Election could cut short Tomsic’s tenure as manager

Published on Thu, Sep 6, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Election could cut short
Tomsic’s tenure as manager

By Meg Olson

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic has been on the job a little over a year, and he thinks he’s made a difference. His bosses on Blaine city council, who reviewed his performance last month, think he’s made a difference. In two weeks, in what some see as a referendum on his tenure as city manager, Blaine voters will get to have their say. If they choose to abandon the current council/manager form of government and elect a mayor to run the city, Tomsic is out of a job.

“I wasn’t expecting a change of government election in my first year,” Tomsic said. ‘I’m a little disappointed I had to deal with it so quickly.” Tomsic took over from Anthony Mortillaro’s as interim city manager in February 2000. He accepted the job permanently last August. “A lot of my year has been finishing up stuff,” Tomsic said. A platter of lawsuits, collective agreements and touchy contracts greeted Tomsic when he took on the job. “For the most part we’ve dealt with every one of them,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was reaching settlement with the Lummi Nation regarding a grave site at the Semiahmoo sewage treatment plant site. The settlement was signed in June. “We’re a long ways from solving our sewer problems, but that was the first step that needed to be taken,” Tomsic said. The next step will be funding a sewer solution. “Until we get the sewer thing settled, it will be a black cloud over everything here,” he said. “A top priority is how do we fund it and which alternative.”

Tomsic would like to turn more of the city’s energy to economic development. “To start with, we need to get things going downtown, along Marine Drive, work cooperatively with the port and Trillium,” he said, adding recent meetings between the city and those agencies were the beginning of joint planning efforts.

Efforts to grow Blaine’s economy need to move in three major directions, Tomsic said: developing tourism, building Blaine’s position as an “inland port,” and attracting major employers. “We are now in discussion with some major job providers,” he said, adding one of these is proposing to bring 100 new jobs to Blaine. Tomsic is also working with city council to review city fees, to see if they are in line with other communities.

Tomsic said he sees positive momentum at city hall and gives a lot of the credit to staff. “We have a very strong staff now, and that has been an area with a lot of turnover,” he said. Since he’s been here, the city has added Terry Galvin as director of community and economic development and Russell Nelson, additional planner. There have been no staff resignations, a common occurrence under Mortillaro. “Department heads have more authority and autonomy,” Tomsic said. “I don’t try to run everyone’s department. I tend to manage by loitering. I hang out and visit with people. The organization is less structured now, perhaps more user friendly.”

City clerk Shirley Thorsteinson is effusively supportive of Tomsic’s leadership. “He’s the greatest thing we’ve had in a while,” she said. “The city is on an upward curve and he’s the catalyst to take us there.” City council members also stand behind Tomsic. At his recent performance evaluation, all of them gave him a high rate of approval, according to mayor Dieter Schugt. “It’s a different approach than we had before and a very positive one,” he said. “Gary is about making things work. He’s very much a team player. He works with people.” Schugt also felt Tomsic was important in moving Blaine forward. “There has to be a spark plug,” he said. “He’s good at moving things from vision to action.”

Tomsic feels his administration is as responsive to citizens as an elected mayor would be. “The manager form of government is more responsive in terms of getting things done,” he said. “It’s not unusual for an elected executive and legislative branch to always be fighting. The city manager form of government is more cooperative.” However, he said the city could do more to encourage public involvement in issues, by adding informal focus groups and community meetings to more formal hearings. “At public hearings there’s not a lot of hearing going on,” he said.

With ten years left in his career as a city administrator, Tomsic doesn’t know if he’ll end his career in Blaine, regardless of the outcome of the election, but he wouldn’t mind. “There’s so much opportunity to do things with the community in the future,” he said. “To retire here in ten years and know you had a part in something, to say ‘hey, look at that,’ that would be good,” he said.

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