Working for county a new challenge

  • Tue Sep 7th, 2010 8:58pm

By Gary Haakenson

It’s been two months since I left the mayor’s office in Edmonds to become the Deputy Executive of Snohomish County.

As I have run into folks around town I am invariably asked, “How do you like your new job?” Or my personal favorite, “How’s retirement treating you?” Well, I love my new job and I am far from retired.

I was thinking this morning, as I drove my 35-minute commute to Everett, that politicians like to make “job creation” one of the cornerstones of their political platforms. I am happy to say that I am now in my third month of being a recovering elected official and I have no “platform.” But I realized that I have actually created some well-paying jobs in the county with my departure from the mayor’s office.

The first would be the job filled by the new mayor of Edmonds, Mike Cooper. And the second would be the County Council position that Mike left, which is now held by Stephanie Wright. And the third job is Stephanie’s previous position on the Lynnwood City Council. The dominoes have fallen.

Many of you have asked, “What exactly does a deputy county executive do?” Well, after two months I have a pretty good idea. Basically it’s the same job description as mine was in Edmonds. I was tasked with the day-to-day operations of the city, and now I’m tasked with the day-to-day operations of Snohomish County. This includes oversight of 12 county departments, including emergency management, finance, human resources, public works, parks &rec, and more. The two biggest differences are that now I have one boss — County Executive Aaron Reardon — whereas before I had the 40,000 folks in Edmonds as my boss, and the county is bigger than Edmonds. Much bigger!

In square miles, the county is bigger than Rhode Island. In population, the county has more people than Wyoming and several other states. In Edmonds the city had around 200 employees; at the county we have over 2,600. The county budget exceeds $600 million, whereas the city’s budget totaled about $65 million. So yes, this job is considerably larger in many ways.

I have been very impressed with the quality and dedication of county employees just as I was with the city of Edmonds employees. Another similarity lies in the very difficult financial times faced by everyone these days. County government has done an excellent job of putting together next year’s budget, and the spirit of cooperation between council, the executive office, and the elected officials is at an all-time high.

I will admit to missing my previous commute, which was all of five minutes — if there was a lot of traffic! Now I find myself spending 35 quality minutes each morning and evening bonding with my car and my CD player and exploring new routes to and from Everett! The drive home actually allows me to unwind from the day before I get home, and that’s proven beneficial as it was a luxury I wasn’t afforded previously.

While I miss the everyday visits with Edmonds folks, I have found the anonymity of Everett refreshing. I still enjoy a nice view from my office of the Olympics and Puget Sound. There are indeed many similarities to both jobs.

And finally, in answer to another, often-asked question: No, I haven’t watched a single Edmonds City Council meeting since I left. I hope you are all well!

Gary Haakenson is deputy executive of Snohomish County.