BLAINE - Gary Tomsic will retire as Blaine city manager at the end of June - leaving the post he will have held for 13 years for new adventures that include more visits with his children and grandchildren and a 500-mile walking pilgrimage in Spain.
"We'd like to go into a new phase of our life and see if we can do some of the things that we've not had time to do over the years," the 65-year-old Tomsic said of retirement plans with wife, Renate.
The City Council will interview two firms Monday, Jan. 28, and pick one to search for city manager candidates.
Tomsic's tenure in Blaine began February 2000 when he was hired to serve as interim city manager before being selected permanently for the post in July of the same year.
"I've had a wonderful group of people to work with," Tomsic said. "We are the best community our size in the state of Washington, hands down."
City Councilwoman Bonnie Onyon picked him for both positions.
"We liked his management style, how he built trust and pulled the staff together into a solid team. That was something that needed to be improved on at the time," Onyon recalled.
She praised Tomsic for putting Blaine on better financial footing in the short time that he served as interim city manager.
"He did what he could to tighten things up," Onyon said, adding that Tomsic continued in that vein when he was hired as city manager. "He's a good financial administrator as well. He knows his stuff there."
Onyon also lauded Tomsic for being active in the community.
"It's important for the citizens to see that our elected leaders and city staff care about the community beyond just what their jobs are," she said.
As city manager, Tomsic hires and fires all staff, and oversees Blaine's finances. The city has about 60 employees and an annual budget of roughly $30 million.
His annual salary is $108,000.
"I think the city has changed a lot in the past 13 years. Most of that has been for the better. The city is much more attractive than it was, that it has a feeling of being cared for, people have a very nice visual reception when they come into town," Tomsic said, referring to some of his achievements as city manager.
He said he was proud of the city's care of its infrastructure, which prepares Blaine for growth. Other accomplishments include a consistent program of improving streets, construction of a new fire station and wastewater treatment plant, as well as the purchase of the Banner Bank building for a new City Hall.
As for his greatest challenges, that included providing good financial stewardship of the city, especially during the last few years and with the December closure of the Semiahmoo Hotel.
In addition to the loss of 224 jobs at Blaine's largest employer, the closure - and the associated loss in revenue from sales and utility excise taxes - added to a shortfall in the city's general fund that eventually totaled $536,000.
The closure's impact will remain an issue for the new city manager.
"We'll have to continue to run a lean ship," Onyon said. "We've just got to maintain, as if it wasn't hard enough already with the recession. I think Gary is good at running a lean city. That's going to be something we impress on those we interview."
Another challenge during Tomsic's tenure included successfully negotiating an agreement with the Lummis after work crews dug up truckloads of dirt that contained Indian remains during a planned expansion of Blaine's wastewater treatment plant on Semiahmoo Spit. (The city abandoned that expansion.)
That negotiation, his first big assignment, took more than a year, Tomsic said, but he believed it was successful - noting it was done in a way that wasn't adversarial and allowed the city to continue working with the tribe "in a positive way."
"I'm very proud of that," he said.
What's next for Tomsic, a lifelong fly fisherman, and auctioneer by avocation who has used his skills to help raise money for fundraisers?
There will be visits to children and grandchildren in Colorado and Florida. Maybe a little consulting work, and some volunteering. And then there's the "camino de Santiago" pilgrimage in Spain - a 500-mile walk popularized by the 2010 movie "The Way" that Tomsic and his wife will begin in September.
Although it has existed as a Christian pilgrimage for centuries, Tomsic said his inspiration for the trek isn't religious so much as it is a chance to explore something new.
"It's an adventure for me. I hope that I can find something kind of spiritual internally, uplifting and satisfying," Tomsic said. "It's out of character for me to do that, so I'm excited about finally doing something that's not me."