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Regime change continues in Port Orchard government

The makeup of Port Orchard’s city government continues to evolve, reflecting the preferences and personality of new Mayor Lary Coppola.

Assistant City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick is expected to move into the position recently vacated by long-time City Clerk Michelle Merlino, who abruptly resigned last month.

This represents the third high-visibility position in Port Orchard city government to turn over since Coppola took office in January.

Previously, the planning director and director of public works were replaced by Coppola’s choices.

As with the previous changes, Merlino left without warning or explanation.

Unlike these actions, new Planning Director James Weaver and Public Works Director Mark Dorsey were outside hires, while Kirkpatrick was promoted from within.

All positions in City Hall are on an at-will basis, at the discretion of the mayor.

While the City Council approves funding for the positions, it does not have a say about who fills them.

“If I didn’t like a candidate, I would probably let the mayor know personally,” said City Counselor Rob Putaansuu. “Otherwise, I have nothing to say about who is hired.”

City Councillman Fred Chang said he probably wouldn’t offer an opinion about a specific job candidate.

Both Chang and Putaansuu, however, said Coppola is assembling an excellent staff.

“Lary may be on the impatient side,” said Chang, “but it’s like running a business, and he wants to make sure it is working efficiently.

“Personally I liked Michelle,” Chang said. “I was sorry to see her go. But the staff serves at the pleasure of the mayor.”

Kirkpatrick, who is now serving as interim city clerk, said Monday the promotion would not be final until it is ratified by the city council on July 8.

She said Coppola had recommended her for the position, and was actively interested in the job.

Kirkpatrick, 43, has worked in her current position for about a year. She worked for eight years in the City Clerk’s office in Kodiak, Alaska, and has legal and real estate experience.

Merlino, who had worked in the clerk’s position for 24 years, said she was not expecting the action and likened the situation to that of Maher Abed and Joanne Long-Woods — respectively, the former public works and planning directors — in that they are prohibited from commenting on the circumstances surrounding their leaving the position as a condition of their severance.

Merlino, who said she “was never reprimanded for anything,” didn’t take long to find another position.

She is working as a temporary clerk for the City of Bainbridge Island and expects the position to become permanent in October.

City governments are not required to post job openings. Currently, the deputy clerk position, to be vacated by Kirkpatrick, is posted on the Port Orchard City Web site.

Former Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel said Coppola was exercising his prerogative and she has not observed any ill effects from the turnover.

“Changes happen in government,” she said. ”It’s part of the process. As long as you’re not harming the continuity of government and the citizens are getting served, this is to be expected.”

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