In Sammamish, revolving door of city managers continues

Sammamish will soon lose its city manager, marking the third time in under four years the city is agreeing to pay the person exiting the position.

The Sammamish City Council voted this month to enter into a separation agreement, effective March 31, with City Manager Dave Rudat, who was hired as interim manager in February 2020. As part of the agreement, he’ll receive severance pay, six months’ salary — his annual base salary is approximately $225,000, per his contract — and a letter acknowledging his accomplishments in Sammamish. Neither the separation agreement nor the letter has been released.

Mayor Christie Malchow, Deputy Mayor Kali Clark and Councilmembers Amy Lam and Karen Howe voted to offer Rudat the separation agreement. Councilmembers Karen Moran and Kent Treen voted against it.

“The investigation and fallout has sidetracked the city from focusing on important issues such as growth, housing, and climate,” Lam, whose term began in November 2021, said in an email. “We need to regain the confidence of our residents. Integrity and ethical leadership matters.”

In an interview last week, Rudat said he had enjoyed trying to help the City Council achieve its goals, calling city staff “very professional and very likeable.”

“They really put forth a concerted effort to take care of the community, and they are on par with anybody I have worked with in any other community,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

The reasons for the City Council’s decision weren’t made clear, though it follows an extensive, months-long investigation into Rudat. The full investigation’s findings haven’t been publicly released; the city denied a public-records request “in anticipation of potential litigation.”

In 2021, the City Council hired legal counsel and authorized an investigation into allegations that Rudat mishandled confidential city information and had the “appearance of potential improper influence in the performance of your job duties,” according to a note of potential discipline sent to Rudat and obtained through a public records request.

In a 10-page summary of the report, Katherine Weber of the Inslee, Best, Doezie & Ryder law firm found that Rudat, on certain occasions, failed to effectively safeguard city communications that fell under attorney-client privilege. Those city communications, Weber wrote, were overheard by a family member of Rudat who disseminated the information.

The investigator wrote that Rudat “more likely” didn’t affirmatively disclose the information, but that it couldn’t be ruled out, either. The investigator found there was insufficient evidence to suggest the family member had influence over the city manager, but had the potential to invite questions and concerns about fairness or nepotism.

The City Council voted in November to potentially suspend Rudat without pay up to 30 days pending his rebuttal of the investigation, though he was never suspended. In his rebuttal, obtained through a public records request, Rudat denied all allegations and wrote that he had been left in the dark through much of the process.

The Eastside city of about 67,000 has churned through three permanent, one interim and two acting city managers since 2018.

In mid-2018, then-city manager Lyman Howard was paid $300,000 to separate from the city after three years in the role, according to the separation agreement obtained through a public records request. Glenn Akramoff was then hired as acting city manager before Larry Patterson took over as interim city manager.

Rick Rudometkin was hired in May 2019, and after six months, the City Council voted to offer him a separation agreement. As part of his agreement, he received 12 months’ pay and benefits. Chip Corder was named acting city manager and resigned in February 2020, writing in his resignation letter that he didn’t believe his views of the roles and responsibilities of the City Council versus staff aligned with the City Council’s.

Rudat was appointed to the interim city manager position later that month. In a news release at the time, then-Mayor Moran said Rudat’s appointment was a “huge win for the residents of Sammamish.” The City Council voted to hire him as city manager four months later.

“I don’t believe the city should be releasing city managers at the drop of a hat,” Moran said in an interview last week. “It’s embarrassing. You work with people, you send them to a few classes. You don’t just throw them away.”