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North Bend administrative restructure splits council

North Bend’s plan to restructure administrative roles passed by the narrowest possible margin Tuesday, April 19. In a 4-3 vote, the North Bend City Council approved a plan to modify the city’s code and reorganize the finance and city clerk departments.

With this action, the council approved the creation of two new roles: finance manager, which Assistant Finance Director Stan Lewis will move into; and administrative services director, responsible for overseeing the finance and city clerk departments, and managing human resource issues. Cheryl Proffitt-Schmidt, who’d been the city clerk until April 1, will take on the director role. Deputy City Clerk Susie Oppedahl has moved into the city clerk position, and the deputy position was eliminated. The finance director position will also be eliminated.

The shuffle was first considered in early March, when Finance Director Maryann Nelson resigned. Combined with Proffitt-Schmidt’s announced departure, the change gave the city an opportunity to reorganize administrative staff, and “keep together what has been a well-functioning team,” explained City Administrator Duncan Wilson.

A majority of council members saw the reorganization as an innovative way to keep   administrative staff together while continuing to meet the city’s needs.

“I think we are utilizing the unique talents of our employees in a streamlined way, and this greatly reduces our long-term costs,” said Council Member Jonathan Rosen. “This not only reduces the size of the goverment, it reduces the cost of the government.”

The three opponents called the reorganization illogical, reactionary, and motivated by personal feelings.

Council Members David Cook, Chris Garcia and Alan Gothelf all felt that this was the wrong time for the city to restructure its finance department, especially when the administrative services director who will oversee the finance manager had no financial experience. Cook compared the action to a $20 million business hiring a chief financial officer with no finance experience.

“I applaud the administration for their ability to think outside the box, but I ask where that thinking was when we were in the middle of budget cuts last year,” Gothelf said.

In response, council members defended the reorganization as a tried-and-true structure that other cities, including Snoqualmie, have used with success.

“Actually in some ways it’s more efficient for a lot of other managers, as we will for the first time have somebody dedicated to personnel issues, which we’ve never had,” said Ross Loudenback. He added that it was not the council’s job to get involved with day-to-day operations and staff decisions, but the mayor’s.

Pettersen’s conclusion was that the reorganization was entirely logical, taking advantage of Proffitt-Schmidt’s extensive experience working with cities.

“We asked the administration to look at cost-savings in a number of areas, one of those being personnel,” she said.

By eliminating the deputy city clerk and finance director positions, and moving the deputy finance director into the finance manager role at the same pay rate, the city is anticipating a savings of about $95,000 for 2011.

Pettersen also emphasized that the reorganization was a good interim step for the city, and that when growth and revenues began to increase again, it would be time for the council to again consider a finance director.

In the final vote, Loudenback, Pettersen, Rosen, and Dee Williamson voted in favor of the reorganization. Cook, Garcia and Gothelf were opposed.

The reorganization will likely take effect in early May, once the council has updated city code to reflect the changes.

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