State expands search for new ferries leader

OLYMPIA — State transportation officials will spend more time and use a professional head-hunter to find a new leader for Washington State Ferries.

An initial search ended in June when one of two finalists withdrew and Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson chose not to hire the other.

She then ordered a new search be undertaken and set an Aug. 5 deadline for applications. But those initially seeking the job of Assistant Secretary of Transportation thought it was an administrative position, prompting the decision to enlist a professional head-hunter.

“We are extending the application deadline to August 31 and bringing on a national recruitment firm,” said Lars Erickson, communications director for the Department of Transportation. Three firms have been invited to submit quotes, he said.

A Whidbey Island lawmaker who has been sharply critical of ferry management said taking longer and getting help are the right moves.

“Doing a broad search for the best talent will bring in a person with the diverse set of skills needed,” Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said Monday.

The next leader must be knowledgeable of the building and operating of ferries and have a deft budgeting hand to cut management costs while securing long-term funding for capital improvements, she said.

And, she said, they must be able “change the culture” inside Washington State Ferries.

Communication needs improved within the ferry system to take full advantage of expertise among employees, particularly in decisions that involve construction and spending, she said.

Smith and Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, recently called for a shake-up of ferry management because of issues with the fleet’s newest vessel, the Tokitae. Some vehicles are scraping on the transition ramps to the upper parking deck and the two lawmakers said they were assured earlier this year that no problem existed.

Smith said they’ve requested a meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee to outline their concerns.

Peterson is looking for a successor to David Mosely, who stepped down in April.

In the initial go-round, interim Assistant Secretary George Capacci and former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg were the two finalists interviewed by Peterson. But Capacci pulled out of consideration and Peterson elected to not hire Ladenburg.

Capacci continues to serve as interim ferries chief until a permanent manager is hired.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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