City Council names first choice for city manager

Michelle Park


Credit: Andrew popik

The city of Kent may hire itself a new city manager, who is creative and innovative — innovative, at the very least, in his dealings with goose poop.

After a short executive session, the eight Council members who were present at last night’s meeting voted unanimously to authorize Council’s legal director to begin negotiations with Dave Ruller, one of the city manager candidates. James Silver, the legal director, will probably begin negotiations tomorrow, Councilman Wayne Wilson said.

Ruller, a husband and father of two, said he is “thrilled” with Council’s decision.

Several council members said Ruller’s innovative methods of city management stood out. One such innovative method involved addressing mass quantities of goose poop, Wilson said.

Ruller, who currently works as the assistant city manager for public works and utilities for Kingsport, Tenn., laughed when asked about his experience with goose droppings. Within the past year, Kingsport needed a clean-up solution to large amounts of goose feces on a popular, eight-mile paved trail. The geese in Tennessee stay year-round, and when they molt, or stay sedentary, their droppings tend to accumulate.

Ruller said he led a team of employees, which did its homework, contacted experts and studied what other communities were doing to address similar problems. When they presented an outlined plan to Kingsport City Council, however, the Council determined it did not have the funding for the plan.

“Rather than just sort of throwing our hands in the air, we kind of went back to the table,” Ruller said. The team realized geese don’t like to be where potential predators may be. Thus, they decided not to mow the grass to see if taller grasses would deter the geese from hanging around the city’s paved trail.

It did, and the goose poop was contained.

In addition to his innovative ideas, council members said they also appreciated Ruller’s enthusiasm and economic development experience. Councilman Edward Bargerstock said Ruller’s personality was also impressive.

“I was rather bowled over by his personality,” Bargerstock said. “I thought he was a very exciting person, and I think he’ll bring excitement to the community.”

Ruller declined to mention specific goals for the new position.

“I’m coming in, certainly proud of the experience I have,” he said. “One of the things I believe (is) I may bring experience, I may have areas of expertise, but I don’t come with answers.”

He did say he hopes to unlock the capabilities of the community and agrees with council members when they say Kent deserves the best.

“Kent should expect no less, and I expect to deliver no less,” he said.

If Ruller accepts a contract with the city, he will become the new city manager.

If he were to decline, Council would then decide whether it wants to extend an invitation to either of the remaining two candidates, Patrick Titterington or Jerome Kisscorni, Wilson said.

Council is negotiating a city manager salary between $90,000 and $105,000, within a one-year, renewable contract, and it hopes to have its new city manager begin by June 15, Wilson said. The previous city manager, Lew Steinbrecher, was making about $92,000 per year when he left last September after seven years within the position.

Currently, Ruller earns $87,000 annually. He is responsible for a staff of 260 employees, an annual capital budget of $10 million and an operating budget of $34 million, according to his resumé. He declined to comment on a salary he would accept in his negotiations with Kent, but he did mention that the consultant company with which Council is working contacted him last week to discuss possible negotiations.

The consultant company, The Mercer Group, Inc., may have contacted any of the candidates, Wilson said. During its executive session, Council asked the company for information on the candidates, and if the company did not have that information available, it may have contacted the candidates to obtain it. At least one of the other candidates, Titterington, said he was contacted by the consultant last week.

City managers are hired by Council and serve as the city’s chief executive officer, according to the Kent City Council’s Web site. Council has been searching for its new city manager since October, and Ruller was Council’s second alternate candidate. Had other candidates not dropped from the city manager race, Ruller may not have had the opportunity to visit Kent and interview for the position.

Regarding Ruller’s ultimate ability to visit, Councilwoman Beth Oswitch said “things just work out for the best.”

Each of the candidates for the position was well qualified, Wilson said.

“I think all three of the candidates were very fine candidates,” he said. “It was a very tough decision. I don’t think we have a loser there.”

Contact public affairs reporter Michelle Park at [email protected].