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Originally published Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 8:16 PM

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City manager Steve Sarkozy leaving Bellevue position

Bellevue City Manager Steve Sarkozy is resigning next month, after presiding over dramatic downtown growth and a conflict over light rail.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Bellevue City Council has gone from a cohesive, unified board when Sarkozy first... MORE
Sarkozy can stay or leave for all I care, as long as we can keep Carla Bruni! MORE
12 years is a very long run for any City Manager. i wish him the best in his next gig. MORE

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Steve Sarkozy, the city manager who led Bellevue through a period of explosive growth that filled downtown skyscrapers with Microsoft offices, is leaving his job.

After 12 years as top administrator of King County’s second-largest city — and after acrimony over a light-rail route — Sarkozy has resigned effective May 16.

Mayor Conrad Lee described Sarkozy’s departure as a mutual decision that was supported by all seven City Council members, who approved a severance package Monday night.

“He’s been a very good city manager for us,” Lee said. “That’s why I think he’s stayed this many years. It’s unusual for a city manager to stay this long. I think the average length is five to seven years, maybe less.”

Councilmember Claudia Balducci said Sarkozy and the council felt “it was time for a fresh start,” but there wasn’t a single event that led the council to look for new leadership.

The council approved a severance package Monday night and named Deputy City Manager Brad Miyake to be acting city manager when Sarkozy leaves.

“It’s been a great run. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. It’s a good time to make a transition,” Sarkozy, 59, said Tuesday.

Under his severance agreement, he will be paid an amount equal to his annual base salary, $237,540, plus six months of medical benefits. A national search firm will be hired to help find his successor.

During the Sarkozy years, Bellevue went through a spectacular growth spurt as firms like Microsoft, Expedia and Symetra Financial took marquee spots in skyscrapers and The Bravern and Lincoln Square changed the retail landscape.

“We filled up two towers in Bellevue with Microsoft employees during his tenure, and I know he has cultivated a good relationship with Microsoft,” Balducci said.

Sarkozy also oversaw the move to a new downtown City Hall and adoption of a plan to transform the industrial Bel-Red Corridor into a mix of mid-rise offices and apartments or condos, to be served by a future Sound Transit light-rail line.

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson called Sarkozy “a great visionary leader” and a strong financial manager.

Several council members gave him high marks for managing the budget smoothly during the recession and for focusing on the needs of neighborhoods.

Sarkozy was less successful in marketing Bellevue as the right location for an NBA and NHL sports arena.

And negotiating with Sound Transit over a light-rail route from the Interstate 90 bridge to Bel-Red was a challenge — especially after the 2009 election brought in a new council majority that had different ideas about the route.

“You go through a lot of trials and tribulations in a 12-year period, and those take a toll on me personally and on the council and our relationship,” Sarkozy said.

Under Bellevue’s council-manager form of government, the council hires the city manager. The mayor is a member of the council.

Always neatly dressed and immaculately groomed, Sarkozy never sought the limelight, usually letting council members or department heads do the talking.

But he gave occasional speeches, such as one he delivered to the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce in 2005. “We like to be boring,” Sarkozy said. “Predictably high levels of service in a frugal way. If that’s bad, let us know.”

Now, preparing to leave office, he takes comfort from city-sponsored polling that shows 87 percent of residents “think they’re getting a good to great value for their city taxes.”

Sarkozy was city manager in Roseville, Minn., when Bellevue hired him in 2000 for $150,000 a year, plus a $27,000-a-year housing allowance. He said he is looking at job opportunities, public and private, in Seattle and elsewhere.

This report includes archived material from The Seattle Times. Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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