New mayor plans changes at city hall

Administrator will lose job

LANGLEY — Langley’s next mayor Paul Samuelson will restructure city hall when he takes office in January.

And one of his first changes will cost current City Administrator Walt Blackford his job.

Samuelson said his management style doesn’t call for a full-time city administrator.

“I’ll spend a lot more time in the office,” Samuelson said.

“I don’t see the need for a city administrator in my administration,” he added.

Instead, Samuelson is thinking about hiring a part-time administrative assistant.

“It’s customary for a new administration to reassess the needs,” Samuelson said. “I’ll be a different mayor than Neil (Colburn).”

Blackford was disappointed.

“I understand that the mayor-elect has the right to choose his own staff. Nonetheless, his decision to eliminate the city administrator position was unexpected and came as a surprise to me,” Blackford said.

“I am disappointed to lose a job that I love. And I am disappointed to lose the opportunity to be of service to my community,” he added.

Blackford was hired as city administrator in February 2004. He has been a driving force behind resolving controversies such as the battle over Fairgrounds Road or the transfer of the city marina to the Port of South Whidbey.

Samuelson said the change in personnel is unrelated to Blackford’s performance.

“I have no problems at all with Walt,” he said. “I respect him and he has done an excellent job at city hall.”

However, the current mayor said eliminating the city administrator position without a adequate transitional period will make Samuelson’s job tougher.

“I urged Paul in strong language not to do it,” Colburn said. “I strongly disagree with his decision.”

Colburn added that Blackford’s institutional memory and knowledge on specific projects won’t be easy to replace.

“Walt has been invaluable for me,” Colburn said. “He’s kind of the quarterback and I was the coach. He’s always there.”

Colburn said the details of Blackford’s release are still up in the air. Samuelson doesn’t have any executive power until he takes office Jan. 1. Colburn said, Blackford is a city employee, not a contractor, and has the same employment protection as all city employees.

Samuelson said the reason he is talking about personnel changes at city hall now, before he officially becomes mayor, is to give Blackford time to adjust and find a new job.

Blackford said he will still help Samuelson and other workers at city hall until he finds a new job.

“Until I have secured other work, I am willing to share my knowledge and experience as a consultant if this will help provide a smooth transition for the new administration,” Blackford said.

Blackford thanked Colburn for his trust and the community for its support.

“Of course, I also am grateful to Mayor Colburn for giving me the chance to serve the city and to make many new friends in the process,” Blackford said.

Last year, Samuelson, in his capacity as councilman, voted for a pay increase for both the mayor’s position and the city administrator’s position. The council unanimously approved the pay raises and said it was needed to attract quality people to the job.

The mayor’s pay was raised from $14,400 to $21,000, a 45-percent increase.

The city administrator’s pay went up from $43,000 to $48,000 a year.

Cutting the position of city administrator and hiring an administrative assistant instead will not have a adverse impact on the city’s budget, Samuelson said.

“If at all, it will save money,” he said.

Blackford was hired initially to work approximately 20 hours a week, and first made about $500 a week up to a maximum of $20,500 annually. But the position grew over the years.

Blackford took over the job from Lynn Hicks in 2004, who served as the city’s administrator and attorney.

Former Mayor Lloyd Furman hired Hicks as city administrator in 2002. She and her predecessor, Eric Lucas, had worked in a combined attorney and administrator position.

When Colburn became mayor he decided to separate the positions and chose Blackford as his city administrator.

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