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News / Clark County News

Leavitt seeks input on making mayor’s job full-time

By Andrea Damewood
Published: May 31, 2010, 12:00am

Mayor Tim Leavitt wants to see what residents might think of creating a new full-time position at the city — his.

Over the last 14 years, observers say, Mayor Royce Pollard, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, put in more than 40 hours a week while accepting part-time pay.

And Leavitt, 39, a senior civil engineer with PBS Engineering + Environmental, said he’s now doing what amounts to two full-time jobs.

He’s devoting two-thirds of his often 14-hour workdays to the city, leaving little time for his day job, he said.

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“(Changing the position to full time) is not something I’m intending to personally propose,” Leavitt said. “But the demands of the job are really full time. At some point in the future, I think it’s worth a conversation …about what the responsibilities and requirements of a mayor of a city as large as Vancouver are.”

The best time to discuss any change may be when the city’s charter review committee meets next, in 2014, he said. Leavitt’s first term is up in 2013.

Tacoma and Spokane both have full-time mayors. Tacoma has a full-time mayor who makes $83,928 a year, and a part-time city council. In Spokane, the mayor is also the city administrator, and earns $100,000 annually.

In Vancouver, the part-time mayor is paid $26,400 a year, plus benefits. City Manager Pat McDonnell handles administrative matters.

Leavitt said he’s not interested in changing Vancouver’s structure to a strong-mayor model. Rather, he’d like to see some debate on the whole issue.

Mixed feelings

The idea of hiring a full-time mayor was greeted with mixed emotions.

McDonnell, Pollard and former Mayor Bruce Hagensen all declined comment.

Mayor pro-tem Larry Smith said it would take a lot of convincing to get him to support a change.

He said he’d need specifics on what the responsibilities of a full-time mayor would be in relation to the city manager and the six city councilors.

Having a full-time mayor could bring a lot of credibility to the city as it grows larger and becomes more of a player on both sides of the river, he said.

“I realize that Royce and even to a certain extent Bruce made (the mayor’s job) full time anyway and didn’t get compensated for it,” Smith said. “But you have six other council members that can do some of the work.”

He added, “Tim went into the job knowing what the job was about. He wasn’t a new council member.”

Significant demands

Leavitt said he knew he’d be working a lot harder as mayor.

But he also said it’s tough to compromise — there’s a constant stream of people who want to meet with the mayor specifically, or have the mayor attend an event, along with the litany of boards and committees that are assigned to the mayor’s role.

“When I put my name to something, I’m not going to do it half-speed,” Leavitt said.

The mayor said a change may be necessary if the city wants to attract young working candidates to the position, a point Smith also brought up.

“There’s no doubt that it’s a challenge to hold down the mayor’s position in Vancouver unless you’re retired or independently wealthy,” Leavitt said.

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Councilor Jeanne Harris, who is the city’s longest-serving elected official with 14 years on the city council, said she agrees that to do the job well, it takes more than 20 hours a week: “This is a full-time job,” she said.

Since being appointed in 1996, Harris said she’s also floated the idea of making the city council positions full time. Councilors now earn $1,781 a month plus benefits.

She said there are numerous complex issues that the council grapples with that take far more time than most people would imagine.

“I have to learn just enough to make a good policy decision, but I would rather learn more,” said Harris, who also owns and runs an Allstate Insurance agency in Battle Ground.

She also noted that there’s a meeting scheduled this week in Portland that requires someone from the council to attend.

“We’re all booked, we’re having difficulty finding someone who can go over and be at that meeting,” Harris said.

She said now — with the city shedding jobs amid budget struggle — is not the time to get serious about a change in the city’s charter.

“It’s OK with me to keep it on the table,” she said. “We’re a big city and we’re going to be even bigger.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.