Port Townsend hires new city attorney to take over after impending retirement

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The city has hired the Auburn assistant city attorney to take over from City Attorney John Watts, who is retiring July 31.

Steven Gross, 53, will begin in his new position Aug. 15, taking over from Watts, who has held the position for 14 years.

“I have been looking for the opportunity to serve as a city attorney,” Gross said in a news release.

“Port Townsend is a beautiful city that I have enjoyed exploring in the past.”

He said his interviews with City Council members, administration and staff “convinced me that this was a team I would enjoy being a part of.”

Gross will receive a $105,000 annual salary, a raise from Watts' $102,192.

The process for selection was led by City Clerk/HR Manager Pam Kolacy.

Notices were published or posted in a number of journals and on a number of electronic bulletin boards for attorneys in general and municipal attorneys in particular.

How chosen

Three interview panels, which included council members Michelle Sandoval, Catharine Robinson and Kris Nelson along with department heads and senior staff, selected two finalists from about a dozen candidates and presented that choice to City Manager David Timmons, who chose Gross.

“I selected Steve based upon the recommendations of the staff and our elected representatives but also based upon his excellent references,” Timmons said.

“He brings the right mix of legal skills, collaborative approach, good judgment and enthusiasm to a key position with the city.”

Gross has nearly 20 years of municipal law experience. He has worked in Auburn since 2008.

Previous employment includes serving as senior assistant city attorney in Tacoma, senior legal adviser to the Pierce County Council and with a private firm that provided legal service to the city of Lynnwood.

At the city of Seattle Law Department, he served as an assistant city attorney and was interim director of both the Civil Service Commission and Ethics and Election Commission.

Gross, who is single, will relocate to Port Townsend.

Watts will retire July 31 but will work on a part-time as-needed basis until Gross arrives, according to HR manager Pam Kolacy.

Other vacancies

Gross' hiring is part of a coordinated effort to fill positions that will be left vacant by senior staff retirements.

So far, Nora Mitchell was brought on as finance director June 1, and Joanna Sanders was promoted to city clerk July 1 to replace Kolacy, who moved over to HR for a six-month period.

Over the next several months, the city will hire a new HR director, a library director and several police officers.

At the Port Townsend Library, former Texas resident Catherine Ward-Crixell was hired as full-time youth services librarian and will begin July 21 at an annual salary of $49,500.


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 09. 2014 8:28PM
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