Lovick gets to work as new county executive

EVERETT — The new head of Snohomish County government was surrounded by blank walls Tuesday as he settled in for business.

County Executive John Lovick, who was appointed to the job Monday, said he’d only been invited to his new digs twice during the previous five and a half years he served as sheriff.

During that time, the executive’s sixth-floor corner office had been occupied by Aaron Reardon, who stepped down Friday after being confronted with a series of scandals.

Lovick is fond of saying he has a degree called an MBWA: “management by walking around.”

He was busy trying to make an impression on a good number of the county’s 2,600-plus employees.

“I spent yesterday doing what I told everybody I would do: walking around,” Lovick said. “I’m basically getting to know people, letting them know the door’s always open.”

Lovick selected his incoming deputy executive, Mark Ericks, who on Tuesday was in the process of resigning as U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington.

The first personnel change under Lovick’s tenure as county executive was a termination letter mailed to former executive assistant Jon Rudicil, one of the Reardon aides currently under criminal investigation by the King County Sheriff’s Office. Herald articles published in February first linked Rudicil and former county analyst Kevin Hulten to a series of anonymous public records requests targeting Reardon’s political rivals. Hulten admitted sending the requests. He resigned in May after porn was found on his county computer.

The state Public Disclosure Commission also is investigating campaign practices within Reardon’s office.

To be successful, Lovick needs to clean house, and make a clear break from the previous administration, according to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.

Larsen said that troubles linked to Reardon’s leadership have weakened the county’s ability to compete for economic development or to help shape regional issues. Before being elected to Congress, Larsen was a Snohomish County councilman.

“Selecting a new county executive is really just step one,” Larsen said. A lot of work remains and “the to-do list is long.”

Here is his assessment of some key steps:

Break from the past. Lovick needs to surround himself with a different group of people than those who worked in the previous administration. People seen as having contributed to problems need to be shown the door, Larsen said, but that’s true of good performers, too. “Given what’s happened the last several years, I don’t know how to avoid that,” he said.

Work with the County Council. Demonstrating an early ability to collaborate with others in accomplishing important county business will show an understanding of the county’s charter form of government. The executive and council have different duties and responsibilities, but need to function in concert to be effective. “If you have only one wing flapping on a bird it is not going to fly,” Larsen said.

“Get off the campus and say ‘Thanks.’” County employees need to see the new executive at all their workplaces, and they need to be acknowledged for doing their jobs despite the past turmoil.

Stay on top of the basics. Focus on the work, particularly in developing and managing the county budget.

“Hello, World.” As the state’s third-largest county by population and a key center for aerospace, “Snohomish County is an economic engine,” Larsen said. The new executive needs to have a plan for reinvigorating economic development efforts in concert with business and government leaders in area cities and towns. The executive is the one person who can speak for the whole community. That’s critical if the county’s going to effectively compete with other places. “In my estimation, that function has fallen by the way” under Reardon, Larsen said.

Boeing, Boeing, Boeing. The county executive needs to meet at least quarterly with the Boeing Co.’s team in Snohomish County to stay abreast of challenges facing the community’s biggest employer, and to learn whether county government can help.

“My assessment is that was not happening, either,” Larsen said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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