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Island County looking at appointing interim planning director

The Island County commissioners will consider the appointment of an interim planning chief next week.

The board is scheduled to discuss the matter at its regular meeting today, March 20, in the Commissioner’s Hearing Room, 1 NE Sixth Street in Coupeville. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.

The leading candidate to temporarily head the planning department is Keith Higman, director of Island County Public Health, though it’s not yet certain whether the board will move forward with an interim director at all.

“I can and am interested in doing the job on behalf of Island County,” said Higman, though he added that he has some reservations.

He said he has no interest in taking on the job permanently and expressed hopes that the board will move quickly to find and select a department director. He’s helped with past transitions and they were “a challenge,” he said.

Earlier this month, Island County Planning and Community Development Director Bob Pederson made the surprise announcement that he will be stepping down to pursue other interests.

His last day on the job is April 5.

The commissioners started the process of finding a replacement. They discussed the need for an interim director early last week.

Commissioner Jill Johnson was the prime cheerleader for the idea, saying she believed was “imperative” to communicate a transition plan to planning staff and recommended Higman serve as temporary department head.

He served as planning department’s interim chief for about six months in 2009 after former director Jeff Tate stepped down. Higman’s temporary role ended with the hiring of Pederson.

Johnson said that past experience served him well but she also recommended that some responsibilities, particularly building decisions, be shared with Andy Griffin, the department’s long-time building official.

She urged expediency, saying Pederson’s last day is just around the corner.

“We don’t have a lot of time and I want to make sure there is communication between Mr. Pederson and interim leadership,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she liked the team approach, but noted there are several big issues facing the department. Enlisting Higman to tackle them may be too much to ask, she said.

“There’s a number of very significant issues that are pending and I want to make sure that we are mindful of those,” Price Johnson said.

Two matters in particular, she said, include the long-standing argument over Oak Harbor’s Urban Growth Area and an update of the joint development guidelines for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Additional umbrella oversight and assistance may be needed, Price Johnson said.

She added that Pederson had agreed to help with some of the larger matters by working as a contracted consultant.

Commission Chairwoman Kelly Emerson said Higman has a lot to contend with. She made it clear she wanted to delay any decision and wants to discuss the matter further at today’s work session.

Price Johnson was supportive of an interim plan, saying “boots on the ground” are needed, but agreed that it may be helpful to postpone a decision until the work issues facing the department are better understood.

Some of that discussion took place Wednesday, March 13, but Emerson was not present so no decisions were made. Price Johnson said she believes consensus was reached, however, to appoint Higman as interim director.

“I would imagine that’s where we’re going to land but we haven’t taken formal action yet,” Price Johnson said.

 

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