Planning director quits, assessor hired to serve in interim

The Island County planning director submitted her letter of resignation last week and will be temporarily replaced by county Assessor Mary Engle.

Jessica Carpenter had only been the head of the planning department since January. She replaced Hiller West after the former planning director voluntarily stepped down last year.

Carpenter gave the county a month’s notice in her letter of resignation. County commissioners, however, made the unusual decision to make her last day of work Wednesday, Aug. 5, but set her termination date as Aug. 28, which means she will be paid until then.

The county commissioners said they appreciated all the work that Carpenter did but that it was a difficult time to lose a department head since budget hearings are just beginning.

Setting the budget is expected to be especially challenging this year because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said the commissioners would normally begin the process of advertising for a new planning director, but they will likely keep a temporary director until the end of the year.

“We need a stopgap measure to move forward until we go through a formal process,” she said.

Human Resources Director Melanie Bacon proposed that the board contract with Engle, the long-time, elected assessor.

In an interview, Bacon said there were not any legal issues with contracting with an elected official to work a second job with the county. Engle will earn $10,000 a month as acting planning director.

Bacon said Engle is “extraordinary dedicated” to the county, a very good supervisor and organized. Perhaps most importantly, she’s gone through many budget processes with the county.

After Janet St. Clair, the chairperson for the board of commissioners, met with Engle, the commissioners voted to contract with her.

The planning department has had more turnover at the top than other county departments. Dave Wechner was hired as planning director in 2013 and left in 2015.

Public Works Director Keith Higman acted as interim planning director until West was promoted to the top job.

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