Bright steps down from city manager position

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Interim City Manager Tonya Bright announced Dec. 2 to the Pawhuska City Council and the public that she was stepping down for personal reasons.

Bright, who has been a city employee for almost 10 years and had served as interim city manager since March 18, 2020, is expected to continue working for city government and to continue to have administrative duties.

"I want to thank the City Council for giving me the opportunity to serve as interim city manager," Bright said in a statement. "I have made a decision for personal reasons to step down from that position. I do look forward to continue working for the city with a new leader and manager to help Pawhuska grow and thrive."

Bright made her statement after the Council returned to open session Dec. 2, having talked in a closed-door session for nearly two hours about the city manager position.

"I feel like the city's best interest and my personal best interest is to take a step back," Bright added. The councilors voted, 5-0, to accept her decision.

"Hopefully soon," Ward 3 Councilor Mark Buchanan responded, when asked after the meeting about a timetable for filling the manager position.

Mayor Roger Taylor said he didn't know that the council had any time frame set for putting a new city manager in place.

"Sooner rather than later," City Attorney John Heskett said. Heskett clarified that Bright's decision to step down as city manager does not reflect any disciplinary action against her. Her employment situation had not become adverse, he said.

"There is no termination here. There is no reprimand," Heskett said.

The city manager position has been difficult for the City Council to fill and keep filled during the past several years. The last non-interim city manager to actually serve in office -- Dave Neely -- held the job for less than a year before resigning in March 2020. Two other applicants were later offered the job, but problems developed before they could even begin work.

The city manager post was also an election issue for City Council candidates earlier this year. Bright's announcement came just before the opening of the candidacy declaration period for the 2022 City Council elections.

Candidates were to declare their intent this week regarding the Ward 1 and Ward 2 seats. Amber Nash is the Ward 2 councilor. Mayor Roger Taylor is the Ward 1 councilor. Mayor is a title conferred on one of the councilors by his or her peers. It is not a publicly elected job.

Bright's decision also comes at a time when councilors are being urged to engage in long-range planning for the future of city government, and of city infrastructure and amenities. Pawhuska's sales tax receipts are growing -- not merely as a result of a one-penny rate increase, but because of increased economic activity. The community is also hoping for a significant economic boost when Martin Scorsese's adaptation of David Grann's book "Killers of the Flower Moon" is released.