City Council reverses, chooses not to conduct a regionwide search

by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - Discussing a future project, City Manager Scott Lazenby, left, talks with Seth Atkinson, current finance director and assistant city manager. Atkinson will take over in August as the councils choice to succeed Lazenby, who has served Sandy in this role for 21 years.City councilors and city department heads were all surprised when their plan for a July 9 meeting turned around 180 degrees.

Instead of choosing a department head to serve as interim city manager while the council conducted a regionwide search for candidates for the permanent position, the council made its final choice that night.

For one thing, there was only one department head interested in the interim position: Finance Director Seth Atkinson.

So the interviews of each department head were about how well each could work with Atkinson, if he were given the interim position.

But such glowing reports of Atkinson’s skills and knowledge emerged that the council soon began to ask specific questions.

One of those questions was key in helping them make the choice to elevate Atkinson to the top level of Sandy staff government.

When each department head was asked to describe something negative about him, said Mayor Bill King, not one person could say anything.

That was the clincher, and the council hired Atkinson as the new city manager.

Scott Lazenby, who has been Sandy’s city manager for the past 21 years, will leave at the end of July to take a similar position for the city of Lake Oswego.

Sandy Mayor Bill King said this would be the easiest transition to a new city manager imaginable, since Atkinson has worked directly with Lazenby for the past five years in the role of assistant to the city manager and as acting city manager in Lazenby’s absence.

“The confidence level in (Atkinson) was so high from every department head,” King said, “that we felt like we should just offer him the job.”

Public Works Director Mike Walker was one of the department heads who was elated that there was someone so skilled and ready for the position — without conducting a regional search.

“We have a team approach (to city business),” Walker said, “and we all work together well as a team. I don’t see that changing just because (Atkinson’s) role has changed.”

Walker said he’s expecting a smooth transition from Lazenby to Atkinson.

“There shouldn’t be much difference. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two. When Lazenby came here, he had never been a city manager before. He came from a job in finance and assistant city manager, which are the two roles (Atkinson) has had for the past five years in Sandy.

“He has worked with (Lazenby) for five years, which means he has learned from one of the best.”

Lazenby was happy with the council’s choice, since he has been “grooming” Atkinson for this promotion since the day he hired him.

“When I hired him (as finance director) I wanted a person who was competent in financial management, but also had an interest and skills in general management. This was part of my obligation to think about succession.

“You should select people who buy into the values of the organization. We have some pretty unique values (in Sandy), and (Atkinson) really understands and supports them.”

Among those values is the idea of being very efficient and gaining the most value for every tax dollar spent, Lazenby said. Also high on the list of values is showing a high degree of respect for every person’s views.

“This is about getting issues on the table and being honest about the issues,” he said, “and not letting it become personal. And that’s a really rare quantity.”

In his grooming activities, Lazenby has placed Atkinson in roles and positions where he would experience the types of issues a city manager faces.

“We both understood, from the outset,” Lazenby said, “that appointment to city manager is always up to the city council. There are no guarantees.”

Atkinson has a similar background to Lazenby. Both came to Sandy from municipal positions in finance. Atkinson had been a budget analyst at Park City, Utah.

Atkinson has a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics with a GPA of 3.82/4.0 and a master’s in applied economics, graduating magna cum laude in 2003.

“I’m excited and anxious to embark on the next stage,” Atkinson said. “We have a lot of neat things going on in Sandy. My goal is to make this a smooth transition, and to continue these exciting projects and neat things that are happening right now.”

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