A vote by the Bothell City Council Tuesday night to dismiss City Manager Bob Stowe has left some councilmembers confused, while others hope the decision will chart a new course for the city.
Mayor Andy Rheaume told the Reporter the hiring and firing of city managers is one of the only personnel decisions the council can make. He said that the Council chose to dismiss Stowe to change leadership and direction for the city.
“I think the process going forward definitely should have a clean slate,” he said. “It’s more important to talk about it moving forward than looking back.”
Rheaume said he notified Stowe Tuesday morning, while the city manager was on vacation, of the possibility he could be terminated during that evening’s Bothell City Council meeting. He also so said councilmembers are generally not aware of executive meetings or their contents before they are requested by either the mayor, city manager or city attorney.
But Councilmember Tris Samberg said she was aware of the possible action before the meeting. Councilmembers Joshua Freed, Del Spivey and Tom Agnew said they were not.
Councilmembers Davina Duerr and James McNeal had not responded to messages left by the Reporter by the time of publication.
No public notice was given prior to the decision, which passed 5-2 following an executive session and the ensuing motion, which was proposed by Samberg.
Rheaume said this was because firing a city manager is a personnel decision, and he did not feel it was appropriate to air specific grievances.
“Making it a public spectacle is not appropriate for dealing with personnel issues,” he said. “It’s not a good thing to say a bunch of negative comments about the city manager.”
But Freed, who voted with Spivey against the motion to terminate Stowe, said the council should have taken public comment on the decision.
Freed also took exception to the circumstances and timing of the vote with Stowe being absent.
“I think somebody that has worked for the city for 12 years should have had the proper respect to go through the processes with the council,” he said.
Also of concern to Freed was what kind of legal counsel Rheaume obtained before the vote to terminate Stowe.
Rheaume said the city attorney had reviewed Stowe’s contract 24 hours before the meeting, as well as additional legal counsel, which Rheaume declined to specify.
However, city spokesperson Barbara Ramey said the city’s legal department had not reviewed the resolution before the meeting.
During the meeting, Freed asked Rheaume who provided legal counsel, and at one point, McNeal urged the council to “not do this now.”
Having been Bothell’s city manager since 2004, Agnew said Stowe had been employed much longer than most other city managers who generally have much shorter tenures.
“I think it was decided that the city needed a change in direction, that the city manager had done an excellent job up until that point in time,” Agnew said.
But neither Rheaume or Agnew could specify what changes they were seeking, which Spivey said concerned him.
“The mayor feels like it’s time to have a change of direction, but doesn’t inform us what the change of direction is, doesn’t inform the public what the change of direction is,” Spivey said. “It just comes across as not open, transparent, fair, equitable or anything else.”
However, Rheaume said there were council discussions in the past about replacing the city manager.
Stowe would often side with the previous pro-development council headed by Freed. With last November’s vote, a more conservation-minded council was voted in, creating a new majority which has regularly voted as a block, including at Tuesday’s meeting. The previous council also voted many times as a block, with Rheaume and Sandberg as the minority.
A land use litigation decision earlier this year saw city staff strongly urge the council to proceed with an appeal, which the council ultimately decided against.
Differences aside, Rheaume said Stowe had done well for the city.
“I wish Bob Stowe the best, and I hope that his future endeavors are good,” he said. “It’s not the decision by the council to do what we did because of anger or anything else, it’s because we felt like it was time for a change.”
Stowe will remain on paid leave for 30 days, after which he can appeal the decision. As per his contract he will be paid for 12 months in severance pay or until he finds another job. He is paid $188,000 annually, according to the city spokesperson.
In Stowe’s contract, it states he can be terminated with no cause by the council.
While the city searches for a replacement city manager, Assistant City Manager Peter Troedsson will assume Stowe’s responsibilities.
For more information, see previous Reporter coverage.