SEQUIM — After a three month search for a new city manager, the Sequim City Council agreed to begin negotiations with Matt Huish, the chief administrative officer of Sandy, Utah.
Huish was one of four finalists, including interim city manager Charisse Deschenes, to go through an interview process last week on Thursday and Friday.
Council members agreed unanimously to appoint Mayor William Armacost to represent the council in negotiations with search firm consultant Colin Baenziger, city attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross and Huish starting today.
Huish said on Saturday he’d prefer to wait until negotiations are finalized to comment.
In a virtual public reception on Thursday, Huish said he “wants to be known as someone who builds teams, is in the middle, and listens to all sides.”
“I care deeply about transparency, and representation from all points of view,” he said in an interview later Thursday night. He said that one of his biggest personality traits is collaboration.
He’s lived in Utah for the last 21 years. As a preschooler, he moved to Seattle with his family and grew up in the Tacoma area, graduating from Stadium High School and completing a bachelor’s in physical therapy, athletic training from the University of Puget Sound.
He remembers going to the Olympic Game Farm as a child and the Sequim area, and enjoys hiking and sailing now.
He started a career in physical therapy before transitioning into health care administration and later city administration.
Council member Keith Larkin, who served as the council liaison to the search firm, said Huish’s “energy and strong, strong desire to come here and really be a part of the community” made him stand out.
“We need someone with a new, fresh, energetic outlook on the city,” he said. “He wants to be a part of our community … and I think the community is going to find him to be visible, and they’re going to see him everywhere.”
If he joins the city staff, Huish will succeed Deschenes, who has served as interim city manager since January when Charlie Bush was forced out; Bush resigned after a majority of council members called for him to do so.
In May 2018, Huish was cleared of alleged sexual harassment charges over emails to a coworker in Sandy, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
He was on leave for six days before being cleared after an investigation by Liesel Stevens of the law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker.
She reported in a city instigated investigation that “his emails “were unprofessional and inappropriate at times. However, they were not sexual in nature and did not create an abusive work environment.”
In the city report, Huish told Stevens he uses a “friendly and informal email style with everyone at work;” he “was trying to be funny, nothing else;” and added that he often sent work emails in the evenings to everyone because he was busy with meetings during the day.
He also denied romantic or a social relationship with the employee, and if he knew he made her uncomfortable, “he would have corrected his behavior and apologized,” according to the report.
Larkin said all council members were aware of the allegations but agreed it “wasn’t really a situation we felt required much consideration.”
“We know one thing with Colin Baenziger, they search and try and find everything they can,” he said. “The intent was to make that fully transparent, and all panels were aware of that.”
Candidate Jeff Durbin, former interim town manager in Frisco, Colo, was the runner-up as council members were asked by Baenziger for their top two choices in a preliminary vote.
The four finalists, with a fifth dropping out prior to interviews, were selected by Baenziger and his team from about 40 candidates. He helped recruit Bush in 2015.
All four candidates received votes in the preliminary voting, including Deschenes, and Joe Lessard, a self-employed independent consultant in Texas and former assistant city manager in Austin, Texas. To narrow the selection, council members Rachel Anderson, Armacost, Sarah Kincaid, Larkin and Mike Pence voted for Huish while deputy mayor Tom Ferrell and council member Brandon Janisse voted for Durbin.
In a motion to begin negotiations, Ferrell was the lone vote against a motion for Huish.
“It was a very difficult choice,” Janisse said in Friday’s meeting. “I had no major issues with any of the four candidates. It was a difficult choice to make.”
Larkin said it’s unknown how soon Huish could start as it depends on contract negotiations, him giving notice in Sandy, and other arrangements, such as housing.
“We’d love to have him here as soon as possible,” he said.
“(The process) came out how I thought it would all along. We chose someone who I think is going to be a great city manager.”
Huish holds multiple degrees and honors, including most recently a masters certificate in global health from the School of Public Health in University of Utah in 2011.
In Sandy, Huish’s resume says he oversees 10 department directors, 600 full-time benefited staff and 300 seasonal part-time employees all under an approximate $115 million annual budget.
Prior, he worked as administrative director for the University of Utah’s School of Medicine Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department for about 10 years (April 2007 – December 2017), and as manager of neuroscience clinics at the University of Utah hospitals and clinics from Nov. 2003-April 2007.
Prior to interviews, Huish said one of his successes in Sandy was implementing Smart City technology that led to more efficient municipal services and increased customer service while decreasing costs and making Sandy’s operations more closely mirror those of business organizations.
Assistant city manager
Deschenes, who could not be reached for comment about the council’s decision and her plans, is expected to serve as interim city manager until Huish is able to start, and then return to her role as assistant city manager.
Larkin said Deschenes “deserves to be a part of the team” with the city.
“(She) loves the community and wants to be a part of making Sequim successful,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a great team.”
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].