Yakima City Manager: “I’m going to miss the people…”

Yakima City Manager: “I’m going to miss the people…”
Yakima City Manager Cliff Moore announced Thursday that he’ll be leaving in a month to go back into a field near and dear to his heart: higher education.

After three years serving as Yakima City Manager, Cliff Moore hopes his legacy will be one of collaboration and congeniality.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to serve here in Yakima,” Moore said. “I’ll always carry a warm spot in my heart and a fondness for the work that we have done here.”

On Thursday, Moore announced he’ll be leaving in a month to go back into a field near and dear to his heart: higher education.

KAPP-KVEW spoke with Moore about his tenure as city manager and what happens to the position now that he’s moving on.

Looking forward: the new job

Moore has accepted a job as the director of the Jefferson County extension of Washington State University, which includes programs like 4-H, Master Gardeners, water quality education and agricultural education.

Over the past decade, Moore has worked at the City of Yakima and in various positions at Thurston County — a period he describes as his “brief detour” into municipal government in an otherwise higher education-focused career.

Moore worked as the Thurston County Department of Resource Stewardship director from 2009 to 2013, the Thurston County Manager from 2013 to 2016 and as the Yakima City manager from 2016 to present.

Before that “brief detour”, Moore worked for WSU for nearly two decades: as the associate director of WSU distance degree programs from 1991 to 2004 and then as the Thurston County extension director from 2004 to 2009.

“I’ve missed higher education,” Moore said. “I really believe in helping local communities learn. I love that part of the extension job.”

The new position is based in Port Townsend, Wash., a town in which his wife used to live in as well as a place where they have friends and have spent a lot of time in.

“It’s always been kind of in the back of our minds that maybe we could live there someday,” Moore said.

Moore says he applied to the position in late February. His last day as Yakima City Manager will be Aug. 20.

“It’s not that I can’t do the job or don’t like the job,” Moore said. “It’s just an opportunity to do something a little bit different from what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years and go back to something that I had done for a long time that I really enjoyed.”

Looking back: the good times

When looking back over his time as city manager, Moore says what he’s proudest of is the relationships he’s built with staff members.

“I’m going to miss the people that I work with,” Moore said. “The folks around the senior leadership table and staff in every department have been just fantastic to work with … I’ve learned so much from them.”

Moore says when he started in July 2016, the staff and leadership was not as close as it is now. He said he’s worked hard at “reestablishing a culture of collaboration and collegiality,” including between the city and other local governments.

Another thing Moore says he’s proud of is the change in the city’s approach to balancing its budget. Prior to his tenure, the council had been dipping into the city’s savings to balance accounts.

Moore said it took a lot of work by city staff and council members had to make difficult decisions, but they pulled through.

“We balanced the budget without dipping into reserves this year,” Moore said. “We will do it again next year.”

Moore said he believes the city is on track to replenish its savings account, which will improve its bond and credit ratings, making future projects cheaper for taxpayers.

The council started working on the 2020 budget about four months ago. Moore says he’s not worried about his departure affecting the budget process because of the confidence he has in staff, leadership and council members.

“It’s going to be a challenge but I believe the culture of discipline has been accepted and adopted by council and by our senior leaders,” Moore said.

Looking back: the not-so-good times

While Moore says he’s enjoyed his time in Yakima, it’s hasn’t been easy or without conflict.

When asked what the most challenging part of his job has been, Moore pointed to his strained relationship with the Yakima Police Patrolman’s Association.

“The challenges that I faced with the police union recently were very difficult,” Moore said. “In all candor, that was the hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with.”

In March, YPPA chairman Ira Cavin spoke on behalf of the union, which took a vote of no confidence in Moore.

“As the leader of the city of Yakima, he should embody the mission vision and values of the city of Yakima. Instead he has fostered a culture of distrust, hostility and lack of transparency,” Cavin wrote in a letter to council members.

The union says Moore has repeatedly undermined the police’s authority by micromanaging and making decisions that cause dysfunction and disconnect within the police department.

“I think I understand why they approached the matter the way they did and I think it was very unfortunate,” Moore said.

In his letter of response, Moore addressed the allegations line-by-line — including the YPPA’s claim that he “fostered a culture of distrust, hostility and lack of transparency.”

“What I’m understanding from council is I think they were satisfied with my response,” Moore said. “But that was very disheartening … troubling and challenging.”

After convening an executive session to review Moore’s letter, the council voted 6 -1 — with Kay Funk voting against — to accept Moore’s explanation of events.`

In early May, the police union responded to Moore’s explanation in another letter to the council, providing them with more than 100 pages of evidence to support their claims.

Moore wrote the council another letter, discussing all the communication and evidence thus far. The council decided again not to further investigate the union’s claims.

“Those things, I think, have been resolved,” Moore said. “Twice, the council has voted 6-1 to consider the matter closed and resolved and so I think we’ve moved way past that now.”

Looking back: previous city manager searches

The Yakima City Council will be discussing plans to replace Moore at their July 16 business meeting. Moore says he’ll be bringing a list of possible recruiting firms for the council’s consideration to that meeting.

“I’ll help in any way I can between now and the time I go,” Moore said.

The City of Yakima has had five interim or permanent city managers since long-time former city manager Dick Zais retired after 32 years. Zais served in the position from 1979 to 2011.

When Zais left, then-assistant city manager Michael Morales was appointed as interim city manager and served from July 2011 to September 2011.

In April 2011, the council contracted with Florida-based Baenziger and Associates for $23,500 — about $26,800 in 2019 dollars — to find a new city manager, producing former city manager Don Cooper, who came on in September 2011.

Cooper served for just a few months before resigning to take care of his wife. Morales became interim city manager again in December 2011.

The council then turned to Baenziger again to look for Cooper’s replacement, receiving about 40 applications. Council members chose former city manager Tony O’Rourke, who started in July 2012.

O’Rourke served in the position for three years. He announced his intent to resign in August 2015, but took that resignation back before agreeing to leave with a four-month severance package.

City Attorney Jeff Cutter took over as interim city manager in November 2015. The search for O’Rourke’s replacement began in January 2016.

The council did not reach out to Baenziger for their services this time, instead approving a $21,500 contract — about $23,000 in 2019 dollars — with The Prothman Company in February 2016.

The company solicited 20 applications, narrowed the list to eight semi-finalists and presented candidates to the council.

By May 2016, council members had picked four finalists and chosen Moore as the winner. Moore began work in July 2016 after a seven-month-long search process.

Looking forward: advice for the next city manager

While the turnover for the city manager position seems high, Moore said it’s not uncommon for a city to go through managers every three to five years. He said with pressure from staff, the council and the community, the job can be exhausting.

“It’s tough work and people come and go,” Moore said. “I mean, it literally is a 24-7 job: you can’t get away from the job.”

As Moore was speaking about the demands of the job, his cell phone began to ring as if to punctuate his point.

“Could that be more perfect?” Moore said, shaking his head.

When asked what advice he would give to the next city manager, Moore had this to say:

“Don’t forget to laugh because you’ve got to have a sense of humor in this … Be good to yourself too because it’s demanding. It’s emotionally and intellectually demanding but it also can be physically demanding because you’re running from meeting to meeting and event to event … It’s always fun and entertaining and interesting and important but sometimes it can be exhausting as well, so take care of yourself.”

Moore said he hopes the next city manager will continue to listen, respect, honor and take advice from city staff members

“The people that I work with on a daily basis: I love those people,” Moore said. “That’s going to be the hardest part about leaving this job.”