Claremont City Manager Choice an ‘Incredible Asset’

  • David Johnston (Maple Valley Reporter photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 12/7/2016 11:45:19 PM
Modified: 12/8/2016 10:46:18 AM

Claremont — The City Council’s pick to become the next city manager is a talented administrator who can work effectively across all branches of government and has strong economic development skills, according to officials in Maple Valley, Wash., who worked with David Johnston during his tenure there as city manager.

Johnston, who served Maple Valley from 2009 to May of this year has been offered the position of city manager, replacing Guy Santagate who is retiring Dec. 31.

“If David comes to Claremont, I think you have got a wonderful person and a true leader,” said Bill Allison, who serves on the Maple Valley City Council and was mayor during part of Johnston’s tenure. “David was an incredible asset to our city and I hated to see him go.”

Others said Johnston, 57, has strong interpersonal skills and is good at developing relationships with employees.

“That is a good choice for Claremont,” said Erin Weaver, a Maple Valley city councilor. “David was terrific to work with.”

Weaver, a council member since 2010 in Maple Valley, said the reaction when Johnston resigned said a lot about how well-regarded he was. Weaver said she has been around Maple Valley city government for a number of years, serving on other commissions and boards and has seen a number of city managers come and go.

“When they would leave, no one ever said anything, but with David it was different,” Weaver recalled. “David was highly regarded by all the employees and they were very disappointed with the city council’s decision to go in a different direction. I still hear from staff about David. He was very respected.”

Weaver said the election of a new council earlier this year led to some differences with Johnston about how to move the city forward in terms of promoting development.

“The new council just had a different vision on how to bring in business,” Weaver said, emphasizing that the parting was amicable.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Johnston said those differences made it apparent to him they needed to “part ways.”

Now he is looking forward to his next challenge. Assuming he successfully negotiates an employment agreement with the city, Johnston said he expects to be here by February.

“My wife and I are excited to be offered the position and hope to soon be calling Claremont our new home,” Johnston said.

He spotted the city manager’s position through the International City/County Management Association, which focuses on local governance, and then did some of his own research on Claremont.

He said affordable housing and a variety of activities in the area were among the attributes he and his wife like about Claremont.

Johnston, who also worked in local government in Indiana and Illinois, sees Claremont as having good environment for the sort of “professional challenge” he is seeking.

“There is the issue of how to expand the tax base,” Johnston said. “I enjoy economic development and I look forward to working in that arena.

“You have to work at defining your product and become focused on that,” he said about attracting new business. “The more focused you get, you can tailor your efforts to bring in certain businesses. You brand yourself and then you have to find investors.”

Johnston visited the city when he was interviewed by the council on Nov. 29 and stayed for a few days.

“All the people we met on our tour were good, solid, friendly people who care about their community,” Johnston said.

Another challenge Johnston sees is one that Santagate has frequently mentioned during his annual budget presentations: the loss of state revenues.

He said shared revenues from state government to municipalities are shrinking because of fiscal constraints in many states but downshifting to local taxpayers is not a solution.

“How do you replace that? That will be a big challenge,” he said.

Kelly said Johnston was a “great resource” for the city in the way that he was able to work with legislators.

Allison said Maple Valley was in a transition period as it grew into a city and Johnston’s skills were invaluable.

“He took us to the next level. David was the right person for that time,” Allison said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at
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