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News / Northwest

Who’s the city manager of Longview? Not Kris Swanson or Jim Duscha

Assistant City Manager Ann Rivers assuming some duties until position is settled

By Brennen Kauffman, The Daily News
Published: March 15, 2024, 9:08pm

LONGVIEW — Two days after a divided Longview City Council abruptly fired its city manager, it is not clear who is currently filling the biggest job in Longview’s city government.

Kris Swanson was suspended and terminated as the city manager during a fiery special Longview City Council meeting on Wednesday. Newcomers Erik Halvorson, Kalei LaFave and Keith Young joined Mayor Spencer Boudreau in voting for the ouster.

At the same meeting, the same majority tapped retired Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha as interim city manager. But Duscha was not on the dais during the council meeting Thursday night. Assistant City Manager Ann Rivers acted as the city manager during the meeting instead, introducing some items on the council’s agenda.

City spokesperson Angela Abel said LaFave and Halvorson brought Duscha to City Hall on Thursday afternoon to begin discussing a contract with city staff.

The contract was still being finalized on Friday, however, and won’t be approved by the city council before March 28 unless another special meeting is held.

The city manager is the only Longview employee who is hired directly by the city council. The contract has to be approved during a public council meeting. Duscha told The Daily News on Thursday that he would not technically be a city employee until the contract was approved.

On Friday, Mayor Boudreau told The Daily News that the council should use an open hiring process to choose the next permanent city manager.

“This is something that should have happened with the last replacement process, which instead led to lack of trust from the public,” he wrote in an email.

Reached by phone Friday, Rivers said she is assuming only the city manager duties that are time-sensitive or don’t create new budget impacts. In addition to the council meeting, Rivers has checked in with the city’s department leaders and approved the payroll at the end of this week.

The council did consider Wednesday appointing Rivers to the interim role, with Councilor Angie Wean advocating for Rivers as the natural line of succession for the city government. Washington law specifies that a substitute city manager should be a current city officer.

The motion was rejected 3-4, with the same bloc that voted for Swanson’s dismissal voting against Rivers.

It is clear that the majority is also unhappy with Rivers, as evidenced by a “surprise resolution” in February that proposed spending $30,000 to audit her work performance. The resolution — brought by council member Young, who did not indicate the resolution’s substance — was not on the agenda and was tabled.

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A public records request following the Feb. 8 meeting revealed the resolution’s intent. It returned for council consideration on Feb. 22, but ultimately there was no vote.

It’s unclear how much the city intends to pay Duscha and what specifics are in his new contract. In firing Swanson without cause, the city is required to pay her six months’ worth of her $179,000 annual contract, plus six months of insurance and her remaining vacation benefits.

Thursday’s meeting was much more calm than the one the night before, with only a few direct references to the previous night’s drama.

Young wore a custom-printed shirt that said, “Discrimination is never OK,” an apparent reference to the employment discrimination lawsuit in which Swanson was named and that Longview settled without admitting any wrongdoing.

A handful of public comments repeated the criticisms of Swanson or the city council ouster that were made Wednesday.