Federal Way city manager is out; police chief fills in

The Federal Way City Council, in an unforeseen 5-2 vote on May 5, chose to part ways with city manager Neal Beets.

Council members overwhelmingly noted Beets' integrity, ability to be trusted and commitment to the community, but said they wished to see the city travel in a direction Beets was not capable of leading it.

"I just think the council determined it was not necessarily the best fit for the council and where we're looking to go," deputy mayor Eric Faison said.

The action was not originally on the city council's agenda for its regularly scheduled meeting and was added during the meeting. Though decisions of this caliber should be made in the public eye, parting with Beets was a business decision — a choice that should not be debated in public, mayor Jack Dovey said.

"When you're discussing contracts and employment, that's not a public discussion, in my opinion," he said.

The decision followed a May 1 discussion on Beets' performance. City spokeswoman Linda Farmer said at the time that the council was beginning Beets' annual review early. Beets, after learning the council did not plan to renew his contract, requested the council relieve him from his duties so he could begin pursuing other options, Dovey said.

The city council awarded Beets a 2 percent pay raise following his 2008 review, bringing him to an annual salary of $152,028 at his time of departure. A separation agreement awards him six months severance pay — roughly $76,014 — on top of compensation through July. This amounts to roughly $114,021 total. This does not include benefits. The severance pay was part of Beets' contract and still would have been awarded had he been let go in July, when the contract was due to expire, Dovey said.

The council's decision is not something that should reflect on Beets' ability to serve as an effective manager for any other city, Faison said. The council was careful to say Beets' leave, effective immediately following an earlier special meeting and executive session the same day, was not a termination, but rather a decision to not renew a contract.

"He was not terminated by us in any way, shape or form," city council member Dini Duclos said.

With council members Linda Kochmar and Jeanne Burbidge issuing the only "no" votes, the council appointed Chief of Police Brian Wilson to serve as interim city manager. There was no discussion at the meeting as to why the council passed up assistant city manager Cary Roe for the position. Choosing Wilson for the position conveys to the pool of applicants that the position truly is open, Dovey said Thursday.

"By picking the chief, everyone understands it is interim," he said.

City council member Jim Ferrell noted that Chief Wilson is already a supervisor for nearly half of the city's employees and is not intending to serve as a permanent city manager. Wilson is a unique and safe choice at a time of transition for the city, Ferrell said.

"We respect him greatly and think that he would truly have the city's best interests at heart in the interim period," Ferrell said.

Wilson thanked the council for the opportunity to serve Federal Way in a different light and said he will participate fully in the search for a new city manager.

"I look forward to a smooth transition," he said.

The city plans to fill the city manager position in a short time frame. It will advertise for a new leader in The Mirror, Tacoma News Tribune and possibly Seattle Times beginning May 11 and running through May 22. The city council hopes to find a new manager within a five-month time frame, Dovey said.

Beets was the city's fourth city manager since its incorporation in 1990. He began his position as city manager in August 2006. His 2007 performance review, given to him by the city council, showed him meeting standards and performing consistently well, but needing some slight guidance in the areas of special projects, capital projects and personnel management.

His 2008 review showed little change, as he was again rated as meeting performance standards. At that time, the council said it wished to see Beets improve his communication with the seven council members, issue timely and effective responses to the council and the public, and demonstrate a willingness to listen to concerns and issues.

Dovey said a city manager skilled in effective communication, personnel and financial management and economic development, among other things, is sought. Beyond that, the council has not identified any specific qualifications, he said.

"I can't say there's anything specifically we are looking for," Dovey said.

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