By Jack Mayne
Des Moines has a new city manager effective immediately, and Acting City Manager Michael Matthias will now take the permanent title, the City Council decided 6 to 1.
The lone vote against him came from Councilmember Melissa Musser.
The vote came near the end of the regular meeting after some citizens complained about the acting manager, formerly the person in charge of improving the economic development of the city.
He will be paid $153,900 – the same as now retired City Manager Tony Piasecki earned – and the employment date will be retroactive to the Aug. 12 date Matthias became interim city manager. He will have 80 hours annually of both sick leave and vacation.
After much discussion, including comments from one city resident questioning the pay and vacation granted to Matthias, Councilmember Dave Kaplan moved the approval of the employment contract.
Why the delay?
Early in the meeting, Mayor Matt Pina said recent questions raised over outside activities of had to be “fully investigated.”
Questions were raised to the city by a citizen about six expense reimbursement requests submitted by Mr. Matthias from July 2014 through February 2016 totaling $315.51. Questions were also raised by the citizen about an outside consulting project Matthias work on in 2014 and 2015.
The city hired an outside investigator, said Pina, and the investigation concluded, “that the prior city manager approved these expenses submitted by Mr. Matthias and approved Mr. Matthias’ work on the outside consulting project, was aware of Mr. Matthias’ schedule and approved his timesheet and that Mr. Matthias has met all performance expectations.”
Pina added that based on the “results of this outside investigation, finding no wrongdoing by Michael Matthias we consider this matter to be fully resolved.”
Councilmember Kaplan said the person who raised the issues “had it out for Michael and told me as much earlier this year.” That is why the city used an outside person to investigate and “it came back with a clean bill of health.”
Why on Consent Agenda?
During public comment period, resident and attorney Harry Steinmetz wondered why the proposed contract for Matthias was on the Council consent agenda where non-controversial issues that require no discussion are placed for quick passage.
“I really, really want to ask that somebody on the Council take that off the consent agenda and make this an item of public comment,” Steinmetz said. “We want to hear from each and every one of you why you think Mr. Matthias is the right man, at this time and why the terms of this contract…”
Steinmetz questioned paying Matthias at the same rate as recently retired City Manager Tony Piasecki was making and questioned 160 hours of vacation and sick leave in the contract.
Piasecki retired in August after 20 years with the city, the last seven as city manager. Piasecki is currently serving as interim City Manager of Burien.
Steinmetz said there many questions “we want to know.”
Councilmember Melissa Musser pulled Matthias’ proposed contract from the consent agenda so it could be discussed by all members of the Council. She noted that the issue of a new city manager is “a most important one” for the city.
“We went into this with the idea we needed an agent of change,” said Musser, who added that they need someone who can look at city problems and find ways for them to be approved, or run more efficiently.
Earlier choice pulled out
Musser said the individual originally selected for the city manager post withdrew from consideration before he even had an offer from Des Moines. That person, said Musser, is now teaching at a school in China.
With all of the community and staff discussions about filling the position, Musser said it was best to allow the members of the Council to discuss why he was chosen and the specifics of the city offer. She said Matthias has done a good job in the interim job transitioning from an economic development staff person “into a more leadership role” as city manager.
“However, the one reason I won’t be voting yes for the contract tonight in not because I don’t support you, Michael, I am only looking at it as a fiscal matter.”
She said Matthias has a long career behind him, which apparently was the reason to pay him at the level of a recently retired 20-year employee and city manager.
“But we are just climbing out the backward slide we have been in for a number of years,” Musser said, but she does support him as the city leader. It is just the total compensation package, she said.
Confident in choice
Councilmember Luisa Bangs said, “I, for one, am extremely confident, regardless what the challenges will be, regardless of the skepticism in certain parts of the community, and, perhaps with certain staff. However, this organization has to move forward and delaying this means what – I don’t have an answer for that.”
Bangs said she did not understand the idea of hiring a leader and paying them a sub-par salary. She told Musser “I understand, but I don’t agree.”
She said Matthias “has my support, my full support.”
Mayor pro-tem Victor Pennington said Matthias is being paid about $20,000 less than some other cities are expecting to pay for a city manager.
“There has been a lot of change that went on in this city in the months he and this Council worked together to make change,” said Pennington. “I have 100 percent confidence that Michael will lead this city in the direction it needs to be led it.”
In other business
Following complaints of increased airport noise, former Mayor and Councilmember Dave Kaplan suggested people push for finding a site for a “second commercial airport” to relieve Sea-Tac.
“It is going to be needed in short order and if they don’t start now, it is going to be harder to site. It is going cost more money and I would strongly encourage you to contact (state legislators) and encourage them to plan where the next airport is going to be.”
Mayor Matt Pina, along with Public and Works Director Dan Brewer gave commemorative plaques to people who led the replacement of the storm-ravaged Redondo Boardwalk. Sen. Karen Keiser helped get funds from the state for the work and got the first plaque from Pina and the second went to Federal Way Sen. Mark Miloscia. Others went to state Reps. Mia Gregerson, Teri Hickel, Linda Kochmar, Tina Orwall, and Transportation Improvement Board Executive Director Steve Gorcester.
The city has slated a dedication ceremony at the boardwalk for Nov. 5.