Gig Harbor administrator resigns after suspension over alleged treatment of women

Gig Harbor’s embattled city administrator has resigned, seven weeks after a complaint by a woman employee led the mayor to place him on leave.

Wade Farris will receive four months’ pay, or $45,480, under an agreement approved in a special City Council executive session Tuesday, July 23.

A retired Air Force major general, Farris has been on paid leave since June 3.

At the time, Mayor Kit Kuhn said, the city had received a complaint that Farris treated women employees differently than men. Kuhn said he had also sent Farris a letter of reprimand in April for unspecified “unprofessional behavior” during a job interview with a prospective employee.

An investigation into the initial complaint by an outside legal firm will continue, Kuhn said.

“We have to make it clear to the person who complained that we have heard them,” the mayor said.

Kuhn said the letter of reprimand came because of an “improper question” asked of a person being interviewed for the position of city attorney. The person being interviewed did not file a complaint, the mayor said, but he later “became aware” of the incident. The job was not filled, and the city decided to continue to use an outside law firm for the time being, he said.

“That was a big one,” Kuhn said.

However, Kuhn said, the separation agreement had “more to do with day-to-day job performance” than with the complaints involving women.

“I did feel that he didn’t take the job seriously,” the mayor said of Farris. “It was almost as if he were just doing a job shadow.”

At one point, Kuhn said, he placed Farris on a formal “performance improvement program.”

In a strong-mayor municipal government system such as Gig Harbor’s, the city administrator is responsible for overseeing city departments and programs, under the direction of the mayor.

Farris could not immediately be reached for comment.

A longtime Air Force friend, Mike Barrager, told The Gateway last week that he had always known Farris as “an officer and a gentleman” and that perhaps his Southern-bred courtliness toward women had been misunderstood. Barrager, a retired master sergeant, served with Farris in the first Iraq war.

Under the separation agreement, Farris will be paid his regular salary, including accrued vacation and sick leave, from July 1 through October 31. In return, he agreed not to sue the city for wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation or a long list of other causes.

The settlement did not include a non-disclosure agreement, but it did require Farris to agree not to testify in a court or administrative hearing, unless under subpoena, about anything he may have learned about the affairs of city employees, including elected officials.

Farris had been city administrator for just short of a year. He began work on Aug. 9, 2018 at an annual salary of $158,000 a year.

Kuhn said he selected Farris after seven months of searching and interviews. The mayor had fired the previous administrator, Ron Williams, on Kuhn’s first day on the job.

Farris had 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 the city will begin immediately to search for a new administrator.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to “complaints” in the plural. According to Mayor Kuhn, there was only one official complaint filed against Farris.

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