Special Reports

Time has come for Corpuz to make a graceful departure

The most graceful thing Tacoma City Manager Ray Corpuz can do now is to retire before the City Council ends his tenure with the city, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

A week ago, we argued that retiring Corpuz early and paying a reasonable severance was the quickest and smoothest way to get the city moving toward the hiring of a new city manager and a new police chief.

It is a given that Corpuz cannot continue indefinitely on self-imposed administrative leave, collecting nearly $700 a day to stay off the job. No council member disputes that.

The public will not sit for paying Corpuz to stay home for months awaiting the end of criminal and administrative investigations into the hiring of the late Police Chief David Brame and the city's actions in the days before Brame killed his wife and himself April 26.

The issue that divides the council is whether to award Corpuz severance pay in recognition for his leadership and accomplishments in 13 years as city manager.

Two things changed last week. First, Corpuz sent the council a letter Monday offering to retire Aug. 31 in exchange for six months' severance pay and enough funding to allow him to retire with benefits equal to 30 years of service. Corpuz, whose salary is $181,825, is about 15 months short of 30 years with the city.

Even Doug Miller, one of Corpuz's strongest supporters on the council and head of a committee delegated to work out early retirement for Corpuz, described the proposal as more than the council would be willing to give.

Second, the council met in closed session Wednesday for the first time with the private attorneys hired to defend the city against the $75 million wrongful death claim against the city by relatives of Crystal Brame.

Although council members will not speak for the record, it is obvious the attorneys' advice is turning momentum on the council away from awarding Corpuz any severance. The News Tribune reported Saturday that at least four members will vote Tuesday to terminate Corpuz's employment, and at least one other member was reportedly leaning that way.

Council members have to ask themselves what is best for the city, not for Ray Corpuz. As we noted last week, Corpuz deserves much credit for a decade of city revitalization that is just reaching fruition. But it is also clear he has lost public confidence, if not that of his backers on the council.

Council members have to ask themselves what course of action on Corpuz's fate would leave the city in the best position to defend against the lawsuit that inevitably will follow the claim. Advice from the attorneys defending the city cannot easily be ignored.

Council members must be keenly aware that a drive to switch the city to a strong-mayor form of government is likely to put a measure on the November ballot. Paying severance to a city manager designated by the city charter as an "at will" executive would only add fuel to the strong-mayor campaign.

The worst outcome of the Brame tragedy and scandal would be a needless and foolish rejection of a form of governance that has served the city well.

Council members can sincerely thank Corpuz for his many years of service to the city and the effective direction he has provided. But the Corpuz era is over, as Corpuz himself recognizes. It is a shame that it has come to this, but Corpuz has nothing to gain by postponing his retirement any longer.

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