Yacizi resigns, effective in February; legacy positive despite controversies

Ben Yacizi.

Ben Yacizi has resigned as Sammamish City Manager, effective in February.

Yacizi has been City Manager for nearly all of our existence after incorporation in 1999. He became City Manager in January 2001.

Having served on City commissions for 8 1/2 years, I know Ben quite well. We’ve debated issues, we’ve fought over issues, and we’ve collaborated on issues.

A City Manager is the Chief Executive Officer of a city; the City Council is the Board of Directors. A City Manager is responsible for all hiring and firing, operations, the budget and carrying out policy set by the Council. Some cities, with an elected mayor (as opposed to a mayor selected by fellow council members like Sammamish), who serves as the CEO, usually have an Administrator as well.

Ben, as CEO of Sammamish, has come in for his share of criticism from citizens. With additional benefit of an insider’s view, he’s also come in for my criticism on more than one occasion. But I can tell Readers that on balance, I would give him four stars out of five for his oversight of Sammamish.

Fiscally sound city and expanding infrastructure

Sammamish, as a bedroom community albeit with a high-value tax base, is, today, a fiscally sound City. It’s also a City that has dramatically expanded its infrastructure, something that was neglected and sorely lacking when we were under the stewardship of King County before incorporation in 1999.

To be sure, the City Council has to set the policies that were implemented by Yacizi. But look at the record, in no particular order:

  • City Hall was commenced before his tenure began but finished under his tenure;
  • Property for the Sammamish Commons, Big Rock Park, Ebright Creek Park was acquired and massive park improvements occurred under his tenure;
  • The Community Center is under construction;
  • Taxes haven’t gone up for at least the last five years;
  • Road improvements have occurred;
  • Even throughout the Great Recession of 2008, Sammamish services weren’t seriously trimmed and fiscal integrity was maintained–something neighboring cities couldn’t achieve; and
  • The Town Center plan was created, for which we are finally going to see some groundbreaking this year (projects delayed by the Recession).

Falling short

There are some key areas in which Ben fell short:

  • The massive failure on the part of his staff to be alert to, and respond to, the problems that emerged from the King County development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail has been well documented this year in this column;
  • The benign neglect for 10 years over resolving the 42nd St. barricade issue that is currently causing many headaches falls on his watch;
  • The Community Center was identified as a priority by the 1999 City Council but it took more than 10 years to finally get underway;
  • A staff effort to improperly open barricades from Trossachs to Beaver Lake Drive earned a blunt hand-slap from the Hearing Examiner, a precursor of things to come; and
  • A well-earned reputation as a micro-manager and an NIH syndrome (Not Invented Here) stifled staff creativity.

Critics of city practices often focused on Yacizi as responsible for all things “bad.” Of course, “bad” is often in the eye of the beholder. The Citizens for Sammamish meetings often descend into bitch sessions about what’s wrong with Sammamish government. At one meeting, I expressed my own critical observations about Ben (which, over the years, I had expressed to Ben personally, so none of this was new). A question was then posed to me, “Would Sammamish have salvation if we got rid of Ben?”

My response: “First off, I disagree with the premise of the question.”

I continued, “Look at this City: we have roads, parks and infrastructure we didn’t have under King County. We haven’t had a tax hike in years. Our budget is balance and in surplus. We’re consistently rated as a safe and desirable city. This is all under Ben.”

Of course, I continue to disagree with Ben on many issues, including what I’ve written about just within the last week: the entire fast-track approach to the Klahanie annexation vote. I don’t need to recount everything I wrote–you can read that here. And I’m concerned about the spending spree, the likes of which you can read here.

Some wags have already suggested Ben is leaving before the spending and Klahanie issues hit the fan (this thought occurred to me, too). But Ben has spent 14 years here (15 by next February) and had a public service career before coming to Sammamish. He basically says he’s tired. I don’t blame him. Having seven bosses (the City Council) and dealing with irate citizens is not something I would want to do for a generation.

Ben was also a consummate politician. You have to be with seven bosses. Although throughout his tenure, he had his critics on the City Council, some of whom wanted to push him out altogether, Ben always survived. Council Member Don Gerend, who has been on the Council since inception in 1999, summed it up best: “Ben knows how to count to four,” the majority needed on a seven person council.

That probably isn’t the precise legacy Ben wants, but I think it’s a pretty good comment nonetheless.


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