Assistant finance director lands on his feet after Cornelius hubbub

The city of Beaverton's new assistant finance director learned an old lesson the hard way: You just can't please everybody.

After being ousted last spring as city manager of Cornelius, Dave Waffle decided he would - in the short run, at least - turn lemons into lemonade.

Rather than scour the Internet and wring his hands about new employment prospects, he decided he'd spend a few weeks doing just as he pleased.

'I took the month of June off,' he says. 'I was going to kick back and figure out what I wanted to do.'

On his way to Seattle to visit his daughter, Waffle's pre-summer hiatus was interrupted by a phone call from Beaverton Mayor Dennis Doyle.

'He wanted to know what I was doing for the summer,' Waffle recalls.

Specifically, Doyle wondered if Waffle, 61, might be interested in a six-month position as a project manager for a land-planning project in the city's Economic Development Department, working with Metro regional government.

'He had to twist my arm,' Waffle says.

He accepted the interim position and put his name in the hat for more permanent roles he felt he qualified for in various locations. Barely a quarter of the way into his Beaverton assignment, the mayor offered Waffle a full-time position as assistant to Finance Director Patrick O'Claire.

His previous assistant, Shirley Baron Kelly, retired from the position in April after 26 years on the job.

'I just shuffled down the hall,' Waffle says of his transition in City Hall.

Waffle will earn an annual salary of $101,760, according to city records.

From his new office, Waffle de-emphasizes the bureaucratic tumult from last spring and focuses on the challenges of his new role.

He admits there was more than a little good fortune in being offered an appealing position at a time when jobs are scarce.

'I thought, 'Wow, this is great!'' he says of learning he had a new opportunity before him. 'It was a thrill. I'd applied for other jobs. I started here in July and have been having a ball ever since.'

Strange spring

Less than six months ago in Cornelius, Waffle, who was named city manager in 2006, had little to dance about. The City Council - at the behest of Mayor Neal Knight - voted to fire him.

A consistent critic of Waffle's management style, Knight pulled no punches in describing the clash between the two.

'Dave seems to think it's OK to keep pissing me off,' Knight told the Forest Grove News-Times in early June. 'I didn't think I could work with him when I walked through the door.'

Knight questioned Waffle's ability to eliminate unnecessary or underperforming staff members, and Jamie Minshall - one of the three councilors, including Knight, who voted to fire Waffle - was uncertain of Waffle's ability to cut the budget.

Regardless, Waffle's abrupt dismissal didn't sit well with city residents. In a special election on Sept. 27, voters chose to recall Knight, Minshall and Councilor Mari Gottwald, who are known collectively as 'Team 3.'

The remaining Cornelius city councilors, Jef Dalin and Steve Heinrich, will appoint replacements for the ousted councilors, and Council President Dalin is the acting mayor.

Looking forward

Saying the ordeal is in his 'rear-view mirror,' Waffle chalks up the experience as a simple, if perplexing, case of personalities clashing.

'We just didn't connect very well,' he says of Knight. 'I treated him as I should, as a professional. I took him through the whole orientation of elected officials, and like anyone else, showed him the deference public officials deserve. And they're entitled to their opinion of that treatment.'

Waffle is now focusing on the matters at hand. They include financial responsibilities in a city whose $170 million budget is considerably larger than that of Cornelius, whose annual expenses were closer to $28 million.

Waffle will assist in developing the city's budget for the 2012-13 cycle, update the city's investment policy and learn the particular mechanisms of the Finance Department, including payroll and accounts payable.

'In Cornelius, I had all the responsibility of a city manager of managing a small staff,' he says. 'In Beaverton, I don't have responsibility for all the staff, but the (financial) scope is larger. It's much more complex. It's the same processes, the same standards, but all done a little differently.'

O'Claire, Waffle's new supervisor, says he's pleased to have an experienced financial manager - one he's known for six years - on board.

'He comes to us with great managerial experience, and it's great to have him on my team in the Finance Department,' he says, adding Waffle's troubles in Cornelius 'didn't enter the (hiring) decision at all.'

'Dave has a great management style, one that's very collaborative and inclusive. That came out in all three interviews,' O'Claire adds. 'He has a great wealth of knowledge that will help greatly in his budget presentation to the committee. It's great to have him as a resource in that role.'

While proud of his accomplishments in Cornelius, including his role in bringing a Walmart to the city's western edge, Waffle is excited about working for a city government that's less limited in its financial and bureaucratic capital.

'Beaverton has resources. That's the bottom line,' he says, praising Beaverton's Civic Plan and visioning initiatives. 'It's great to have that kind of orientation to achieve the city's goals - and have the resources to do it.'

Christian Gaston of the Forest Grove News-Times contributed to this story.

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