An Opinion: Council Needs to Pull Together

Vernonia has hired a new City Administrator, which is good news. The bad news is they also have a problem on their hands. 

The City has been without a permanent City Administrator for over eight months, since the City Council voted to fire previous Administrator Bill Haack in December of 2013.

Council always has a tough decision when they choose a new City Administrator.  This time the choice was complicated by who was among the candidates.

The new hire, Gian Paolo “Paul” Mammone will arrive on September 1st with an impressive resume and list of credentials.  He is upbeat about his new position and seems in tune and suited to dealing with the needs of the community.  He does come with some baggage as he has held four positions in four communities during the last six years.  Vernonia also does not have a good track record in bringing in “outsiders” to be our City Administrator.  Without going through the long list of recent Administrators who have come and gone, let’s just say this scenario has had mostly mixed results.  So the choice of Mammone does raise some eyebrows and opens the door for some questions.

Since Haack was fired, Mayor Josette Mitchell has unselfishly stepped in to act as Interim City Administrator.  Mitchell also filled in as Interim City Administrator when Haack was previously fired and then brought back to the position in 2011.  During her time filling the dual roles of Mayor and unpaid City Administrator Mitchell has accomplished a lot.  She has organized City Hall and dealt with the day-to-day operations of City business in a way that has not happened in many, many years.  She has managed several difficult projects with success and worked on repairing relationships with several city partners. She has been responsive to public issues as well as to the needs of city staff and the many City Committees which advise the City Council on policy.  She has been a positive force for the City and has been willing to learn when she has not had the background or training to deal with the specifics the position calls for.  Mitchell stepped up and did an excellent job and deserves praise and thanks for  her effort on behalf of the citizens of Vernonia.

Rather than just hire Mitchell for the full time position of City Administrator the City Council decided they were going to start a full search for candidates to fill the role and they found themselves in a difficult situation.  Mitchell declared that she was going to apply.  Numerous other candidates applied for the position, several who submitted excellent qualifications.  The Council narrowed the field down to five and ended up interviewing three and were left with a difficult choice between their co-worker on City Council and two candidates they had just met.

Mitchell was a known quantity, is a local who knows the community, knows the players, knows the projects and knows the lay of the land in Vernonia.  On the flip side she had no previous experience as a City Administrator, except for her time filling in as Interim.  She has no specific education or training for the position, just a strong desire to learn and do what is best for her community.

While all the deliberations concerning the Council’s choice for a new City Administrator happened in Executive Session and are therefore unreportable, I will say that the Council took quite a long time reaching a final decision.  In the end a majority of the Council voted to extend an offer to Mammone.

Now the Vernonia City Council has to find a way to deal with the fallout from their decision.

The way the Council handled the process in regards to Mitchell left something to be desired and could have been handled more respectively and with more sensitivity.

Though understandably disappointed, Mitchell should have known this result was possible when she declared her intention to apply for the position and there could be a difficult transition if she wasn’t hired.

The Council should have known they would alienate one of the City’s strongest proponents in Mitchell when they chose someone else, yet they seemed unprepared for Mitchell’s response.

Mitchell’s contract as Interim expired on August 1st.  She declined to extend it, leaving the City with no Administrator until September 1.

Councilor Bruce McNair had previously stated his displeasure with Council’s decision, speaking out on the matter at the July 21 City Council meeting.  He acted obviously disgruntled at the August 4 meeting as well.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that things are unraveling on the City Council, but I would say things are shaky.  The Council meeting on August 4 was filled with tension.

What will be the end result of this City Council decision?  My hope was that everyone involved would accept the final Council decision on who to offer the position to and continue to work together in a professional manner.    Hopefully Mammone will live up to his qualifications and be a good choice. Three of the positions on City Council are up for election this November; the Mayor along with McNair’s and Donna Webb’s Councilor seats.  So far both Webb and McNair have indicated unofficially that they don’t plan to run again.  What Mitchell will do is also up in the air.  According to City Recorder Joann Glass, no one else has filed paper work to run.

Only time will tell if Council made the right decision and Mammone is the right person for the job.  Only Josette Mitchell knows if she can put aside her disappointment and continue to lead the city as Mayor in the way she has proven herself capable of doing. There  appears to be a need for the Council to find a way to repair their relationship with Mitchell since they all need to work together until at least the end of the year. Hopefully several people step forward and run for City Council in November.  Hopefully the rest of the City Council can put aside their differences, help make Mammone feel welcome, and move forward and together with the work of the City.