When Wes Crago was picked as Spokane's city administrator — arguably the most crucial appointed position inside City Hall — the choice was announced in December with considerable fanfare.
In an email titled "Organizational Changes" sent to council members Thursday at 6 pm, Mayor Woodward announced both Crago's sudden departure and that she would be implementing an altered leadership structure.
"Wes Crago, who came from Ephrata to Spokane, has stepped down as City Administrator saying that his heart is with smaller towns," Woodward wrote. "Wes played important parts in the City's participation in the regional response to COVID and ongoing public safety needs and public works projects."
Crago declined a request for an interview, writing over Facebook messenger that he was "still adjusting" and wasn't yet "ready to talk." He did not directly answer a follow-up message seeking to clarify whether his resignation was entirely voluntary or if he had been pushed out or asked to resign.
Instead, he issued a written statement that this "was a gut-wrenching decision; painful and disconcerting, but one our family believes is for the best."
"We knew that when we launched the Spokane adventure that this was a possible outcome," Crago added. "We are people of faith, and believe that all things happen for a reason ... and that reason is ultimately Good."
In a phone call this morning, city spokesman Brian Coddington dodged repeated questions over whether Woodward had asked Crago to resign.
"You know, I'm not going to get into the details or specifics of that conversation [with the mayor], but they had that conversation and he decided to resign," Coddington says.
Asked why there had been no public announcement on Crago's resignation, Coddington says that the city was following a process that included first contacting key stakeholders before telling the public about the change.
"As far as the resignation goes, it was fairly sudden," Coddington says, though he added that the mayor and her city administrator had regular conversations. He says the mayor intends to hire a firm to conduct a national search for his replacement.
This is the second high-profile departure from the Woodward administration in her first year. Tom Bartridge, who had been confirmed as the interim director of Human Resources by the City Council, had resigned by March. Asked if there were any complaints about Bartridge, Coddington said Bartridge's role was always intended to be an interim, short-term position and the mayor wanted to transition to a permanent role.
But Bartridge and Crago are notable because they were two of Woodward's own picks. In December and January, Woodward praised Crago's 16 years of administrative experience in the tiny Central Washington town of Ephrata and noted how his past on the City Council could help a forge a better relationship with the group.
"The city administrator needs to be strong enough and ethical enough to stand up and say this is where you're wrong, and here's why you're wrong," Jacobson says. "And the mayor needs to be able to accept and appreciate that."
Coddington says he was unaware of any major policy disagreements between Crago and the mayor. Similarly, Council President Beggs says that he hadn't seen any clash between Crago or anyone else in the city.
Crago's resignation came as a major surprise to the council. Beggs praises Crago for seeking a unified collaborative approach to police reform with the council, a marked difference from other cities.
Crago was placed in major roles, leading the city's initial response to the COVID-19 crisis. He was also placed in charge of setting up a still-ongoing independent investigation into concerns about the Community Health and Human Services department.
Beggs says he personally offered the mayor any support she needs during the transition.
"My main thing was that I was concerned about was, 'Oh, my gosh, she wasn't going to have her administrator,'" Beggs says. "He was already gone."
Beggs says he hopes a national search will ultimately select an experienced replacement.
While acting city administrator Scott Simmons has clashed with members of the council in the past, Beggs says he has a good working relationship with Simmons.
In Woodward's letter to the council members, she previewed other possible major changes, catalyzed by the stress that COVID-19 had put on the city.
Additional details would be released in the coming weeks, Woodward wrote. "Change is difficult and is sometimes necessary to take the next steps as an organization," she wrote.
In his Facebook post, meanwhile, Crago expressed gratitude for the experience.
"It was a privilege and we are thankful for it," Crago says. "Even knowing this final outcome in advance, we would still take it on again."