Politics & Government

Council chooses insider for city manager job after national search

Elizabeth Pauli
Elizabeth Pauli

After a $24,500 nationwide search that identified four potential outside candidates for the job, the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday appointed a City Hall insider to be the next city manager.

A shorthanded council picked longtime city attorney Elizabeth Pauli to become the city’s top administrator. Pauli becomes the first woman to ascend to the job.

With only four members physically in attendance at Tuesday’s council meeting and three more participating by phone — Councilmen Joe Lonergan and Keith Blocker were absent — the council voted unanimously to appoint Pauli. Staff will now get to work on contract negotiations.

Pauli, who previously said she wasn’t interested in the job, was not even in contention until Saturday when the council decided at a special meeting not to appoint one of the four finalists chosen during a nationwide search.

Those candidates came to town Thursday and spent two days interviewing, meeting with department heads and participating in a public forum. One, Belinda Graham, who works for the city of Port Townsend, dropped out on Friday, but didn’t answer an email asking why.

During Saturday’s meeting, where the council members were expected to vote to appoint one of the remaining three, they instead they threw a curveball, adding Pauli into the mix. Because of the rules of special meetings, they couldn’t vote to appoint her that day (that special meeting was originally scheduled because so many council members would be out of town Tuesday).

Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday the council made the right decision.

“After much deliberation the council wanted to give Elizabeth Pauli, our interim city manager, a chance to enter the pool of candidates, and she did graciously accept,” Strickland said. “She has been auditioning for this job for 12 weeks, and she has performed admirably. She has basically done everything we have asked of her — she has shown strength, authority and compassion.”

Strickland said she had wanted Pauli to apply for the permanent post from the outset, and said that if Pauli had, she would have been a stand-out candidate and clear frontrunner.

Pauli said Saturday that she didn’t want the job initially, but changed her mind in the last week after several people asked her to reconsider.

“I want to thank you for your confidence. I am significantly humbled and really just ready to get to work,” she said after the vote Tuesday. “I think the comment that resonated most for me is I really do love Tacoma. I love the work that I do. I love who I work for and work with.”

She has been doing the job on an interim basis since T.C. Broadnax departed for Dallas earlier this year. In that time, she worked on an emergency plan for sheltering Tacoma’s homeless, oversaw budget adjustments and learned what the role of city manager entails from day to day, members of the council said.

Several council members praised her effusively at Tuesday’s meeting. Afterward, Strickland said Pauli was the best one for the job.

“We had a pool of candidates … any one of them could have come in here and just done the job, but it’s more than just doing the job,” Strickland said. “There has to be a connection with the community, knowledge of what we’re trying to accomplish, and in the past three months Elizabeth Pauli has just really demonstrated her administrative skills, her ability to bring people together, and to really get stuff done which is really important.”

It was a different scenario in 2011 when Broadnax was chosen: At that time, interim city manager Ray Arellano was a finalist after former manager Eric Anderson was pushed out by the council. Broadnax was chosen even though he had never been a city manager before.

“I think the message here is you don’t have to come through the traditional (International City Manager’s Association) school to be a competent person who can run a city, so I’m glad we picked Elizabeth,” Strickland said.

There were questions about the qualifications of the council’s four chosen finalists, who were offered up to the city by recruitment firm Colin Baenziger & Associates. None of them had the polished résumé of Broadnax, who came to Tacoma from his role as an assistant city manager in San Antonio, a city of 1.5 million people.

Several had baggage: one had been fired from a previous city manager job, one was a defendant in a racial discrimination lawsuit and one had been passed up for three city manager jobs in smaller nearby cities.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud