City of Mill Creek continues to lose valued employees

There’s no question that the City of Mill Creek has lost decades of institutional knowledge in the past year or so with the departures of long term employees. This week Finance Director Jeff Balentine’s office was empty.
Former Mill Creek Finance Director Jeff Balentine. Photo courtesy of City of Mill Creek.

By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.

There’s no question that the City of Mill Creek has lost decades of institutional knowledge in the past year or so with the departures of long term employees. This week a recent hire with significant Washington State finance experience resigned.

Finance Director Jeff Balentine’s office was empty on Monday, August 17th, and emails sent to his City of Mill Creek account were returned automatically with the reply, “Jeff Balentine is no longer working at the City of Mill Creek. Please direct all inquiries to Michael Ciaravino.”

Emails to City Manager Ciaravino and his Chief of Staff Grace Lockett requesting information regarding Balentine’s departure weren’t answered.

Balentine was hired by Ciaravino in March of this year bringing 15 years of local government experience to the city.

He was hired soon after Information Systems Manager James Busch resigned to take a job with Silver Lake Water District and immediately used his computer experience to provide IT support to the city.

At the time of his hire Ciaravino commented, “His knowledge of local government operations are second to none and the residents of Mill Creek will reap the benefits of that knowledge.”

Balentine, a Granite Falls resident, continued to serve as the City of Granite Falls Finance Director part time while working full time for the City of Mill Creek. He continues in this contract position at the present time.

A partial list of employees who have left city employ during Ciaravino’s tenure include Communications and Marketing Director Joni Kirk, Finance Director Peggy Lauerman, Human Resources Manager Laura Orlando, Information Systems Manager James Busch, Interim Finance Manager Tara Dunford, Public Works and Community Development Director Gina Hortillosa, Police Chief Greg Elwin, Public Works Supervisor Nathan Beagle, City Clerk Gina Pfister, Communications and Marketing Coordinator Meredith Cook, Communications and Marketing Coordinator Gordon Brink, Communications and Marketing Coordinator Bill Craig, Right-of-Way Inspector Larry Celustka, and Administrator Kim Mason-Hatt.

The Mill Creek City Council is currently conducting Ciaravino’s annual performance review in a number of executive sessions closed to the public. Staff turnover will likely be a topic of discussion.



City Leadership is a Problem

Leadership continues to be a problem at city hall.  One bad city manager after another.  Disrespecting valued employees and failing to have a clue on how to manage a WA state city and the rights of it's employees.  Now time to hold the mayor and council accountable.  They are the common denominator to the years of incompetent leadership. 

Mill Creek City Leadership

There does seem to be a common denominator that is very hard to deny and that is the city council.  Just maybe a full house cleaningis in order.  The problem is finding enoiugh competent people willing and able to take on what appears to be long standing problems.


Mill Creek Leadership

In my opinion, Mill Creek's "reputation" is a huge factor in the recruitment of professionals.  The city's track record of firing professionals is well known and many professionals are aware of the risks involved.   This City Council also has not helped the situation.  They refuse to be accountable and recognize they are a big part of the problem.  Going forward, the city's financial situation will be something to keep a close eye on.  Town Center is losing some valuable businesses that provide badly needed sales tax revenues.  The city cannot live on restaurants and their business.  It's not sustainable.

Council does not have a sustainable financial plan for the city and, as a result, basic services swill continue to erode.  This will also deter other "professionals" from applying to work for the city.  The only people that will apply are the ones who need a job.  Mill Creek will not attract the best candidates unless there are changes.

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