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New mayor in, City Clerk out in Port Orchard
In the first significant decision of his brief tenure, Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes ousted City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick said she was informed of the mayor’s decision when she was summoned to a meeting in his office late last Friday afternoon.
Matthes, when contacted by phone Monday at City Hall, would not say why Kirkpatrick was dismissed.
“She is no longer employed, and I’m not at liberty to discuss the information surrounding that,” Matthes said.
He described her departure as “a separation,” and refused to say if she was terminated or if she resigned. However, when pressed on the matter, Matthes did admit “it was my idea” for Kirkpatrick to leave.
He also said he could not comment because of “pending negotiations” with her, presumably over a severance agreement.
Kirkpatrick was guarded in her comments during a phone conversation Tuesday, saying initially that she wanted to make this statement: “It’s been an honor to be of service to the citizens and the city of Port Orchard. I was inspired by their can-do spirit and I wish them the very best.”
She was hired as deputy city clerk in 2007, and was promoted to her department head position by former Mayor Lary Coppola after he took office in 2008.
As for why she’s out of a job now, Kirkpatrick said she got no explanation about that.
“I was let go,” she said. “I asked for a reason and none was given. I was told by the mayor that he was letting me go.”
While it’s not uncommon for a new mayor to make personnel changes when he takes office, some City Council members questioned Matthes’ decision to dismiss a city department head after such a short time in office.
Patti Kirkpatrick, right, is shown with her office team at the Jingle Bell Run in downtown Port Orchard on Dec. 3. (File photo)
“My executive training and experience taught me not to make any big changes for six months when assuming a new management position,” Councilman Jim Colebank said in a statement emailed to the Port Orchard Independent. “Therefore, 27 days seems a bit premature to me.
“I was never informed of any performance concerns with Mrs. Kirkpatrick and I thought her performance was exemplary the four years I’ve dealt with her. The reason Port Orchard has been so successful the last four years was due in part to the excellent team of department heads we had in place.
“I understand that the department head positions are ‘at will’ to enable a new mayor to assemble their own team, but it will be a real challenge to improve on the current team.”
Former Mayor Lary Coppola and other council members said Kirkpatrick was competent and helpful in doing her job. Coppola, who lost his re-election bid by five votes to Matthes in November, also sent an emailed statement to the newspaper.
“Patti is exceptionally well-qualified, as a City Clerk, which is why I promoted her from deputy clerk four years ago, and why she is recognized among her peers, as well as by other local elected officials, as one of the best in the region,” Coppola said.
Councilman Jerry Childs noted that “the new guy coming in always has an opportunity to choose his staff,” but he thought it was “premature” for the new mayor to dismiss Kirkpatrick less than a month after he took office.
“She helped me with lot of things over the last four years, and I have good regards for her and wish her well,” Childs said.
Cindy Lucarelli is a council newcomer after being elected in November, but she worked extensively with city officials in her capacity as executive director of the nonprofit that staged Cedar Cove Days in Port Orchard.
“Anytime I had contact with Patti she was extra helpful and I got everything I needed,” Lucarelli said.
As for her plans, Kirkpatrick said she might seek a job with Kitsap County.
“I guess I’ll just kind of take breather, and find out what’s out there and find the job that best fits me,” she said.