'We've called Cheney home'
New City Administrator Mark Schuller doesn't see position as path to outside advancement
Unlike several of his predecessors, new Cheney City Administrator Mark Schuller said he doesn't view his new position as a steppingstone to something greater.
"We've called Cheney home for a number of years," Schuller said.
In fact, 13 years, which is how long ago Schuller and his wife Wendy moved to Cheney when Wendy accepted the women's basketball head coaching position at Eastern Washington University. Mark Schuller, a graduate of Ohio State University with a masters in labor relations and human resources, found a position with the Tech Group, a medical staffing company in Spokane.
Schuller said he wanted to get into the public sector, and eventually landed a position at human resources associates position at EWU, working with recruiting, employee relations along with university finances and university advancement. During his tenure he developed a relationship with current Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove, and when the Cheney human resources position opened up in 2009, outgoing Mayor Allan Gainer hired Schuller as Trulove sat in the wings as mayor-elect.
"We've worked together and in essence apprenticed with each other the last four and a half years," Trulove said.
Prior to being named City Administrator at the City Council's June 25 meeting, Schuller was also interim Parks and Recreation Department director, taking over when former director Paul Simmons left last November.
Rather than Schuller wearing three hats, the city will first hire a human resources specialist to handle employee relations, wellness programs, benefits and worker safety issues. Schuller will retain a large hand in labor relations, having already established relationships with the city's six bargaining units.
As for Parks and Recreation, both Schuller and Trulove said the director position will remain open through March 2015. The department had fallen into a financial "hole" after taking an interdepartmental loan to help rebuild the city's community center, the Wren Pierson Building, after its roof was destroyed in a major snowstorm in 2009.
The city has been applying the salary and benefits savings from the open director's position to paying down that debt, helping the department's assets return to the financial black. Schuller said keeping the position open longer will result in another $70,000 to $80,000 in savings, putting the department on track to pay off the loan by 2015 and giving a new director more to work with financially.
"In terms of filling that position, we're going to be thinking creatively," Trulove said, adding the successful candidate will have to be more hands on, understand budgeting while also knowing how to work with kids.
Trulove also said while Schuller was interim director he worked with Parks and Recreation staff to create better efficiencies in the department's operations, which have also added in the financial restoration.
Both men agreed the biggest challenge facing the city can be boiled down to two words: The budget.
With less tax money coming from the state, Cheney must find new revenue streams with which to not only keeping things running, but also make investments to fix and replace aging infrastructure and equipment. Staff recently identified several upcoming needs, such as replacing the city's main fire engine.
"We've got to come up with a plan to replace these things and not (continue to) hope the economy gets better," Schuller said.
One way, Schuller said, will require establishing better collaborative relationships with other local municipalities, such as the help the city of Spokane provided when Cheney decided to start up its own solid waste collection system. Construction projects often prove to be big sales tax generators for the city, and Trulove said they will increase lobbying efforts with the state to fund a new science building at Eastern, along with backing a possible construction bond for renovating Cheney High School.
The city has also got to find ways to encourage more outside business development within the city, while also keeping local dollars at home. The key to this, Trulove believes, is being able to establish successful relationships with large employers like EWU and the school district, relationships that would have taken a year or so for an outside city administrator selection to develop but which Schuller already has.
"He is an established part of this community," Trulove said. "For us, he's the right person at the right time."
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.