Richards resigns as city administrator

Staff writerMay 21, 2014 

Denny Richards’ last day as Gig Harbor city administrator was Friday.

Richards resigned effective May 16. Police Chief Mike Davis will be acting city administrator until University Place lawyer Ron Williams takes the job on June 2.

In a statement to the Gateway, Mayor Jill Guernsey said:

“Denny has been a friend for more than 20 years, and I wish him nothing but the best. We will miss him. Gig Harbor has been fortunate to have Denny as both a police chief and as a city administrator.”

Richards said he left a letter on Guernsey’s desk Wednesday afternoon notifying her tof his resignation.

Guernsey had wanted Richards to stay through the end of the year to mentor and train Williams, but Richards was not interested.

“I don’t like the direction (the city is going), and I’m going to leave before that direction gets started,” Richards said.

He did not have a mentor, he said, and learned by doing the job.

“This is not a job you train for, this is a job you learn from sitting in the chair and learning it,” he said. “The learning curve is pretty much straight up.”

Guernsey praised Richards’ team-building at the city, saying, “Denny and the staff have worked hard to build a cohesive team. He can take pride in the fact that the team he helped create will continue in the future.”

Richards served in the job for two years. He previously served as a city administrator in Kelso and as Gig Harbor police chief. His replacement was announced at an April 16 council meeting.

Richards was surpised.

“The change certainly wasn’t expected,” he told the Gateway in April. “A bit of a shock, but that’s the way it goes, I guess.”

Williams and Guernsey have known each other 30 years, Williams said. She reached out to him when she became mayor in January.

“We respect each other; trust each other a lot,” he said.

Williams served on the first University Place city council, after the city was incorporated in 1995. He was also its second mayor, serving about 11 months in 1996, he said.

At that time, University Place was a brand new entity and he recalled late nights with other council members drafting ordinances for the city.

“We started to build the city from scratch,” he said.

Williams is a lawyer and past president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association. Guernsey stated that he will help revitalize downtown Gig Harbor. He retired in 2012 from the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office and recently served on a mission trip with his wife for the Mormon Church in Dodge City, Kansas. He helped in Spanish-speaking areas through a seniors mission program for retired adults.

Williams said that in his tenure he will focus on revitalizing downtown.

“That is one of (Guernsey’s) top priorities, and that will be one of mine too,” he said.

Guernsey listed priorities downtown including “a grocery store, a marine fuel facility and other projects which will increase the vibrancy of downtown Gig Harbor.”

Richards thinks running Gig Harbor is about more than those projects.

“It’s a big city with lots of things going on,” Richards said.

Earlier this year, Guernsey asked the council to add a full-time economic development manager position to the city’s 2014 budget. There was blowback about the proposal from both the community and some council members. The decision was tabled by the city council, modified and re-proposed as a replacement of the city administrator position.

Williams has a bachelor’s degree in business development and finance from California State University Fullerton. He has five children — who all attended University Place schools — and 19 grandchildren. He has lived in Pierce County since 1980 and worked with “pretty much every branch of Municipal Government.”

“(I am) very excited,” Williams said of the new role. “It’s just a wonderful challenge. It reminds more of when I was on the (University Place) city council.”

Richards is looking forward to retiring.

“I’ve been working since I was 12 years old,” he said. He worked at gas stations and restaurants before joining the police in Vancouver, Washington, in 1967.

“I’m old enough,” he said. “I can retire.”

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155 karen.miller@gateline.com

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