The city of Tacoma is looking for a new director of public utilities after Bill Gaines announced his retirement last week.
With a salary of $387,650 he is one of the highest paid employees in the state of Washington. He will retire at the end of this year with a one-year salary.
Tacoma Public Utilities is the largest department in Tacoma and is publicly owned. The director’s position must be reconfirmed every two years by the TPU board as well as city council.
While the TPU board decided to reconfirm Gaines, sources tell KING 5 that Tacoma City Council didn’t expect to have enough votes to reconfirm Gaines and with that knowledge Gaines put in for retirement.
"As communities evolve, you sometimes need to go in a different direction when you have leadership," said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland Tuesday.
Publicly there has been support for Gaines but there's also been criticism.
In his employee review TPU board members noted that he failed to maintain focus on controlling rate increases and didn't create a usable business plan for the Click Network, the city's public cable service.
But one of the biggest concerns has his relationship to the public.
Board member, Karen Larkin provided a critique at a TPU board meeting in June.
"He lacks respect for city council, the public city government and anyone who challenges and disagree with him on issues," she said.
Tacoma City Council passed a resolution Tuesday which accepts Gaines retirement at the end of this year and underscores the need for a public search process for the next director.
"The highest paid person in our organization should be someone who has a thorough vetting process," said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland Tuesday.
Several people showed up to voice their support of Gaines.
"He is approachable smart and a no-nonsense kind of leader," said Laura Fox, former TPU board member.
Fox and others including current TPU board member Monique Trudnowski expressed concern that city council has been pushing to have more power over TPU.
"This becomes very politicized," said Trudnowski at a TPU board meeting in June.
"I am very concerned that this is falling prey to political meddling," said Fox Tuesday.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland is firm about in city's role and the responsibility of the role of TPU director.
“It's not meddling when you do your job.”
In an email from a TPU spokesperson Gaines declined an on-camera interview and forwarded an email he sent to staff last week that said he had "mixed emotions" about his retirement:
“I thoroughly enjoy the work I do, the issues we are involved in, and the many talented people both inside and outside TPU that I am privileged to work with. I’m proud of the team we have built, and the many accomplishments we achieved together in the past decade. Based on the feedback we receive from numerous constituencies, there is no question that TPU is performing at outstanding levels.”
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