Sound Off: Engle was right for planning director position


Earlier this month (June 18) you printed a letter from a citizen who was complaining about Island County Director of Planning and Community Development Mary Engle. The focus of the letter was on the writer’s concern that Ms. Engle did not have the type of credentials in the planning profession that an organization should look for when hiring for such an important position. He suggested that the county should repost the job. He wrote to you, our local newspaper. He did not write to the Board of Island County Commissioners, who have been supervising Ms. Engle in this position for almost two years, initially as a temporary worker, and then last year as the regular appointed director.

Because the Board has been receiving feedback from constituents who have read that letter, I wish to state for the record where the Board of Island County Commissioners stands on this matter. I opposed the hiring of Mary Engle as planning director for many of the same reasons the letter writer identified. I was outvoted by my colleagues, and she was appointed to the job.

I was wrong. Mary Engle is performing an excellent job as Island County planning director. When I was the HR director for the county, from 2010 to 2020, I witnessed the work of numerous planning directors. They all had great planning skills. But they lacked the strong administrative skills and political savvy necessary to run this complicated and very public office. Mary has brought process and procedure into the department. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do, and they do it consistently, applying the same rules to every applicant equally. And the time for getting permits out the door and into the hands of the applicants is the shortest it has been at the county for decades.

Planning permit times was always the No. 1 complaint my predecessors received from constituents. We seldom have that complaint any more because of the efficiency of the department under Mary. And her staff like working for her and are loyal to her. In addition, our turnover in that department has dropped—staff remain because people feel appreciated, they feel she treats everyone the same, and they know she will go to bat for them whenever necessary.

Our deputy planning director and planning manager are very skilled and experienced in planning and bring the proper certifications to the office. The office is staffed with many talented and dedicated planning professionals. Mary does not need a background in planning academics — she has others with that knowledge. My colleagues voted to hire her because they knew she knows how to run an office of professionals. And they were right. She does that very, very well.

Today the citizens are well-served by the Island County Department of Planning and Community Development. Mary Engle deserves credit for that, not censure.

Melanie Bacon is the District 1 Island County commissioner.