Special Reports

Council expected to retire Corpuz

Tacoma City Council members are expected to thank City Manager Ray Corpuz for his service to the city on Tuesday and end his employment - without severance pay - effective July 15.

Four of the nine council members - Mayor Bill Baarsma, Bill Evans, Mike Lonergan and Connie Ladenburg - said they'll vote to end Corpuz's 13-year tenure as the city's chief executive.

Councilman Rick Talbert seemed to be leaning that way this week but was still undecided. Councilman Doug Miller was thinking it over, too. But both said they expect the outcome to be an early retirement for Corpuz.

Councilman Kevin Phelps said he wants to hear his colleagues' case for terminating Corpuz before he votes.

Councilwoman Bil Moss wouldn't divulge her vote, and Councilwoman Sharon McGavick was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.

It takes five of the nine council members to hire or fire the city manager.

"I'm not a vote-counter, but giving my colleagues credit for wanting to do the right thing, I think the course of action is clear," Lonergan said Friday. "Everybody got the same information (from the council's attorneys) that I did. Everybody's hearing from the same constituents that I do."

Corpuz could not be reached for comment Friday.

But in a letter to the council earlier this week, he offered to step down as city manager on Aug. 31 in exchange for six months of severance pay and "adequate funding for my city pension" so he can retire with benefits equal to 30 years of service.

On Tuesday, the city hired the Tacoma law firm of Burgess Fitzer to defend it from a $75 million claim by the family of Crystal Brame.

The late Tacoma Police Chief David Brame fatally shot Crystal and then committed suicide with his department-issued handgun April 26. The family accuses the city of neglect for hiring Brame and promoting him to police chief, and of not adequately supervising him.

Council members, claiming attorney-client privilege, won't divulge what their newly hired attorneys told them during a closed-door meeting Tuesday, but it is that advice that apparently turned the tide toward Corpuz's termination without severance pay.

The resolution up for a council vote on Tuesday ends Corpuz's employment effective July 15, without severance but "with sincere thanks for his many accomplishments."

The resolution also appoints acting city manager Jim Walton as city manager.

Council members have said Walton will remain in the job until they conduct a search and hire a permanent city manager.

"I think it's a good resolution. A sound resolution," Evans said following that attorney-council session Tuesday. "We can now take action based on what our attorneys have told us."

Corpuz, under fire for his hiring and personnel decisions concerning Brame, announced May 12 that he would retire once investigations into the Brame scandal were complete and he had a chance to return to work and finish some projects. He did not set a specific date.

Corpuz, 56, has been on paid administrative leave - at roughly $700 a day - since May 6. He is paid $181,928 a year.

The council decided June 3 to negotiate a speedier retirement with Corpuz after learning the Brame investigations could take months.

Lonergan said ending Corpuz's employment would allow the city to move on.

"It really is much more about the future of Tacoma than it is about the fate of Ray Corpuz," Lonergan said.

Baarsma said the resolution's wording has "been scrutinized by about six lawyers" and he's confident it is the right thing do.

"We have to turn the page with the city manager," he said. "It continues to be kind of a burr under our saddle."

Miller said he was frustrated with the entire process but admitted it was likely the resolution will pass.

He hasn't decided how he'll vote.

"I still want to work out some of the answers," he said. "I think there are some things that don't belong in one resolution and I'm worried about increasing the city's risk of liability."

Phelps has long applauded Corpuz's work in revitalizing downtown and bringing more economic development to the city. "I want to know what the grounds for termination are," he said. "It's a very serious action concerning a 30-year employee, and I want to hear from my colleagues what their arguments are."

In March, the council rated Corpuz highly in his annual performance evaluation, giving him an average of 4.18 on a 5-point scale.

Phelps has consistently argued over the last two months that Corpuz has not been found guilty of anything except his own admission that he made some mistakes in judgment.

Ladenburg, who at first opposed the measure, said Friday she'll support the latest resolution "based on legal advice."

But she added that the Corpuz issue is "more of a concern for the public and media than it is for me. Jim Walton is doing a fine job. We're moving forward."

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659


How to get involved

The Tacoma City Council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall, 747 Market St.