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Snoqualmie council appoints new city administrator

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SNOQUALMIE - The city of Snoqualmie appointed a city administrator at its most recent City Council meeting following an employment deal that went sour with a previous candidate.

Bob Larson, a city manager from Minnesota, was approved by the Snoqualmie City Council at its Aug. 9 meeting.

The appointment came after a six-month search, a multiweek bargaining period and a few hours of scurrying to get the position filled after the deal for the city's original candidate, Jay Krauss, fell through.

Accord-ing to Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher, Krauss was told he was the top candidate for the job one day after the city held a full day of interviews in June. Krauss took a couple of days to say yes and then came out and visited Snoqualmie with his family. After that visit, Krauss and Interim City Administrator Don Isley talked over the phone about the position and the city put together a letter offering employment that was received by Krauss.

Krauss, unhappy with a few of the letter's terms, made changes and sent it back to Isley, who contacted Fletcher. Fletcher said he thought the city had offered enough but after talking with Isley, he decided to make some changes to satisfy the candidate.

Fletcher said that there was some confusion regarding two of the requests in the letter, which were against the law. One request was that only the City Council would have the power to approve the termination of the city administrator, rather than just the mayor as it is now. According to Washington law, that is illegal, Fletcher said. With that change in mind, another letter was drawn up and sent to Krauss.

The city also sent the agreement to the Washington Cities Insurance Authority (WCIA) for approval. The WCIA pointed out that another request, that the city pay for Krauss' portion of retirement, also was illegal. The city made the final changes to the offer letter and sent it to Krauss the last week of July.

Fletcher said that once Krauss got the revised letter, he was upset that his requests had not been met and contacted the city to talk with Fletcher or Snoqualmie City Attorney Pat Anderson. Neither were available at the time but Fletcher called a meeting with some city staff members and two council members on July 31 to discuss how the process with Krauss was coming along. After that meeting, Fletcher said it was decided to offer the job to Bob Larson since the city could not meet Krauss' counter offer. Bob Larson was called and agreed to terms after a couple of hours on the phone.

Fletcher said no formal agreement was ever signed by both Snoqualmie and Krauss so there was no "reneging" of an offer. He said the city and Krauss simply went back and forth on terms and, despite the city's best efforts, could not reach an agreement.

"I think Jay missed his opportunity to come out here and be a part of the best city in the state of Washington," Fletcher said.

Krauss said, however, that he was unaware of any problems until the 11th hour of the negotiations. He said that following a June 28 meeting, at which he and his wife met with Isley, the terms of employment were agreed upon and Krauss and Isley shook hands. Krauss announced his resignation as city administrator of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., on June 30 and attended July 12 meetings in Snoqualmie where he was introduced as the new city administrator.

The terms Isley and Krauss agreed upon were put into a "memo of understanding," which was sent to Krauss. Krauss said the memo didn't reflect the previously discussed terms, including the requests that only the City Council has the power to ratify termination, and that the city pay for his portion of retirement. Krauss said Isley told him, however, to correct the terms and send it back to the city with the assurance the terms would be approved. Isley later called Krauss back to say all the terms were OK except for a part regarding health insurance, which Krauss said was later resolved and a final offer was agreed upon the week of July 19.

"We had an agreement," Krauss said.

In the following days, Krauss said he never heard of any problems with his employment offer from Snoqualmie. With the exception of a few contacts inquiring about how things were going, Krauss said he didn't really hear much from Snoqualmie at all until he got two e-mails from the city near the end of the day on July 30. One was a final contract that Krauss said didn't reflect the changes he thought would be made, and the other was only the text from the Washington State law saying the city could not pay his portion of retirement.

By then Krauss had already made steps to move; signing a lease for a house in Snoqualmie, liquidating some assets and scheduling a moving van to pack him up a couple of days later.

The following day Krauss said he called Isley, who told him the city would have a conference call. Isley called later and told Krauss he was sorry the city could not accept his counter offer, effectively ending the negotiations.

"It's extremely disappointing for my wife and family," Krauss said. "It's unfortunate that a young family would be treated this way by a community."

Councilman Matt Larson, who was one of two council members present at the July 31 meeting (the other was Councilman Greg Fullington), said that he doesn't believe the city mishandled the negotiations in any way and that it went above and beyond what was called for to get Krauss to come.

"I think the city bent over backwards for Jay," Matt Larson said.

On Aug. 3, the City Council of Sturgeon Bay unanimously approved a motion allowing Krauss to withdraw his resignation and he was brought back on staff with no pay cut.

Fletcher said that Krauss and Bob Larson were the top two candidates in the search and that Snoqualmie is getting a qualified administrator who is the best fit for the city.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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