interim city manager. Public Works director Rob Andreotti is doing that job for now.