Mercer Island city manager Julie Underwood announcing her resignation at a May 7 city council meeting. She will be leaving on June 7. Photo from Youtube

Mercer Island city manager Julie Underwood announcing her resignation at a May 7 city council meeting. She will be leaving on June 7. Photo from Youtube

Mercer Island’s city manager resigns

Julie Underwood tendered her resignation on May 7 ahead of a city council meeting.

Mercer Island city manager Julie Underwood announced her resignation on May 7 during a city council meeting, giving the council 30 days notice.

Underwood has been with the city since January 2017 and she announced her decision to tender her resignation to city leadership in an email sent around an hour before the May 7 city council meeting.

“The role of the city manager in this community is really calling for a style of management that is different from my leadership vision — I did not come to this decision lightly,” Underwood said at the meeting.

In an interview, Underwood said the political atmosphere of the city was divisive, which had taken a toll on her and her family. As Mercer Island faces budget crunches following the failure of the property levy increase Proposition 1 to pass in November, the city has had to begin shrinking services.

“This community is divisive, I think it’s going through a process where it’s trying to figure out what kind of community it wants to be and I just think my leadership vision I have for myself just doesn’t quite match well with what I think the community is going through,” Underwood said. “I feel that I’m better suited for a community that has a very clear vision, not a divided vision.”

Underwood said she was concerned for the future of the city and it’s future. She described it as being in an uncertain time. A lack of civility from the community was draining, she said.

“That frankly has taken a toll on me and my family. I’m fatigued from the mean-spirited criticism that I’m feeling, and I know my council members are feeling. I’m fatigued. I’m tired,” she said. “My spirit is broken and you know I think a good leader recognizes when they need to step aside and let someone else come in and lead.”

At the council meeting Mayor Debbie Bertlin said the city will be meeting to name an interim city manager, a process which will be discussed at either the May 21 or June 4 city council meeting. The process is one city leadership is familiar with.

City spokesperson Ross Freeman said during the search for Underwood the city had appointed two interim city managers. Archived city newsletters show that both Pam Bissonnette and Steve Lancaster served in an interim role in 2016 after former city manager Noel Treat left his position in late 2016 after being hired in June 2013. Treat served in the position for roughly the same amount of time as Underwood.

The terms of the most recent city managers are short when compared to Rich Conrad who held the position from 1996 to 2013.

“While it has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your city manager, I really look forward to being self-promoted to citizen,” Underwood said at the May 7 city council meeting.

The city of Mercer Island is facing difficult budget decisions following the failure of a levy last November which would have allowed it to continue providing the same level of services. It is not clear if the budget situation is directly tied to Underwood’s decision to leave.

Mercer Island has struggled to make ends meet and is projecting a deficit in its general fund reserves by 2023 if new funding sources are not secured or major cuts remain unmade. The city’s small business district means sales tax, generally a major source of revenue for cities, only makes up 16 percent of its budget. Consequently, the city relies on property taxes to fund its day-to-day operations.

“I think the tough part is kind of a mismatch about the expectations of the community and the city’s ability to meet those expectations,” Underwood said. “In other words, I do think there are residents that feel that they can get the same level of service for less, and I do think that’s something at some point someone’s going to have to reconcile.”

[flipp]

More in News

Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters gun rights group, addresses a crowd rallying for Second Amendment rights Jan. 17 at the state Capitol in Olympia. Marshall condemned Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, which expelled Rep. Matt Shea from the Republican Caucus. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat held by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gun rights advocates rally at Capitol

Criticism levied at Matt Shea investigation, Republican leadership.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of SB 5323, speaking on the bill. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Sabio-Howell)
Proposed law adds a fee to plastic bags at checkout

Senate passes bill to ban single-use plastic bags, place 8-cent fee on reusable plastic bags.

Development has encroached on the East Lake Sammamish Trail (at right). Joe Livarchik/file photo
King County files lawsuit to finish East Lake Sammamish Trail

Homeowners have until September to remove buildings and other property from the right of way.

Bellevue residents Marko and Karla Ilicic play a hockey game in the Topgolf Swing Suite inside Forum Social House. Natalie DeFord/staff photo
Forum Social House opens in Bellevue

Eastside gets new nightclub, mini golf, swing suites.

In November 2019, Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which calls for $30 car tabs. Sound Publishing file photo
Republicans try to guarantee $30 car tabs amid court hangup

Lawmakers sponsor companion bills in the House and Senate.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County could bump up Metro electrification deadlines

Transportation generates nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Sound Transit station. File photo
Construction on Eastside-related light rail project begins

Travelers should expect delays until March.

The Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce presents the 2019 Business of the Year Award to Covenant Living at the Shores (CLS). From left: CLS’s Bob Bowen, Chamber of Commerce Board President Suzanne Skone, CLS Associate Executive Director Marykay Duran, CLS’s Leslie McGee, CLS Sales Director Nancy Woo, and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie Givan. Courtesy photo.
Chamber names Mercer Island Business of the Year

2019 award goes to Covenant Living at the Shores.

Most Read