New city administrator left Ohio job amid controversy surrounding management style
Dec. 23, 1998

by Luke Mines, Staff Writer

On Monday, the Takoma Park City Council named Richard Finn as the successor to departing City Administrator Beverly Habada.

Finn spent the last five years as the city manager of Sandusky, Ohio -- a city of approximately 30,000 people on the shores of Lake Erie -- before resigning May 26 amid allegations that his hard-driving management style was pushing high- ranking city officials to leave their posts.

Members of Takoma Park's City Council said they were aware of the controversy Finn had faced in Sandusky and were not concerned about it.

"He brought it to our attention himself," Mayor Kathy Porter said Tuesday. "We sent Bob Slavin (a management consultant hired by the city to assist in the search for a new administrator) to Sandusky to check out the situation. He interviewed a number of people there and came back to us with a report which made it clear we didn't have anything to worry about."

Porter said Finn was a good fit for the job in many ways.

"He has experience with economic development, experience with community oriented policing; he believes in team-based management ... but most importantly he is a can-do sort of person, like Bev (Habada)," she said.

On his reputation for being a strong manager -- some in Sandusky would say too strong -- Ward 3 Councilman Bruce Williams said: "He holds people accountable for what they've agreed to accomplish. I think that's a good thing."

Finn had an impact during his five-year tenure as city manager of Sandusky -- all the commissioners of the Ohio city seem to agree on that much, some claiming that he was a godsend for the city. But as he resigned in May, taking a $39,590 severance package, the Sandusky Register was reporting that four of Sandusky's seven commissioners were prepared to vote to fire Finn.

Two newly elected commissioners, Suanne Brown and Ed Feick, began serving on Sandusky's commission in January. They were behind the drive to get rid of Finn.

"Seven or eight key people left their jobs with the city," said Brown.

These officials included the city planner and the community development director. "We conducted exit interviews with these people and found that there were so many people that were upset (with him) that he couldn't do his job effectively," Brown said.

Brown and Feick's report, which was published in the Sandusky Register, included unattributed quotes calling Finn a "dictator" and a "liar."

But other commissioners say city staff was simply reacting to changes Finn had been ordered by the commission to carry out.

"We told him we wanted a new direction. We wanted accountability. Rick Finn is very aggressive and when you bring about change you shake things up," said Lee Silvani, the mayor ex-officio of Sandusky. "When you have people who have been in the administration for years, they don't want to be told a new way of doing things.

"Every one of those people who left got a better position," Silvani said.

Under Finn's watch "we've done a turnaround like you won't believe," he added.

He cited a long list of Finn's accomplishments including a downtown redevelopment, waterfront development, road improvements and a library addition. "This is a terrible loss to this community," said Silvani of Finn's departure.

Finn explained his problems with city staff were due to "a difference of approach."

"It was politically motivated, and it was not handled in a good way," said Finn, speaking Tuesday from his home in Sandusky.

"Sometimes people get caught up in a political crossfire, and it's not a good place to try to work," said Marc Elrich, Takoma Park's Ward 5 councilman. "I was more enthusiastic about him than all the other candidates," Elrich added.

Council members said they did not fear Finn would cause problems with city workers in Takoma Park.

"We're not looking for any organizational changes," said Porter.

"I think we've already been trying to change the culture in our government," said Elrich. "So he'll actually fit right in."

"My goal is to live in the city itself," said Finn, who plans to move his wife and three sons to Takoma Park as well.

"I think what I'm going to be doing is sitting down with department heads and staff," Finn said of his first move as city administrator. "Really, it's a team approach."

Finn is scheduled to assume his new duties Jan. 11.