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Island County headhunters may snare a planner

Island County may have a new planning chief as soon as next week.

The board of commissioners interviewed four finalists in two sets of closed-door interviews Monday and were planning two more later this week.

If all goes well, the board will make a selection at its next regular business meeting, Monday, May 20, though a decision will not be rushed, said Commissioner Kelly Emerson, board chairwoman.

“We would all like to see this happen sooner rather than later,” Emerson said. “We’ve been stretched pretty thin. But we’re not going to act in haste; it’s too important of a decision.”

The board may opt to hold additional interviews, if required, she said. That decision would also be decided at next week’s meeting.

Bob Pederson, former director of Island County Planning and Community Development, resigned in March. Keith Higman, who leads the health and natural resources departments, has been filling in ever since.

According to Melanie Bacon, director of Island County Human Resources, a total of 29 applications were received. That list was whittled down to 10 candidates by the commissioners and further reduced to four finalists by an advisory committee.

The group consisted of four people; Higman, Public Works Director Bill Oakes, Dan Mitchell from the Prosecutor’s Office, and a retired planning chief for King County who is now retired and living on Whidbey Island.

“Clearly a very competent and engaged group of people,” Bacon said.

While appointing replacements for elected positions is an open process with interviews conducted in public, the hiring of department heads is generally more closed. The decision is made in open session but interviews and the names of other applicants are not released.

Emerson did say that all four finalists have planning experience in Washington and have comparable skill sets.

“I think it’s a real good list … I feel confident that we will see our next planning director come out of this group,” Emerson said.

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