The enthusiasm Jennifer Phillips feels for the City of Bothell is almost contagious.
She was hired as the new city manager last month, but given that Phillips is not from the Puget Sound area, her excitement about the city may be surprising.
Phillips was born in Wauwatosa, Wisc. and her family moved to California when she was 4. It was there that she was educated, built her career and set down roots.
But she and her husband, Wes, have visited this area multiple times, and he lived in Olympia when he attended Evergreen State College. On one visit to the area about 10 years ago, they stopped in Bothell, and Phillips said she immediately felt at home.
“This is something we’ve talked about for years,” she said. “I’m super excited.”
She is currently the city manager in St. Helena, Calif., a position she has held since 2014. Her previous jobs include assistant city manager in Santa Rosa, Santa Monica and Fullerton, Calif., Orange County Animal Care department director and Orange County Transportation Authority principal financial analyst. She has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach.
Phillips said she has been closely following the situation in Bothell since former City Manager Bob Stowe was fired in May, adding she frequently watched city council meetings and kept an eye out for the job posting.
“I said to Wes, ‘This could be the one,’” Phillips said.
As it turns out, it is “the one” for her, following the Bothell City Council unanimously approving her contract at its Nov. 29 meeting.
Her starting salary here is $179,000 per year, a decline from the $199,000 she earns as St. Helena’s city manager.
“Quite frankly, this is a poor financial decision,” Phillips said.
Along with her salary, she will receive the standard medical benefits, vacation pay, sick pay, vehicle allowance and retirement plan contributions. She also is eligible to receive up to a five percent bonus dependent on completion or satisfaction of objectives established between her and city council.
“She believes in government and the role we have to play in people’s lives,” Deputy Mayor Davina Duerr said before voting to approve the contract. “She has a dynamic personality.”
“(Phillips) is an absolutely bright, wonderful person,” Mayor Andy Rheaume, who helped facilitate the negotiations between the city and Phillips, added. “I really look forward to working with her.”
The full contract between Phillips and the City of Bothell can be found in the Nov. 29 Bothell City Council meeting agenda packet, available at www.bothellwa.gov in the agenda center.
While the only mention of duration in her contract is three years tied to a $20,000 relocation reimbursement payment, the new city manager says she is coming to Bothell to stay.
“I hope this is it … I would like to end my career here,” Phillips said.
“She’s going to be a lifer,” Interim City Manager Bob Jean affirmed.
She plans to move into an apartment the week before her start date, Jan. 17, while her husband stays behind to get their house in order to sell in the spring. He retired from commercial banking two years ago, and she said he will be looking to get involved with local nonprofits once he relocates to the area.
They are planning to move into a house in Bothell with their pets, a dog and a toucan, in late spring or early summer. Her contract states she must reside in Bothell within a year of starting the job.
Phillips already has made her presence known to both the city council and staff, as she attended the Dec. 6 council meeting and met with staff later that week.
“She jumped in with both feet,” Jean said.
She said the biggest challenge she will likely face to start will be learning all the relevant Washington laws.
“It’s such a huge part of the job, and I need to do it very quickly,” Phillips said.
Phillips said she will miss her family and friends in California, but added she plans to have a guest suite or room in her new home.
“We’ll have a five-star B&B without the bill at checkout,” she said, adding she hopes to make lots of new friends here.
When she officially starts as city manager in January, Phillips hopes to start where Jean has left off. (Jean’s last day on the job was Dec. 13. From Dec. 14 through Jan. 16, Assistant City Manager Peter Troedsson is serving as acting city manager, as approved by the city council.)
“Bob (Jean) has done a great job these last six months,” she said, specifically citing the creation of the Bothell Road Map, which sets out the city’s priorities.
From there, she plans to hold a goal-setting session with the city council on Feb. 4, and she will present her full work plan to the council in late February.
In the meantime, she hopes to get to know all of the city’s 300-plus staff members and open up communication with them. When she met with the staff last week, she shared her five leadership values: exceptional customer service, teamwork, innovation, safety and ethics.
“It’s a great fit with what the council’s expectations are,” Jean said of those values.