Tate exits as Island County Planning Director

Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate surprised county commissioners Wednesday by handing in his resignation. He is seated next to Budget Director Elaine Marlow. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate surprised county commissioners Wednesday by handing in his resignation. He is seated next to Budget Director Elaine Marlow.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate surprised the county commissioners Wednesday afternoon by handing in his letter of resignation during a staff session.

"It's with a great deal of sadness that I approach the board today," Tate said. "I am tremendously indebted to this county and the commissioners for this opportunity."

Tate's resignation will be effective March 2.

Tate, who lives in Everett with his wife, said his decision to quit had nothing to do with politics or the change in the board of commissioners. He explained that both his parents are ailing and he wants to devote his time to caring for them.

"We made a decision as a family to provide as much care as we can," he said, adding that his current living arrangements aren't practical.

Tate does not have a new job lined up. In fact, he said he's not sure he wants to continue as a planner after 13 years with Island County. His wife, Katrina Cordi, is a violinist with the Everett Symphony and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra.

In an interview, Tate said he heard rumors that he would quit if Democrats Angie Homola or Helen Price Johnson won the commissioner races last November, which they did. He said the rumors were far from the truth and he was looking forward to working with the new board. But the existence of the rumors added to his anxiety over leaving.

Tate took over as planning director nearly a year and a half ago after the former director, Phil Bakke, was appointed to the board of county commissioners. Bakke lost in the election last fall to Price Johnson.

Tate and Homola worked together for three years when Homola was employed in the department, which turned out to be a tumultuous time for her. In recent years, they have been on conflicting sides on a couple of planning issues. Homola, who is known as an environmentalist, was critical of the county's wetlands ordinance and the department's handling of a proposed expansion of Oak Harbor.

"We didn't see eye to eye on every issue, but I haven't seen eye to eye on every issue with any of the commissioners," he said, adding that the prospects of working with the new board was exciting.

No lingering friction was evident Wednesday when Tate dropped the resignation bomb. Homola became emotional when she spoke of his hard work and years of service.

"I know sometimes we've been on the opposite side of the coin, but I always respected you for your integrity and thoughtfulness," she said.

"We'll never be able to fill you shoes," she added.

Price Johnson said she was disappointed and had looked forward to working with him. Commissioners John Dean emphasized Tate's communication abilities and called him a "consummate professional."

"Your leaving causes a huge hole in the county," he said.

Tate, who has a degree from Western Washington, was a hired as an assistant planner by former Planning Director Vince Moore. He jumped into the 1996 update of the county's comprehensive plan, which was a giant challenge. Over the years, he's held every planning position before taking the helm of the department with 38 employees and a nearly $3 million annual budget.

He admits that planning director is a tough job. "It's not uncommon to work in excess of 60, 70 hours," he said. He promised to help the board find a replacement and name an interim director, if they choose.

While Tate's fingerprints will remain all over county codes for years to come, he said his greatest accomplishment was building a department of professionals.

"The thing I'm most proud of is the human resources side of things," he said. "To me, it's the people. We have a lot of very capable people."

Tate's letter of resignation also emphasized how he valued the folks he worked with and the citizens he worked for.

"I will forever think of my years with Island County as the highlight of my professional career," he wrote. "I have had the distinct please to work with, and for, many talented and caring people."

Leaving those people will be hard, Tate said, but he knows he's made the right decision.

"I have great clarity," he said. "I have my priorities straight and I won't look back in regret."

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