Planning director steps down, takes job fixing county code

Jonathan Lange is now the head of the county department of planning and community development.

Island County Planning Director Mary Engle stepped down to take a one-of-a-kind job fixing the county’s code.

The assistant planning director, Jonathan Lange, took over her role and is now the head of the county department of planning and community development.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson explained in an interview that the commissioners had been discussing transition planning with Engle, who has been working at the county for 30 years and was nearing possible retirement.

Johnson said commissioners had been tasking planning directors for years with cleaning up and updating the county code, but no one has ever had time to dedicate to the monster task. They realized, Johnson said, that they had an opportunity to set Engle loose on the problem. They created the position of “code amendment special project manager.”

This week the commissioners adopted contracts with Engle for the new position and with Lange as planning director.

Engle’s salary won’t change, according to the employment contract. She will continue to earn about $130,000 a year if she chooses to work 40 hours a week; she has the option of working 32 hours a week at 80% of the salary. The contract ends Dec. 31, 2025.

Lange will earn $120,000 a year. He has worked for the county for four years. He has a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Utah, a master’s in public administration from the University of Alaska Southeast and is certified by both the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

Fixing the code is a serious matter, Johnson said. There are numerous instances across the county code of inconsistencies and conflicts. She is especially concerned that different county employees have interpreted code in various ways because the language is unclear. That has led to citizens being treated differently.

“I tend to interpret code in the least restrictive way, but that hasn’t always been the case with staff,” she said.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks agreed that the problems with the code are significant. He said he worked on revising the county’s Shoreline Management Plan last year and found myriad problems borne from prolific amendments over the years. He said it was not internally consistent nor logically organized; crucial provisions were buried deep in “sub-sub-sub-sub sections.”

“It was very difficult for the public, attorneys, judicial officers and even planning staff to interpret it consistently and correctly,” he said. “I worked with long-term planners to make significant revisions to the draft changes they proposed to me. We put in a great deal of time and effort to untangle much of that new code. And there is more to be done.”

Banks said that fixing the code will be a huge task, one which his office doesn’t have the staff to take on.

“I think it’s very important,” he said. “I would like to see the entire code cleaned up so that people can read and understand it without having to hire consultants and lawyers.”

Johnson explained that Engle will work with the prosecutor’s office to check the legal language and that the final say on changes will be up to the commissioners.