Kalispell City Council voted unanimously Monday to formally terminate the employment contract of City Manager Jim Patrick, and to hire Myrt Webb as the interim city manager in a contract tentatively scheduled to last 160 days. Webb begins work Tuesday.
After the city announced it was firing Patrick on Oct. 17, Kalispell council members said they had reached the decision in a closed executive meeting Oct. 13. The Daily Inter Lake contacted a Montana Newspaper Association (MNA) attorney who called the council’s action, done in private, illegal. The council’s action Monday night was done, in part, to refute that attorney’s opinion.
The council’s action Monday night was done, in part, to refute that attorney’s opinion.
“I think we tried to do everything open and above-board and I get a little disturbed when lawyers try to perpetuate their job,” Councilman Bob Hafferman said of the MNA attorney’s assertion.
Prior to the vote, former councilman Bob Heron questioned the council about what he saw as a rush to hire an interim city manager.
“It seems to me that every time this council gets in a hurry we make a mistake,” Heron said. “You’re going to hire a CEO for this city with no open public process … do you guys have the guts to slow this process down a little bit?”
Mayor Pam Kennedy responded that the council promptly hired an interim manager after Patrick’s predecessor, Chris Kukulski left, and that hiring someone local like Webb was less expensive than paying to relocate an interim city manager from outside the area – noting that she had already received two inquiries about the temporary job. She also said she did not want to overburden city department heads by putting the responsibility of running Kalispell on their shoulders.
Councilman Wayne Saverud pointed out that the city is at a crucial juncture and needs clear leadership.
“I think we all recognize the extremely tight budget the city has,” Saverud said. “This is a legislative year and we have to be on our toes.”
The council then voted unanimously to hire Webb. His contract can run longer than 160 days if a city manager isn’t hired sooner, and both the city and Webb can end the contract whenever they wish. His salary will be $4,000 per month, and he will not receive health insurance or retirement benefits, though he can accrue vacation and sick days. Webb will receive a cell phone and service, and use of a city vehicle for city business. Addressing the council, he reiterated his statement that he does not want the city manager job permanently.
In the work session after the formal meeting, the council gave its approval to the city’s community and economic development department to match the funds in a $12,500 grant awarded by the Montana State Historic Preservation office to expand and improve the Main Street historic district. The city will also apply for an Environmental Protection Agency grant of up to $400,000 so property owners along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks running through downtown can find out what contaminants lay in the soil. That knowledge would be among the first steps in using the railroad corridor, once the tracks are removed, to improve and re-develop that corridor where it runs through downtown.
The council also heard from the Public Works department on the capacity of the Grandview lift station to transport waste from new developments in the northwest part of Kalispell to the wastewater treatment facility on the city’s southern end. While the Grandview lift station can accommodate the first phases of the developments slated to go up on Kalispell’s north end, additional capacity may need to be added for future building. This could stifle the city’s growth in years to come, and Kennedy called for a meeting with affected landowners to discuss the potential problem.
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