New city manager ready to make changes
February 10, 2014
Filed under The425
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“If you had told me 15 years ago that I was going to be a city manager, I would have been like ‘what?’”
This came from new Mountlake Terrace City Manager Arlene Fisher, who was unanimously chosen by the city council as the preferred candidate for the position following a series of interviews on Jan. 25. Fisher is set to begin actively working for MLT in mid-March.
Fisher has worked in public service for 33 years, specifically running cities for the past 13 years.
A Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Business/Finance with a management emphasis is what set her above the other candidates, according to councilman Doug McCardle.
“She has a strong financial background, so she would be a real asset to our city finances. Also, she has a good overall background,” McCardle said. “We’re looking forward to having her on staff and she’s going to keep this city moving forward.”
For councilman Seaun Richards, it was Fisher’s energy and preparation that set her above the rest. When asked about the budget and the direction of the city, it was clear that Fisher had done her research, according to Richards.
Of everything that Fisher said, what stuck in Richards’ mind the most was, “I will give 200 percent of my time and energy to the city and hope I can fill 90 percent of John [Caulfield’s] shoes.”
“Fisher has ideas on how to keep moving MLT in the direction that it’s going. I’m looking forward to her leadership and abilities,” Richards said.
In 2001, Fisher was one of the key people in incorporating the City of Liberty Lake and was the first employee hired. After seven years, she transferred to the City of Cheney where she has worked for the past six years.
“It was probably the fact that I built a city and have gone into a city that was already long established [that put me ahead of the other candidates]. I have multiple experiences,” Fisher said. “It was also probably my strong financial background and degrees. I know accounting and numbers and how to run a city well financially.”
In Cheney, Fisher settled a couple of long-term lawsuits that were costing the city a lot of money. She has also aided in the rebuilding of the community center after its collapse, secured $500,000 for a 50 acre park complex, secured a grant for $350,000 for an industrial park, and revitalized downtown core of Cheney, similar to the revitalization happening in the downtown core of Mountlake Terrace.
Fisher is also a part of several different community groups in Cheney. Among them are groups that fundraise, oversee city insurance policies, put on social events and represent the interests of the people in the Cheney community.
“One of the things you should know about me is I like to be involved. I like to know people and I want them to know me,” Fisher said.
One of the groups Fisher is a member of, the Eastern Wasington University (EWU) Foundation Board of Trustees, does athletic and student fundraising for the university. Fisher donates money to the foundation to go toward single mothers trying to get an education.
The Cheney Rotary is another one of the community groups that Fisher is a member of. She enjoys being a part of the rotary and hopes to join the local rotary once transferring to MLT.
MLT’s need for a new manager
The MLT City Manager position has been vacant since previous city manager John Caulfield resigned his position on July 2, 2013 to work as the City Manager of Lakewood. Since then, the search for someone to fill his place has been in the process.
In order to begin the search, the MLT City Council hired Colin Baenziger and Associates, a consulting firm out of Florida. From that point, the firm dealt with posting jobs, recruiting and applications. After compiling information on the applicants in a report, the firm gave a file to the council.
Based on the firm’s report, the city council picked their top five candidates and voted on them to narrow it down to a top three. The top three candidates, Phil Messina, Subir Mukerjee and Arlene Fisher, were interviewed by the council and based on the interviews the final decision was made.
“All of the candidates were very well qualified. It was a tough decision,” McCardle said.
During the months between Caulfield’s resignation and Fisher’s appointment, Scott Hugill has filled in as the interim city manager.
In the time Hugill has been working as city manager, the city council has been continuing on its work with programs at the recreation center as well as capital projects. Among these are the addition of bike lanes, the senior center’s move, Ballinger park’s opening and the town center project.
“The city council has continued pursuing the goal of what has been requested from the community,” Hugill said.
As city manager Hugill has enjoyed meeting citizens at events like coffee with the city as well as working with the council. However, he is also looking forward to the energy that Fisher is going to bring to the city.
“Fisher will help the city continue forward with programs and services so they will meet the needs of the city,” Hugill said.
After living in Cheney for last six years, one may wonder why Fisher is moving across the state to begin working in MLT.
The two cities are very different. Whereas MLT is an urban community, Cheney is more rural. Also, due to the college located in Cheney, EWU, a very large portion of the population is made up of students. Of the 23,000 people in Cheney, 12,000 are college students. While the number of residents in both cities are fairly close, the college-focus of Cheney is a big change from the family-oriented tone in MLT.
There are several different reasons that Fisher wants to move to a place somewhere so far and so different from her current home. Part of her motivation is her desire to come to Western Washington, specifically the Seattle area. In addition to this, she has two daughters who live in the general area. Fisher is also excited to work with a very “forward-thinking” council.
“Back in 2007, the mayor and city council [of MLT] really had a vision to save the downtown area. The visionaries back then had a dream and put it on paper, made it conceivable,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s attitude goes along well with MLT’s current motto: Keep moving forward.
“The kind of change that MLT made moves the community forward to what’s next, and that’s what makes the community grow and also what makes it desirable,” she continued.
The previous MLT City Manager John Caulfield influenced Fisher to apply for and pursue the city manager position. He was the first to ask her if she had considered filling his position, which led her to consider it more seriously.
“I consider John a mentor and I’m excited to follow him,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s aspirations for MLT
Fisher hopes that her financial skills will be an asset to MLT. To prepare for her position, she has studied and become familiar with the city budget.
After being a part of the revitalization of the downtown core of Cheney, Fisher believes that she really understands what’s going on here and what needs to be done. She supports the capital projects going on.
One of the projects Fisher specifically expressed support for is the replacement of old pipes and repaving of roads in downtown MLT.
“Capital infrastructure is critically important to the city – things wear out over time and you have to replace them,” Fisher said.
Fisher also hopes to help find a solution for the MLT Civic Center proposal. After taking a proposition for the rebuild of a city hall to vote three times, it has still failed to reach the super majority necessary to pass the proposition.
“It’s hard to ask for more money from the community, but to do that the citizens have to see the return of their money in the way it benefits them. Those are the things that we’ll work on,” Fisher said.
Above all, Fisher has expressed her excitement to be working with “a very smart and talented staff who have the city’s heart in the right place.”
“I work for the citizens of MLT, the mayor and the city council. As city manager, it is my responsibility to run the entire city,” Fisher said. “I hope to stay as long as [MLT] will have me, so hopefully a long time.”