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EXCLUSIVE: City Manager Julie Underwood Responds to Ex-Planning Director Joe Tovar's Final E-Mail

Underwood says "challenging financial times," forced her to make difficult decisions regarding 2012 budget that Tovar couldn't live with

Editor's note: Patch asked Shoreline City Manager Julie Underwood to respond to that former Shoreline Planning Director Joe Tovar sent to city employees on his final day of work with the city that criticized her for not supporting the planning department and city staff for not being truthful about the consequences of budget cuts to his department. 

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the recent posting by Mr. Tovar upon his release from City of Shoreline employment. 

It is unfortunate that Mr. Tovar chose to send this misleading email at the last hour of his last day.  Mr. Tovar’s public response to his own private personnel matter is not something we should expect from our city’s department directors – or any public professional.  His inaccurate charges are not only harmful to the organization but to the City as well.

We are in challenging financial times. For the 2012 Budget, I had to make difficult decisions in alignment with Council priorities.  Given our finite resources, the City had to reduce spending and staffing like many homes and businesses.

Mr. Tovar clearly could not support these decisions.  Therefore, in the interest of continuing to move the City forward, last fall Mr. Tovar and I negotiated mutually acceptable terms for Mr. Tovar’s separation from employment. 

Pursuant to our verbal agreement, I announced on October 18, 2011 that Mr. Tovar would be departing – and, out of consideration and trust, allowed that he would remain with the City through the first part of January 2012.  I am confident my decision was in the best interest of Shoreline.

As we move forward, I want to reassure our citizens of the City’s commitment to serving Shoreline residents with the professionalism and excellence they have come to expect and deserve. We welcome constructive feedback offered in the best interests of our city.  Difficult decisions – that are aligned with Council priorities – will continue to be made with careful judgment and compassion.

Sincerely,

Julie Underwood

City Manager

City of Shoreline

Karla Fay February 14, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Julie did not announce Joe Tovar's departure on October 18, 2011 - it had leaked out before she made any comment - she was asked at a public meeting about his resignation and was unhappy she had to respond. Secondly, the city did cut staff in the planning & development department but replaced them in the public works department, so there was no net loss of positions. The capital improvement positions that were lost were specific to projects that are being wound down at the present time. Thirdly, by cutting two planners when the comprehensive plan update is due, Julie Underwood has had to resort to hiring outside consultants in the amount (at the present time) that would have paid for at least one full-time planner for fewer hours than the city will receive from a planning consultant - this is penny-wise pound-foolish management. Julie has no business discussing professionalism and responsible financial management since she has been part of the leadership team that has run the city into the red. Under her watch there have been so many executive sessions during dinner meetings that it could make one's head spin.
one opinion February 15, 2012 at 01:34 AM
I didn’t find this vague, public response helpful, as it merely noted differences of opinion, a situation that's common. Apparently, in his 5 previous and similar positions, Mr. Tovar was delegated responsibility and authority, but this time, just responsibility. Perhaps this was due to the newness of Ms. Underwood as CM, but in my experience, having responsibility but no authority is more “the rule” and not “the exception”; he's been fortunate. The email dispelled stories that the Planning Dept. was hard to work with, citing extremely-positive survey results and customer service ratings. She could have proven/disproven this, but didn't, though I’ve never found them hard to work with. Tovar also noted that permit revenue is but one aspect of measuring “busy,” which I agree with, but I’ve known too many managers to only rely on written reports-at their peril. The last point was objecting to staff cuts, not surprising from their director, and the consequences of this will be proven/disproven in short time. Irregardless, this CM was put in charge, and it was her prerogative to make this personnel decision, a good one for both given their evidently-strained relationship. It sounds, though, like the CM doesn't trust her directors, doesn't gather info widely before deciding, and relies on written reports rather than observing for herself. This doesn't bode well for Shoreline. The City Council, who chose Ms. Underwood as CM, should hold her accountable.
K Brad February 15, 2012 at 05:03 AM
I wonder how much his severance pay was. Are we now paying two city planners? Is that not a waste of money? Sheesh, some people can't see the forest for the trees. Kerri Bradford - 36 year resident of Shoreline
Karla Fay February 27, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Kerri - there is no severance pay when the separation is voluntary, Joe Tovar left voluntarily.
Karen Easterly-Behrens March 21, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Very often public officials lack the courage to stand up for what they believe in. Mr. Tovar's honesty has to be respected. He had everything to loose and nothing to gain. The City Manager has started a process that has denied the citizens input into their own city government. The dinner meetings where "city goals" can be discussed in absence of public view is a dangerous violation of the public trust and state law!

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