The Gig Harbor City Council on Monday unanimously signed off on Mayor Kit Kuhn's selection of Wade Farris to be the city's next administrator.
During the council meeting, members voted to allow Kuhn to sign a letter of intent so Farris can start work Aug. 9. The letter, which explained the contents of Farris’ contract, was needed because the hiring won’t become official until after the August start date.
“My goal is to surround myself with the best people possible,” Kuhn said. “And I think hiring Wade is the start of that.”
Farris did not attend Monday's City Council meeting but said last week in a city press release that his goal "is to make a significant, positive difference for Gig Harbor during my time as your administrator."
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Farris’ starting pay will be $158,000 a year. It can be raised to $165,000 after his first year, depending on a performance evaluation. In seeking candidates for the job, the city advertised the position with a top salary of $171,000 a year. The last city administrator, Ron Williams, was paid $142,000 a year.
Kuhn said having a city administrator to again handle some managerial duties and human resources work will allow him to focus on bigger picture items. On his desk he keeps a list of projects, which include completing the sports complex near the Tom Taylor Family YMCA, creating affordable housing in the city and increasing city impact fees and possibly implementing medical impact fees.
Kuhn announced July 3 that he had selected Farris after seven months of searching and interviews.
Farris has been the Othello city administrator for five years. Before that he had a long career in the Air Force and retired as a major general in 2013. He graduated from the University of Alabama and has a master of arts degree in organizational management, with a focus on public administration, from Ashford University.
Kuhn said Farris' military background was one reason he picked him over two other finalists, because authority was a characteristic he wanted in a new administrator.
“He is a calm man, very grounded,” the mayor said. “I was looking for honesty, someone who is motivated, proven and could make tough decisions as well as understand how I want to see the city grow.”
Since becoming mayor in January, Kuhn has made it a priority to evaluate the city’s staff. One of his campaign promises was to replace Williams as city administrator.
“I don’t believe the last administrator was qualified to be the administrator,” Kuhn said. “I felt the departments ran themselves. I ended up letting him go on my first day.”
During the mayor's and the City Council’s first meeting, Kuhn announced he had ended William’s contract with the city and named David Rodenbach, the city’s financial director, as interim city administrator. He also announced the city had sent information to 38 recruiters nationwide to help with the search for a permanent replacement.
With Rodenbach holding down two city jobs, Kuhn said, he found himself doing a lot of the work a city administrator normally handles.
“I ended up spending almost two hours a day with (human resources)," he said. "I mostly did 70-hour weeks. It’s hard to manage 110 people.”
To ease the load, Kuhn temporarily hired Tony Piasecki to help Rodenbach until a new city administrator was hired.
The $25,000 search found five final candidates, two of whom dropped out after securing other positions. The three finalists were introduced to the public June 21 and were given panel interviews before the mayor made a selection.
“Unlike in the past, when administrators were picked from the city — to be honest they were usually friends (with the mayor) — I wanted to bring in someone who would serve the city best,” Kuhn said. “I created interview panels that included (residents), staff and the City Council.”
The panels also included city department heads and local businessman Ron Roark; Kuhn’s campaign manager, Lita Dawn Stanton; Kuhn’s neighbor, Bob Archer; past City Councilman Steve Eckberg; and Kuhn’s “best friend,” Todd Pratt.
“The administrator has to work closely and well with the mayor," Kuhn said, "so I knew (Pratt) could evaluate their personalities.”
Choosing an administrator is the first big step in turning the city into an efficient, well-oiled machine, the mayor said.
"A lot of what I want to do includes creating personnel policies and to see what is and isn’t working," he said. "A new administrator means new thinking, and I want the city to work for the people and be solution-oriented.”
As for Farris specifically, Kuhn said, "I feel Wade is worth more than the $25,000 that was spent. He’ll be a great administrator.”