Ridgefield city councilors voted unanimously Thursday night to make Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart the city’s new top administrator.
Stuart, a 42-year-old Ridgefield native, will begin his job as Ridgefield’s next city manager on April 14. He has spent the last 10 years on the Board of Clark County Commissioners, where he’s currently the lone Democrat.
In January, Stuart announced that he wouldn’t seek another term on the board, expressing his frustration with the job. The announcement followed a stressful year of antagonism between Stuart and Republican commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke.
Stuart did not announce specific plans to step down from his position with the county. Mielke and Madore will have to choose his successor from a list provided by Clark County Democrats.
Stuart was selected over Assistant Vancouver Police Chief Chris Sutter for the city manager position. Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow said he and the councilors were impressed with the two finalists’ qualifications, but they especially liked that Stuart presented a 90-day plan for the city during his interview.
In an interview with The Columbian earlier in the day, Onslow said the council was looking for a forward-thinking manager with a clear vision for the city. He and the councilors said Stuart proved to be just that kind of candidate.
“I think that a lot of people that applied don’t understand how forward Ridgefield is moving,” Onslow said.
The new city manager will earn a salary in the range of $105,000 to $125,000. A specific salary was not disclosed Thursday.
Stuart replaces Phil Messina, an Oregonian who kept the job less than a year before resigning in November, citing personal reasons. The council appointed Lee Knottnerus, the city’s clerk and administrative services director, to step in as the city searched for a permanent replacement.
Ridgefield has had a number of challenges with its city managers. Bill Curtis, of Gold Beach, Ore., came out of retirement to fill the position when it was created in 2000.
City leaders were generally pleased with Curtis’ performance, but he only wanted to serve on an interim basis, and the city hired Tom Weldon to take his place later that year. Weldon quit during a closed-door meeting in June 2001, arguing that he received an unfair job performance review.
The next month, the council hired former Ridgefield mayor Tevis Laspa to manage the city in a part-time role until a permanent replacement could be found. He spent just a few months there juggling the job with his duties as CEO of Pro-Tech Industries before the councilors hired Randy Bombardier to take over.
In 2004, the city fired Bombardier after a botched lead-based paint removal project on City Hall that led to a criminal investigation. Bombardier went to trial over the incident, facing a charge of official misconduct, a gross misdemeanor that nearly landed him in jail for a year.
But he ended up instead pleading guilty to a reduced charge of failure of duty by a public official. Superior Court Judge Robert Harris ordered him to pay $5,000 in restitution.
Bombardier’s successor, George Fox, only lasted a little more than a year before the council fired him. Due to the details of his contract, Fox could only be fired if he were convicted of a felony or gross misdemeanor, which wasn’t the case. So, he fought back and received a $247,500 settlement.