Island Transit board picks former Naval Air Station Whidbey Island commanding officer

Mike Nortier

The former commanding officer of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is likely the next executive director of Island Transit.

The transit agency’s board unanimously chose Mike Nortier from the three candidates for the top administrative position Wednesday. The vote means that the consultant will negotiate an employment contract with Nortier, so it’s not yet certain that he will take the job.

Oak Harbor Councilman Rick Almberg, the chairman of the transit board, said the board spent the morning in executive session, interviewing the three candidates and then deliberating. The members went into public session and briefly deliberated before the vote.

The other candidates were Christopher Phillips, a retired executive officer at NAS Whidbey and the management services director for the City of Mukilteo, and Robert LaFontaine, the general manager for Twin Transit in Lewis County since 2011.

“They were all very good candidates,” Almberg said, “but Nortier came across as probably having the leadership skills Island Transit needs right now, the community knowledge and the right management style.”

Almberg described Nortier’s style as “calm, methodical and inclusive while also being decisive.”

Almberg said it’s especially important to him that Nortier has “a working relationship with both our state and federal legislators,” as well as leaders on Whidbey Island.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson, also a member of the transit board, echoed Almberg’s sentiments. She said the agency needs a strong and respected leader after a series of fiascoes and problems of the past eroded public confidence in Island Transit.

“We have a credibility problem, and he immediately fixes that,” she said.

Nortier retired in January after serving as the commanding officer of the airbase. He has more than 20 years of experience as a Navy officer. He also has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Fla., and a master’s degree in aviation safety systems from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Pensacola, Fla.

Nortier will be taking the metaphorical steering wheel during a busy time. Island Transit is in the middle of labor negotiations, personnel evaluations and discussions about charging fares and the famously fare-free buses.

“There’s a lot of pieces in the air,” he said.