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Council fires city manager

Phoenix City Manager Steve Dahl’s employment was terminated effective immediately at Monday evening’s City Council meeting. The vote followed an executive session in which Dahl’s performance was evaluated.

Council members voted 4-1 to end Dahl’s contract. Councilor Terry Helfrich opposed the action, stating the timing was not good because of recent and upcoming changes in top administrative positions.

“Council members are trying to think long term,” said Mayor Jeff Bellah, who supported the decision. “It’s just strictly about the needs of the city for the future.”

Bellah, council President Bruce Sophie and Councilor Chris Luz declined to elaborate on what those needs were after the meeting. Councilors Carolyn Bartell and Stan Bartell joined Luz and Sophie in voting for the action.

“It’s one of the toughest decisions I've had to make as a city councilor. He’s a nice guy,” said Luz. “It’s our responsibility to do right for the city and to get a strong administrative type for the city.”

Dahl said this morning he was proud to have been involved with multiple public works projects and that staff members he helped train and develop have gone on to better jobs.

“In my two and one-half years, I got more done than a lot of city managers get done in a whole career,” said Dahl. “I would have liked to have finished more of the urban renewal stuff, but that wasn’t to be, and the City Council wanted to go on in a different direction. The council has that right.”

“I think we have too many initiatives in all directions. It’s not a good time to lose a city manager,” said Helfrich.

Helfrich noted that Finance Director Steve Weber is going to a similar position with Central Point May 31, the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency does not have a director and the city is without a public works supervisor.

Earlier Monday evening, the council approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and PHURA regarding use of city staff for urban renewal work and reimbursement procedures.

PHURA Executive Director Jim Sharp resigned in February after council put a hold on disbursement of bond money to the agency until it received a financial update. Assistant Director Amy Weiser was appointed to head the agency, but resigned in late March to take a full-time planning position with the city of Moab, Utah.

Public Works Superintendent Kevin Caldwell’s employment was ended earlier this year by mutual agreement. Dahl had been overseeing the operation while he studied department restructuring.

“This is a bit of a shock,” said Weber, when he was asked to be interim city manager through the end of the week.

“Steve (Dahl) has been an asset to the city and will be an asset to his next employer,” said Bellah. Council members are looking for a skill set that matches up with the city’s needs, he said.

Dahl became city manager in July 2013. Before that, he was economic development coordinator for Grants Pass starting in 2007 and held a similar position in Grant County’s Canyon City for three years.

Bellah, Sophie and Luz met with senior administrators this morning.

“I am looking at early next week having a special council meeting to confirm some of the recommendations that Bruce (Sophie) and I have for interim city manager and addressing some of the initial needs that we have to make decisions on,” Bellah said.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.