Floridian offered Island County planning director position

A man from the land of gators and sunshine could soon head planning in Island County.

The Board of Island County Commissioners voted unanimously Friday morning to offer the planning director position to Robert Pederson, who is the Manatee County, Fla., community planning administrator.

Pederson does have planning experience in Washington state. From 1993 to 1996, he served as deputy planning director for San Juan County. He also gained planning experience working for municipalities in Alaska and the Virgin Islands. His career started in 1978 as a planning technician for Yakima County. He holds a master’s degree in regional planning from the University of North Carolina.

“I believe he has the skills to achieve what we need to in Island County,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said during the Friday morning special session where the commissioners agreed to offer Pederson the job.

Approximately 40 people from across the country applied for the position, which was listed at a base salary of $72,000 a year. Those applicants were eventually pared down to four finalists who were invited to interviews in front of a panel consisting of the three commissioners, Public Works Director Bill Oakes, Interim Planning Director Keith Higman and Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Dave Jamieson. The finalist list was winnowed down to two and one of those candidates withdrew from consideration.

Commissioner John Dean said Higman, who is the Health Department director, took over the planning department on an interim basis in March. Jeff Tate had earlier quit the position for family reasons.

The commissioners did not disclose the names of the other applicants despite protests by the Whidbey News-Times. Dean said staff is researching the legality of disclosing the finalists’ names. He said the finalists were concerned about their current positions if it became public knowledge about their attempts to find a new position.

He did comment about a recent editorial in the Whidbey News-Times which criticized the process and lack of public involvement in finding Tate’s replacement. He said the commissioners tried to find a replacement with a proven track record.

“This board attempted to steer clear of any perception that this was a political appointment,” Dean said.

The News-Times argued, in part, that the public can hardly judge if the right candidate was picked if it didn’t know any of the other applicants.

County officials contacted Pederson Friday to notify him he was selected for the position. Pederson accepted the position later in the day and he will start no later than Sept. 1.

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