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North Bend administrator ousted

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing announced the firing of city administrator George Martinez July 18.

"It's time to move in a new direction," Hearing said. "I feel that Mr. Martinez is not a good fit for that direction."

Hearing later said he wants the city to become more business-friendly. He said he wants the new city administrator to be pro-active in leading the city through growth that is anticipated once the state allows the ongoing moratorium on new construction to end. The city imposed the moratorium nearly eight years ago due to insufficient city water rights so the state wouldn't impose sanctions.

Hearing said the city is making progress on meeting the requirements to end the moratorium. If all goes well, it could be over by year's end, he said. Hearing said he would like the new administrator to be up to speed by then, which is why he chose to fire Martinez now.

Hearing told Martinez July 6 of the impending dismissal. Martinez then took a prescheduled vacation. On July 16, Hearing said Martinez chose not to return from vacation to tie up loose ends. Martinez will receive the standard three-month severance package for supervisors who have been with the city three years or longer.

Martinez was unavailable for comment.

Martinez started working in North Bend as city clerk in December 2000. When former administrator Phil Messina left for a job in Oregon, Martinez was named interim administrator for three months before taking over full time. He had worked in municipal government since 1990 in Montana and Oregon as a city clerk, personnel analyst and interim city administrator before coming to North Bend.

Hearing said that when he started as mayor in 2004, he received good reports about Martinez. However, Hearing said he came to feel that Martinez wasn't doing enough to encourage the kind of vision Hearing has for North Bend. As mayor, Hearing has the authority to designate assistants and department heads. His choices must be ratified by the council.

"The feeling is we can't promote business in town," Hearing said.

For example, North Bend businesses shoulder about 70 percent of the city's general fund taxes compared to about 40 percent in Snoqualmie, Hearing said. North Bend has more businesses, and therefore more retail sales taxes collected, than Snoqualmie.

Hearing said he wants to hire an experienced city administrator who can take the kind of actions needed to encourage North Bend business.

"I want to find Bob Larson," Hearing said with a chuckle. He said Larson, Snoqualmie's city administrator, possesses many of the traits he would like to see in North Bend's new administrator.

Hearing's dismissal of Martinez comes on the heels of the June 2 resignation of former North Bend Community Services Director Larry Stockton, who left after 10 years with the city. Hearing said the reasons behind Stockton's departure were similar to those behind Martinez's dismissal. Hearing said he and other city leaders wanted someone who would more readily see what could be done to promote business rather than what couldn't be done.

Hearing said the city is moving forward with the process of finding a replacement for Stockton. Four qualified candidates are at the top of the list, Hearing said. He also said he plans to propose changing the position's duties to include economic development.

That preference is reflected by his preferred title for Stockton's successor: economic development and community services director.

Hearing said the top candidates will be interviewed July 27 and he hopes the new director can start by September. A search for a new city administrator will begin after the initial community services director interviews, Hearing said. That search initially will begin in Northwest states, he said.

The search could take several months, he said. In the interim, he will share the city administrator's duties with the city clerk and the directors of the city's public works and finance departments.

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