City hires a specialist in municipal messes

The city approved an interim city manager contract for island resident Lee Walton, who has made a post-retirement career out of helping cities in tough spots.

Six years ago, he helped Bainbridge transition between two city administrators.

He’s parachuted into hairy situations for several cities in Washington, Oregon and California. He’s even built city governments from scratch in Kazakhstan, Estonia and other former communist nations shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Read my story about Walton below.

The City Council appointed a former Bainbridge city administrator to helm City Hall as it looks for a new city manager.

Lee Walton, a Bainbridge resident who served as interim city administrator between 2003 and 2004, will take over for outgoing City Manager Mark Dombroski until a permanent replacement is hired.

Since retiring from a city manager post in California, Walton has become a specialist in helping cities with challenging situations. He has served several interim city manager positions, helped create new cities and assisted former communist countries establish democratic forms of local government.

“I retired in 1991 but I’ve been working harder ever since,” Walton said.

Walton spent almost 30 years managing the California cities of San Luis Obispo, Martinez and Antioch. After moving to Bainbridge in 1994, he served interim city manager stints in Puyallup, Arlington, Mukilteo, Bonney Lake and cities in California and Oregon.

He helped form the cities of Sammamish and Spokane Valley, and managed them during their first several months.

“I just attended the 10-year-anniversary of Sammamish,” he said. “They have a picture of me in my pickup truck with my cell phone. That was the first city phone line and my truck, that was the first city hall.”

Contracting with the U.S. State Department, Walton helped set up local governments in Russia, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Georgia and Estonia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Working in Russian cities and then here in the U.S. is quite a change,” he said.

Despite having tackled plenty of tough situations, Walton said he was a little hesitant to enter the fray at Bainbridge City Hall, which suffers from budgetary problems, lawsuits, staff resignations, council in-fighting and is transitioning to a new form of government.

“Why do I want to work there? Good question. I keep asking myself that,” he said. “It’ll be interesting, and I like challenges. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some good.”

As specified in his contract, Walton will be paid $65 an hour and will receive no benefits, vacation leave or other benefits.

Walton’s appointment will require an additional cost outlay in the 2009 budget of about $25,000 for his services until the end of the year.

Dombroski’s last day is Friday.