Nathan West, community development and economic cirector, is on track to become the city manager for Port Angeles after action by the City Council on Tuesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Nathan West, community development and economic cirector, is on track to become the city manager for Port Angeles after action by the City Council on Tuesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles City Council eyes possible future city manager

PORT ANGELES — Nathan West, Port Angeles community and economic development director, is poised to become the next city manager after action taken by the Port Angeles City Council during a special meeting.

The council voted unanimously late Tuesday afternoon to hire a recruiting firm to evaluate how well West would fit in as city manager, opting against jumping into an external search for the city’s top position. Council member Jim Moran was not present.

“Nathan’s time here and his expertise in dealing with so many issues in the city, we can’t find someone [else] with his experience, knowledge and reputation in the community,” said Council member Cherie Kidd. “I think we’re very fortunate to have this type of succession plan.”

Current City Manager Dan McKeen announced last week that he was preparing to retire after six years as the city’s top administrator.

The city announced Tuesday McKeen’s last day would be Sept. 5. City officials are going through a process to evaluate an internal candidate as his possible successor.

McKeen said he has struggled to balance his time between his family and his job and that it’s now time to dedicate more time to his wife, children and grandchildren. He has led the city for three more years than he had planned, he said.

During the past six years, West has been the primary acting city manager during McKeen’s absence because of his understanding of city operations, demonstration of high problem-solving skills and his ability to work with the city, staff and community, said Human Resources Manager Abbi Fountain.

West’s evaluation by recruiting firm, Prothman, will cost the city $6,500, a fraction of the estimated $25,000 an external recruitment could cost the city, Fountain said.

The evaluation will cover West’s management and leadership style, communication style, budgeting, involvement in the community, strategic visioning, council interaction skills, personnel skills, knowledge of city departments and fit with ideal candidate traits.

If Prothman recommends West, the firm would develop a two-year professional development plan.

“I have been on several active city manager searches,” Kidd said, speaking about external searches. “It’s expensive and sometimes proves to be disappointing.”

Kidd encouraged McKeen, who was then the city’s fire chief, to accept a temporary city manager position in 2012 following the resignation of Kent Myers.

“We needed someone grounded in our community,” Kidd said.

Kidd said she is thankful McKeen had developed a succession plan and said she didn’t see any downsides with moving forward.

West, who has served as the director of community and economic development since 2008, said he is appreciative of the opportunity and that he and his family have made a long-term commitment to the Port Angeles community.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for me to simply do more for the community, to serve the community, to work with a phenomenal group of hard-working staff member that make up the city of Port Angeles and ultimately to share a future vision with City Council,” West said in a later interview.

West moved to Port Angeles in August 2005. He and his wife have an 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son who each attend Franklin Elementary School, he said.

He said the city has been grooming him for some time to take on its top administrative position. He said that in 2010 the city sent to the University of Washington’s executive management program, which he said is great at preparing people for leadership positions.

“I think to be an effective leader for this organization, one has to recognize there’s going to be learning experiences,” West said. He said it is important for new leaders to go in “with an open mind ready to learn, ready to change and ready to focus on doing the right thing.”

Mayor Sissi Bruch said she has been grateful to see West’s changes during his tenure with the city and said the evaluation will ensure the city knows whether West is ready for the job.

“We will all know whether he will have the skills, according to Prothman, to do the job,” she said. “I love the idea of making sure everyone grows into their potential. We are lucky to have an internal [candidate].”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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