Gig Harbor administrator Farris pressed to resign, he tells friends

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Suspended Gig Harbor administrator Wade Farris has told friends he is being pressured to resign and has been given only a short time to decide.

“He told me they are trying to get him to resign, and he’s got to make a decision in a week,” said Mike Barrager, who served with Farris in the Air Force and remains a close friend.

Farris was placed on paid administrative leave June 3 because of allegations that he treated women in the workplace differently than men. He was also given a written reprimand by Mayor Kit Kuhn for “unprofessional conduct during a hiring interview,” removed from the city’s hiring process, and placed in an “individual performance improvement plan.”

Kuhn has declined to describe the alleged conduct further, citing the risk of legal liability. Farris has also declined to comment.

The mayor denied this week that Farris was under pressure to resign.

“We’re not pressuring Wade to do anything,” he said. Asked if Farris had been given a deadline, there was a long pause before he said, “I can’t comment on that.”

Seven weeks into Farris’s leave, the city has still offered few specifics about the allegations against him. City council members polled by The Gateway profess ignorance. The Gateway has requested documents on the case under the state Open Records Act, but city clerk Molly Towslee said they will not be available until after July 26 because of the need for redactions.

Kuhn has said Farris’s future depends on the outcome of an investigation into his conduct, but he was vague about who was conducting the investigation, or for whom. He said it was being done “out of Seattle,” and was “contracted out,” but he declined to say if it was on behalf of the city or another agency.

Barrager said he has known Farris since they were both stationed at McChord Air Force Base in the 1980s. They went on to serve together in the first Iraq war. Farris, then a young captain, flew a C-141 cargo plane and Barrager, a master sergeant, was his loadmaster.

Barrager said it is inconceivable to him that Farris would be disrespectful of any woman.

“He is, to me, the epitome of an officer and a gentleman,” said Barrager, who is retired and now lives in Tokeland, in Pacific County.

“He grew up in Alabama, so to anyone older than him, it’s ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘Yes, ma’am,’ his former crewman said. “Maybe some people misinterpreted that.”

Barrager did allow that Farris had high expectations of subordinates.

“You’re not going to get any sympathy from him if you’re incompetent at your job,” he said. “But if you’re doing your job and you’re competent at it, he will stick with you through hell and high water.”

Barrager said he and Farris shared dangers during the Iraq war. Once, he recalled, Farris had to take off from an airport under attack by Scud missiles, taxiing his big C-141 around pieces of shrapnel left on the runway. He went on to a long career in the Air Force, retiring as a major general.

Barranger said Farris visited him in Tokeland after taking up his job in Gig Harbor last August, but wouldn’t say much about it.

“All he would say is, ‘The mayor is a little difficult to deal with,’ ” Barrager said.

On Monday, Kuhn denied there was any bad blood between him and Farris.

“I try to get along with everybody,” the mayor said. “I have a lot of respect for Wade Farris, and I have no problem getting along with him. The problem in this case is performance.”

Kuhn pointed out that Ron Williams, the former administrator he fired on his first day in office, “was a very nice person.”

The mayor said he recognized that people wanted more information about the case, but he feels unfairly criticized because he is hemmed in by legal constraints.

“I have to be legal,” he said. “If I do it wrong, we’ll get sued.”

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