Politics & Government

Insider pops up at last minute in Tacoma city manager search

Elizabeth Pauli
Elizabeth Pauli

The Tacoma City Council on Saturday decided against picking a new city manager from among three finalists and instead threw another name into the mix — that of longtime city attorney Elizabeth Pauli.

Pauli was appointed interim city manager earlier this year after T.C. Broadnax departed for Dallas.

Pauli said Saturday she was willing to be considered but did not speak further about the possibility of becoming city manager.

“I’m feeling honored and I’m excited to move forward some of the things that I was just kind of holding in balance during the interim appointment,” Pauli said.

“I’m frankly excited to have this role in doing that. I had been asked to reconsider my position by several individuals over the last couple days. … I had been giving it a lot of thought and consideration.”

Council members did not say publicly why they weren’t willing to vote on the three remaining finalists, who left Tacoma before the announcement was made Saturday.

The morning meeting started with public comment from two residents. Then, the council went behind closed doors for an hourlong executive session.

When they filed back in to council chambers, Mayor Marilyn Strickland had a brief announcement.

“We are not ready to choose a city manager, and for the Tuesday meeting we would like to actually invite interim City Manager Elizabeth Pauli to be considered for appointment into the pool of candidates,” Strickland said. “Madame interim city manager, are you willing to do that?”

The council scheduled Saturday’s special meeting to take public comment and vote on the three finalists — Walter Bobkiewicz, Bob Cowell and Kristoff Bauer, who hail from various parts of the country.

But the finalists this time around didn’t have the credentials of T.C. Broadnax, who came to Tacoma after being an assistant city manager in San Antonio, a city of 1.5 million people. Some had notable baggage.

Bauer, the deputy city manager of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was fired from a city manager gig in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and accepted a settlement to resign from an earlier posting as city manager in Billings, Montana.

Bobkiewicz, the city manager of Evanston, Illinois, is defending a racial discrimination lawsuit by a former department head.

Cowell, the deputy city manager in Amarillo, Texas, was passed over for the city manager job there recently.

A fourth finalist, Belinda Graham of Port Townsend, dropped out Friday amid a two-day interview where the candidates descended on Tacoma.

Strickland said the council scheduled the meeting for Saturday because several members won’t be able to attend Tuesday’s regular meeting in person.

The limitations of special meetings mean the council couldn’t stray from the agenda to consider Pauli on Saturday, Councilman Joe Lonergan said.

“I think we had three good candidates, one exceptionally good candidate — Bob Cowell, in my opinion — and one candidate who wasn’t in the mix, Elizabeth Pauli, but who has been doing the job … for the last three months, and we’ve seen a lot of really positive things happening in the city,” Lonergan said after the meeting Saturday.

“In my opinion, I think her dedication to the city is unquestioned, her commitment to being here, her knowledge of the city, we don’t have to onboard someone —someone who can actually get things done today.”

Pauli, who became Tacoma’s first female city manager when appointed to the interim position, did not apply for the permanent city manager job and originally said she wasn’t interested.

Colin Baenziger, the head of the recruitment firm that conducted the search for Tacoma’s next city manager for a flat fee of $24,500, said it’s fairly common for a city council to pick someone who’s already been doing the job.

“Cities appoint an interim city manager, and the interim city manager is not interested in the position, and may not feel able to do it,” he said. “But after three months she’s had an opportunity to deal with problems and she’s been successful at them, the council has had an opportunity to watch the interim and they’re comfortable with the way she’s dealing with problems, they will often take a hard look at the interim.

“Sometimes when you do the comparison and you know what you have, it’s always a risk to go outside,” he said.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud