PORT TOWNSEND — John Mauro wanted to learn more about Port Townsend.
He wanted to know something beyond census statistics, the city’s history as a Victorian seaport and its reputation for having a lively liberal arts scene.
Before he interviewed with five panels and met community members this week, Mauro called members of many of the area’s nonprofit organizations to hear their perspectives on the challenges they face and the role city government could play.
That impressed Port Townsend City Council members, who voted unanimously Wednesday night to select Mauro out of four finalists to become their preferred candidate for city manager.
“It goes above and beyond anything I would have expected anyone to do for this job,” Council member David Faber said. “He engaged in a way that was thoroughly impressive.”
The unanimous vote during the special business meeting opens a negotiating window for the city to offer the position to Mauro, who has served for the past five years as the chief sustainability officer for the Auckland Council in Auckland, New Zealand.
Port Townsend is replacing David Timmons, who is retiring June 28. He was hired as the first city manager in 1999.
Mauro currently reports to the Auckland Council CEO. He is directly responsible for 20 employees and has a budget of $211 million.
Mauro worked as a climate policy analyst for the city of Seattle from 2005-07, and he was the director of policy, planning and government affairs for the Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle four years later.
He told about 75 people during a community meet-and-greet event on Tuesday that he grew up in Maine but spent most of his adult life in the Puget Sound.
“When this came up, it was pretty irresistible,” Mauro told the crowd.
He said he was impressed by the community turnout, which featured all four finalists for the position.
“I’ve never seen this kind of engagement in any community I’ve ever worked for,” he said.
“John Mauro is really the right person at the right time for our city,” Mayor Deborah Stinson said. “He’s very smart, very curious and has a lot of great experience — none of which is in city management, which we realize, but we explored that with him quite a bit.”
The three other finalists also addressed the community during the two-hour event on Tuesday. They were Torie Brazitis, the former assistant city manager in Bothell; Keith Campbell, the current city manager in Stayton, Ore.; and Rick Sepler, who had served as Port Townsend’s community services director for more than eight years when he accepted a position as planning and community development director in Bellingham in 2014.
All four went through multiple interview panels Monday and Tuesday, including with a CEO peer group and separately with members of a community task force.
“Each brought a lot of value, and I think each will have great careers ahead of them to the degree that they desire,” Mayor Deborah Stinson said prior to the council vote Wednesday night.
The months-long search began in November, when the city appointed former council member Catharine Robinson to lead a task force to gather community input on what the city should look for in a manager.
The city incorporated that information and hired Peckham & McKenney, an executive search firm, to open a recruiting process.
Phil McKenney eventually narrowed 52 initial applications to six semifinalists, and four were brought in for interviews, Stinson said. Two dropped out for personal reasons, she said.
Council members moved all four to finalist status after Monday’s discussions.
“At the end of our interviews on Monday, I truly was in a quandary given all of the different skill sets and the different focus of each of those individuals,” Council member Michelle Sandoval said.
Sandoval was the first to nominate Mauro for city manager.
“I find him to be extremely smart, curious and likeable,” Sandoval said. “I think he has the modern outlook we need at this point.
“He has the Northwest in his blood even though he’s living far away right now.”
All six of the other council members also spoke highly of Mauro, highlighting his focuses on infrastructure, transportation and environmental issues.
“He’s done some work on the climate action plan in Auckland which is regarded as one of the best city climate action plans in the world,” Council member Pamela Adams said.
Council member Amy Howard said the city needs a “visionary.”
“We set an incredibly high bar,” Howard said.
“Looking to the future, I think we need to raise that bar even higher, and I think the person to do that for this community is John Mauro,” she said.
Several council members said they were swayed when they watched Mauro interact with the public Tuesday evening at the Port Townsend Community Center.
“What capped it for me was when I went to the city meet-and-greet because I watched closely the kind of interaction he had with the public, and the kind of interaction the public had with him,” Adams said.
“Our goal was to bring in someone who loved people, who wanted to be engaged with the community,” she added. “He was the star in that meeting.”
By conference call, Council member Ariel Speser listed several additional characteristics, including Mauro’s experience and commitment to work with local tribes.
“He has the right mix of personal attributes, hard work and work ethic,” Speser said.
Stinson said she has confidence in city staff members and the transition team, which includes Nora Mitchell, the city’s finance and administrative services director.
Mitchell likely will be named interim city manager Monday after the council receives an update on a potential offer to Mauro, city clerk Joanna Sanders said.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Stinson said. “There’s some big issues coming at us, but we have a solid foundation and staff. With (Mauro’s) skill and learning, I think it’s going to take us to the next level.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].