Update: Mayor Roumagoux is convening a special meeting of the city council next Thursday, May 16, 5pm, for a workshop discussion on how to begin recruiting a new city manager and possible options for appointing an interim city manager. The meeting is open to the public.
Embattled City Manager Jim Voetberg Thursday told Mayor Sandra Roumagoux that he is resigning his job with the city to take a management position with a public utility district near Everett, Washington. He told Mayor Roumagoux his last day with Newport will be June 4th. Mayor Roumagoux says she will convene the city council as soon as possible in a workshop setting to chart a way forward to replacing Voetberg. She added that she wants to concentrate on making Newport’s future brighter and stronger and that she wishes Voetberg well with his new position Upon learning of Voetberg’s resignation Councilor Dean Sawyer said he also didn’t want to dwell on the past but wished Voetberg well in his future endeavors. City Councilor Dick Beemer, who has had some brushes with Voetberg over the past year or so said about Voetberg’s departure, “No comment.”
Voetberg is credited with hiring Public Works Director Tim Gross to succeed former director Lee Ritzman and for hiring Finance Director David Marshall. Between the two they have forged a way forward to better maintain streets as well as improving water and sewer service throughout the town. Marshall is credited with correcting some financial dysfunctions within the city that led to technically illegal negative fund balances in some of the larger accounts on city ledgers.
But Voetberg has been roundly criticized for what some described as an ineffective management style – several employee surveys giving him quite low ratings in the areas of effective communications with staff, trustworthiness and taking staff concerns seriously. Even several city councils have given him low marks for “failing to effectively communicate with the council on important matters” as some councilors described it.
Recently, Voetberg arranged for a number of city employees to leave their positions with the city, giving them severance pay but requiring them to agree not to sue the city after they resigned. One recent lawsuit by a former human resources employee cost the city’s insurance carrier nearly $200,000, a second lawsuit brought by a former airport manager cost the city itself $80,000 as part of the settlement that the city’s insurance carrier refused to cover.
More recently Voetberg was described as telling the county transit director that the city would award the transit district $80,000 to maintain service levels only to tell his city council the city would offer nothing, claiming that “tourists don’t ride the bus.” The council, unaware of the earlier discussion between Voetberg and the transit director, said that they were concerned that such a withholding should be better researched as to whether the move was warranted or in the city’s interest. The money is expected to be put back in the budget for the transit district.
Voetberg has also been at the center of several controversies, one dealing with the simple problem of maintaining sight distances at blind corners. The infamous ten foot hedge at 58th and Rhododendron has been on the city manager’s desk, and at desks around the city from the police department to the code enforcement officer to the city municipal court. The city code enforcement officer told the property owner to trim it in accordance with site distance requirements. After multiple investigations spanning two years, the matter recently came back before the Newport Municipal Court in which the public works director said the hedge, indeed, is a traffic hazard as did the chief of police. But when the judge asked Voetberg whether he thought the hedge is a safety hazard, witnesses in the courtroom said Voetberg said he didn’t know – that he would have to defer to the public works director. But since the city code requires the city manager make that determination, and because he didn’t, the judge dismissed the case again, much to the angst and frustration of those who spent many, many hours trying to get a simple code violation handled.
Again, Voetberg’s last day is June 4th. The financial arrangement between the city and Voetberg has not been announced. Because he is an at-will employee of the council, his contract is open ended. Had he been fired, he would have left with four months pay and benefit, amounting to around fifty thousand dollars.
Here is his letter of resignation delivered to the council Thursday evening –