County executive-elect Somers getting his team ready for office

EVERETT — Dave Somers has started assembling a team for when he takes office as Snohomish County executive, but some of the biggest decisions remain.

The executive-elect has informed three county department leaders they won’t be staying on next year. They are: planning director Clay White, emergency management director John Pennington and information services director Gage Andrews.

Somers will mull those vacancies as he also rounds out management and advisory positions in his administration-to-be. He likened it to a new head coach taking over a football program.

“In those three areas, I just felt there needed to be a change. They’re all competent and have done positive things for Snohomish County,” Somers said.

“The best analogy I can put on it is that when a new coach comes in, they bring in new coaches who fit the team.”

Somers, a four-term county councilman from the Monroe area, beat incumbent Executive John Lovick in the Nov. 3 election.

The executive is the top elected official for Washington’s third-largest county, responsible for an overall workforce of 2,800 and an annual operating budget of about $230 million. Departments directly under the executive’s authority include public works, parks and Paine Field, as well as planning, emergency management and information services.

Turnover is common when a new leader takes over in government.

Lovick kept managers mostly in place when he was appointed to replace the scandal-ridden Aaron Reardon in 2013. Some of Reardon’s staff left the executive’s office, but landed jobs elsewhere in the county.

The three department heads that Somers is letting go all were Reardon appointees.

“It’s not a statement that they did anything wrong or weren’t performing well,” Somers said. “These are very hard decisions and I don’t like affecting peoples’ lives.”

The new executive acknowledged White’s popularity among Planning and Development Services staff since assuming leadership of the department in 2010.

“It has been an amazing (five-plus) years and I feel so fortunate and blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve in this position,” White wrote in a Dec. 7 email to staff.

When White took over, the planning department was still reeling from layoffs during the recession and the ouster of the former director, Craig Ladiser, who pleaded guilty to a drunken, sexually motivated assault of a woman at a building-industry golf tournament.

Pennington was named the county’s emergency director in 2006. Before that, he was a four-term Republican member of the state House who had served with Reardon in the Legislature. He was a George W. Bush administration appointee in 2001 to serve as director of FEMA Region 10, overseeing disaster readiness and response in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.

Andrews came on to lead the county’s tech department in 2011 after working in information technology for the city of Tucson, Arizona. He was tasked with streamlining customer service and other issues, but Auditor Carolyn Weikel identified a host of shortcomings in the department while it was under her oversight in 2013 and 2014.

Andrews also had a dual role as the county’s public records officer.

Somers said he’s giving deep thought to his top appointment, the post of deputy executive.

“It’s extremely important to get that right,” he said. “I’m very comfortable taking the time I need until I get the right person.”

He need look no further than the past two county executives to appreciate what’s at stake.

Under Lovick, Deputy Executive Mark Ericks’ heavy-handed style created rifts with a majority of the County Council. Ericks had a lead role in the county’s courthouse-replacement project, a $162 million debacle that imploded over the summer as crews prepared to break ground. He resigned in September.

One Reardon deputy executive, Mark Soine, resigned in 2010 after a consultant found a pattern of sloppy investigations into workplace harassment complaints. Soine’s secretive conduct fueled distrust of the executive’s office. The atmosphere improved tremendously after Reardon called on then-Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson to serve as his second-in-command. Haakenson not only understood how to manage, but also cultivated good working relationships among county leaders.

As he moves forward, Somers said he has sought advice from former County Executive Bob Drewel.

Drewel, the executive from 1991 to 2003, now serves as a senior adviser to the president at Washington State University North Puget Sound Everett. During his tenure as executive he helped steer an expansion of commercial airline flights to Sea-Tac Airport instead of Snohomish County, led Sound Transit through a successful ballot measure after an earlier attempt failed, and oversaw a major overhaul of the county campus in downtown Everett. He also picked seasoned government professionals to serve as his deputy executives: Joni Earl and Gary Weikel.

Drewel said he’s known Somers for at least 15 years and has been happy to offer guidance.

To ensure continuity over the holidays, Somers said he plans to be sworn in during the week leading up to Christmas. A public ceremony is tentatively scheduled at the county campus along with other newly elected leaders on the morning of Jan. 4.

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

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Fraudulent 1999 Pokémon cards Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk and Anthony Curcio sold to an undercover law enforcement purchaser in July 2023. (Photo provided by the DOJ USAO Southern District of New York)
Counterfeit Pokémon cards, a $2M scheme, and a getaway by inner tube

It was the latest stranger-than-fiction caper tied to ex-Monroe star athlete Anthony Curcio, accused of forging mint grades for rare cards.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Lynnwood
Suspected DUI crash injures trooper on I-5 north in Lynnwood

WSP spokesperson said two suspected impaired drivers have crashed into a state trooper in the past 24 hours.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 closure between Everett and Marysville delayed by weather

The key alternative route to I-5 was slated to be fully closed overnight Saturday. Now, June 8 is being circled as the date.

Benson Boone (Photo provided by AEG Presents)
Taylor Swift taps Monroe HS grad Benson Boone to open London show

Boone, 21, has become a global pop star since his “American Idol” stint in 2021. “Beautiful Things” is the biggest song in the world.

News logo for use with stories about Mill Creek in Snohomish County, WA.
Mill Creek man accused of crashing into taxi in Seattle, killing woman

King County prosecutors charged Aboubacarr Singhateh with vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

Rep. Suzanne DelBene and Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright walk past a future apartment development during a tour and discussion with community leaders regarding the Mountlake Terrace Main Street Revitalization project on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
As Mountlake Terrace grows, so does housing around light rail

City officials lauded a new apartment complex and accepted a $850,000 check, as Mountlake Terrace continues work on Town Center plan.

Edmonds City Council members answer questions during an Edmonds City Council Town Hall on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds favors joining South County Fire — but not ready to commit

The City Council voted 5-2 to make annexation its favored option. The city has 19 months before the current contract expires.

People gather for a color throw at Stanwood and Camano’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County Pride guide 2024

Celebrate love locally this June at one of the many Pride events happening across the county.

Snohomish School District Transportation Supervisor Karl Hereth backs up the district’s one electric school bus Thursday, March 6, 2024, at the district bus depot in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sultan, Snohomish to get federal money for clean school buses

Local school districts are among more than 500 set to receive propane or electric buses, the White House announced on Wednesday.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.