By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.
The City of Mill Creek is moving forward this year to improve service delivery by increasing staffing levels in a number of departments.
Hiring has begun in earnest to fill some new positions and to replace a number of employees who have left the city.
After weeks of discussions and staff presentations, the Mill Creek City Council unanimously approved biennial budget amendments on December 6, 2019, making significant changes in operations and capital projects.
The revised operations budget allows increased staffing levels to provide improved service and gives City Manager Michael Ciaravino the opportunity to restructure his management team at a time when he is down to two director-level staffers from the four he started out with when he took on the job at the beginning of May.
The city explained the reason for Communication and Marketing Director Joni Kirk’s termination in August, but Finance Director Peggy Lauerman’s absence since the end of June has not yet been disclosed.
It’s interesting to note that both Kirk and Lauerman were whistleblowers who informed the city council of former City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto’s behavior, resulting in her termination last year.
In a telephone interview Ciaravino said his goal is to “prepare the city for the next decade and beyond” by creating an organization with “a more efficient model of municipal government.”
Working without a full-time finance director, a marketing and communications director, a full-time city clerk, and reduced staffing levels in a number of other departments Ciaravino has been forced to take on a number of tasks normally done by others.
He said, “Doing the work myself has helped me understand how things are done in Mill Creek.”
Here are Ciaravino’s planned staffing changes:
Executive, Finance, and Communications and Marketing Departments
Ciaravino plans to add a high-level chief of staff to the Executive Department who will be tasked with developing the city’s comprehensive regulatory compliance framework as well as providing management support to all departments. A formal search to fill this position began at the end of December.
A search for a new finance director began on November 4th, but the new budget replaces the director position in the Communications and Marketing Department with a second communications and marketing coordinator position that has already been filled.
Ciaravino himself plans to take over many of the community outreach duties once performed by the communications and marketing director.
A search for a new city clerk also began in November because of long-time city employee Gina Pfister’s resignation.
An executive assistant position was added to assist the city clerk with public records requests and administrative tasks. This job was posted to the city’s career center at the end of December.
The revised budget adds a police patrol officer position to the Police Department in 2020, but this position won’t be filled until city councilmembers are convinced it is necessary.
The number of police officers assigned to regular patrol duties was reduced when Officer Todd Bridgman was assigned to be school resource officer at Heatherwood Middle School in October last year.
This new school resource officer position is fully funded by the Everett School District with a $176,500 per year interlocal agreement.
At the September 10th city council meeting Chief Greg Elwin explained that filling the Heatherwood School Resource Officer position took a police officer from regular patrol duties. In order to preserve public safety the remaining officers are putting in overtime.
At an October city council meeting Elwin said that regularly scheduled overtime is not optimal and adds stress to patrol officers, which may affect their performance.
At the same meeting Ciaravino told the city council that hiring an additional police officer wouldn’t cost more than the additional overtime now costs.
Elwin is preparing detailed operations and budget information to present to the city council early this year, which may convince them to allow this budgeted position to be filled.
Public Works and Development Services Department
The revised budget adds two positions to the Public Works and Development Services Department, a new surface water engineer and an additional maintenance worker.
The surface water engineer primary focus will be on the planned repair of the city’s aging stormwater system and the implementation of a geographic information system to assist in this task. This person will also inspect private surface water facilities like stormwater retention ponds to make sure they are properly maintained.
The search for a surface water engineer formally began at the end of December.
The additional maintenance worker will improve the level of service in the city’s parks, streets, sidewalks, and other facilities. This person will also enable the city to better respond to emergency events like the snow storms that shut down many streets last winter.