Sheriff John Lovick was sworn in Monday morning to replace Aaron Reardon, who stepped down from the county's top elected job last week after a series of scandals.
The County Council voted unanimously to pick Lovick as the person to take the county in a different direction.
"I want to change the tone and tenor of county government," Lovick told council members during questioning before the vote. "It's about the people. The Snohomish County Executive's Office is the people's office and it's all about serving the people."
Lovick, 62, makes his home in Mill Creek. He's been a Snohomish County resident for 36 years.
By stepping into the executive's job, Lovick has created an opening in the nonpartisan sheriff's slot. Command of the department will shift to Undersheriff Tom Davis while the council begins a process of appointing Lovick's successor.
The executive appointment will last through a special election in 2014 to determine who fills out the final year on the unexpired term. An election for a full four-year term is scheduled for 2015. Lovick said he plans on seeking re-election as executive.
Lovick has a long history of government service, with decades of experience as a front-line worker, manager and successful politician.
Lovick served 31 years in the Washington State Patrol before retiring as a sergeant. He was named Trooper of the Year in 1992.
In 2007, he was elected Snohomish County sheriff, and ran unopposed for a second term in 2011. While sheriff, he established the Snohomish County Gang Community Response Team and more recently launched the Schools Services Unit to enhance school safety after the mass killing in Newtown, Conn.
Lovick's other elected service includes five years on the Mill Creek City Council and nine years in the Legislature, representing the 44th District.
As a state lawmaker, he served as House speaker pro tem for five years, earning a reputation for helping maintain decorum during debates over contentious issues. He also was the driving force behind the state law allowing police to stop drivers who aren't wearing seat belts, or as it is better known, the "Click it, or ticket" law.
In keeping with state law, because Reardon, a Democrat, was elected to a partisan position, his replacement needed to come from the same party. Democratic precinct committee officers on Saturday met to select three nominees.
Lovick emerged as the heavy favorite. Although Saturday's vote carried weight, it was up to the council to decide who best should replace Reardon.
The council on Monday also interviewed the other contenders: state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and Everett lawyer Todd Nichols.
McCoy told the council that if he was chosen, his priority would be "to rebuild the trust and integrity of the office and working with you guys to build a sustainable budget."
He emphasized his experience turning a patch of woods along I-5 into the Quil Ceda Village retail and resort area.
"I led the team in creating all of that," McCoy said.
Nichols made it clear he wanted the county to appoint Lovick.
"I'm here to ask that you respect the Democratic Party's wishes and select their top choice," he said.
Nichols, who often represents the opposing side in legal cases against the county, drew laughs when he elaborated on that point.
"The only benefit of me being county executive is that I would stop suing the county," he said.
As sheriff, Lovick has drawn criticism for a string of inmate deaths at the county jail. The circumstances are varied, but there are questions about the quality of medical care.
As the new county executive, Lovick is now the leader of a county government that has endured years of political turmoil, most of it originating from the executive's office.
The executive is the chief administrator, lobbyist and advocate for the state's third-largest county, representing more than 700,000 people.
The new executive will oversee more than 2,600 employees and an operating budget of more than $200 million. He is responsible for day-to-day operation of several departments, including: planning (zoning, building permits, code enforcement); public works (road maintenance, surface water, solid waste); the airport at Paine Field; human services (social work, assistance grants); parks; the medical examiner; and human resources.
Lovick's office also has the lead role in drafting the county budget.
His first business will be naming his staff and establishing a clear break from executive office operations under his predecessor. As always in a community where many jobs are directly linked to the Boeing Co., aerospace looms large. One priority is persuading Boeing to locate its new 777X assembly line here. Another is preparing for commercial air service at Paine Field, including the construction of a passenger terminal.
If the economy continues to improve, Lovick also will face rising demand for planning services, including permitting and enforcement. The planning department in recent years was severely pruned as the recession dried up revenue that paid for plans reviewers and other county workers whose jobs were linked to growth.
Reardon, 42, was in his third and final term as county executive when he stepped down Friday. The resignation came as the King County Sheriff's Office investigates whether two members of his former staff broke any laws by targeting Reardon's political rivals with a series of anonymous public records requests. The state Public Disclosure Commission also is investigating campaign practices within Reardon's office.
As Lovick accepted his new position, he offered no criticism of his predecessor. After being sworn in by Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne, the new executive made a point of recognizing Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson. Reardon's deputy since 2010, Haakenson managed to retain wide respect with county government, despite the cloud of scandals around his boss' administration.
"Your dedication to this community is a lesson to all of us," Lovick said, to a loud burst of applause.
While Haakenson is likely to stick around through the transition, Lovick earlier has said that he would name Mark Ericks as his deputy executive. Ericks is a former Bothell police chief and state lawmaker. Since 2010 he has served as U.S. marshal for the Western District of Washington.
More personnel changes are expected in the days and weeks ahead. Lovick said he's prepared to keep Reardon appointees if he determines they have performed well.
Lovick told the council that he will make public service his top priority.
"It will never be about me. It will be about the people we serve," he said.
Noah Haglund: email@example.com, 425-339-3465.
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