Four Puyallup city manager finalists lavish city with praise

Puyallup City Council members were set to interview four city manager finalists Wednesday, a day after residents and city staff mingled with the candidates at City Hall.

The finalists to run Pierce County’s third-largest city are:

• Belinda Graham, Riverside, California assistant city manager.

• Phillip Messina, a Prothman recruiter and former Ridgefield, Washington and Central Point, Oregon city manager.

• Kevin Yamamoto, Puyallup city attorney.

• Gregory Young, Ferndale city administrator.

Young said Tuesday that he he’s been waiting his entire career for the opportunity in Puyallup.

“There aren’t a lot of cities in Washington state that I’d want to lead,” he told The News Tribune. “What doesn’t this place have?”

Young, who has run Ferndale’s day-to-day operations for 10 years, said being the “CEO of a city” is the best job. In Puyallup, he hopes to run things so efficiently that government becomes invisible to residents.

Graham, the only out-of-state candidate for the job, has spent much of her career working with economic development agencies. She said she’s impressed with Puyallup’s economic base such as car dealerships, the South Hill Mall and the Washington State Fair.

“All of that prepares a city for a bright future,” said Graham, who has held her current job since 2009..

Yamamoto said he’s looking forward to having honest discussions about his vision for his hometown.

“I can’t wait to get in the interview and have a good, candid discussion,” he told The News Tribune.

Yamamoto said he grasps external issues that face the city – such as the need for a public safety building and new sports fields – as well as internal issues such as making the budget process “more digestible” for the public.

He has been with Puyallup seven years and worked under four city managers — turnover that he says does a disservice to the community.

Messina says he’s “been in transition” since last year. He works as a part-time recruiter for Prothman, the consultant overseeing the Puyallup city manager search.

He said the Puyallup executive job would bring his career full circle after starting out as an administrative intern in the Town of Steilacoom.

“Puyallup is an incredible opportunity,” Messina said. “It’s a dynamic city.”

The four candidates also addressed the crowd of about 40 people collectively Tuesday night.

Audience members were invited to fill out comment cards on each candidate. The information will be reviewed by the City Council before a decision is made.

The new city manager is expected to be hired before the end of the year.