Woodland ready to replace fired official

Council votes Tuesday on hiring La Center employee as its new public works director

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Six months after Woodland fired its public works director for unspecified reasons, the city’s council will vote Tuesday night on a possible full-time replacement.

The city’s seven-member council will decide whether to authorize Mayor Grover Laseke to hire La Center city engineer Bart Stepp as the city’s public works director. If approved, Stepp would replace Ken Alexander, who has worked for the city on a contract basis since September. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 100 Davidson Ave.

Woodland fired its most recent full-time public works director, Steve Branz, on Aug. 23 for an unspecified cause. Weeks earlier, the city launched an investigation into whether he properly publicized and obtained the necessary bids on a drywall project before awarding the contract.

City officials continue to be close-lipped about Branz’s departure due to potential pending litigation.

Woodland leaders interviewed four candidates for its public works director position in January.

Stepp “came out on top of everybody’s assessment,” Laseke said.

Stepp, 40, has a mathematics degree from the College of Idaho and a master’s in civil engineering from the University of Portland. He is registered as an environmental engineer in Washington, Oregon and Montana. He has also completed 90 hours of public works management and administration training, Woodland officials said.

Stepp’s engineering background would allow the city to save money on projects where such expertise would normally require the hiring of an outside consultant, Laseke added. Stepp’s city government experience with water, sewer and street programs, and his familiarity with Woodland, were key considerations, too.

“I’m hoping to do stuff in-house and have better response with developers,” Stepp said, noting he was not implying developers’ response had been poor in the past.

According to the contract proposal, Stepp would receive $7,361 per month. He would be hired on the eighth of a nine-step pay raise scale, and would be eligible for a scale increase on March 5, 2013. A city-owned vehicle will also be provided to Stepp, including gas and maintenance costs.

Alexander is paid $7,200 per month in his interim capacity -- the same amount Branz was scheduled to earn.

If Stepp is hired, Woodland would receive “an excellent employee,” La Center Mayor Jim Irish said.

Irish noted Stepp saved La Center “millions” by doing the engineering work on the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

“Besides being a well-liked employee by his peers and everybody he works with, he’s an all-around dedicated and highly respected individual,” Irish said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend;http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.