County Executive Somers settles into office

EVERETT — Dave Somers sounded a collaborative tone as he started work as Snohomish County executive, but he also made some big breaks with the past.

Somers replaced almost all of the at-will employees who had served until last week under John Lovick, the former executive. Five staffers who have worked with Somers at the County Council assumed posts in the new administration.

“I am more than willing to admit that I do not have all the answers,” Somers told a room filled mostly with county employees at a public ceremony Monday. “We have some very complicated issues we need to address. But one thing I do know: Together we can find the best path forward.”

Somers, a fisheries biologist who served 14 years on the County Council, beat Lovick, a fellow Democrat, in the November election.

As executive, Somers is the chief administrator for Washington’s third most-populous county. Paine Field, the Public Works Department and the Medical Examiner’s Office, among other functions, fall under his authority.

As he settled into the executive’s sixth-floor offices in downtown Everett, Somers said it was a place he never visited once during Aaron Reardon’s nearly 10 years as executive, and just a few times after Lovick took over in 2013.

“I haven’t been in these offices very much,” he said. “It feels a little foreign to me.”

While the digs might not be familiar, many of the people around him are.

Marcia Isenberg, the council’s chief of staff until last week, is taking charge as Somers’ interim deputy executive. Isenberg also will supervise several executive departments, a responsibility she’s expected to keep after Somers makes a long-term decision about his second-in-charge.

Moving in the other direction, Stephen Clifton, who worked as an executive director under Lovick, has accepted an offer to work temporarily in Isenberg’s former role as the council’s chief of staff.

Former council analyst Susan Neely is joining Somers’ team as an executive director overseeing public safety and human services. It’s a return for Neely, who worked as a director under former Executive Bob Drewel and for a time, Reardon.

Somers’ longtime legislative aide, Eric Parks, is now his chief of staff.

Kendee Yamaguchi, an attorney who has worked for Seattle city government and the state Department of Commerce, was hired as Snohomish County’s new trade and economic development director.

Somers also replaced the spokesperson, records specialist and others from the executive’s office.

Other changes are afoot.

Last month, Somers announced that he was letting go of planning director Clay White, tech director Gage Andrews and emergency management director John Pennington. Other top managers from those departments are filling the directors’ jobs for now: Barb Mock in planning, Jason Biermann in emergency management and Randy Manley in information services.

Ricardo Cruz, an attorney who previously worked for the Bellevue and Seattle school districts and the Snohomish County PUD, has taken over as the interim replacement for Bridget Clawson, who retired as HR director last year and moved to a different job in the department. Retired council analyst John Amos is working as the county’s temporary finance director, a position that was never filled full time during Lovick’s two and a half years in office.

Somers pledged to work with the County Council. Councilman Terry Ryan was elected by his colleagues as chairman, giving him a lead role running meetings and drafting next year’s budget. Councilman Brian Sullivan will serve as vice chairman.

Somers’ former District 5 council seat remains vacant pending an appointment.

Ryan and Somers said their goals overlap.

A priority is deciding what to do about replacing the county’s 1960s-vintage courthouse building. A $162 million plan for a new eight-story building north of Wall Street was abandoned over the summer.

“Personally, I think it should be built on our campus (south of Wall Street) and it should be a more modest building, something less expensive than what was proposed before,” Ryan said.

Somers said he’s convening a working group of judges, prosecutors, clerks, sheriff’s officials and others who use the building. He hopes to forward recommendations about a replacement project to the council this spring.

Also crucial: resolving unease at the county’s largest public employees union, whose contract expired more than a year ago. Members of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees last month rejected the county’s most recent contract offer and said they’re willing to strike if the sides can’t reach a deal. As Somers was sworn in Monday, union members stood outside the hearing room, carrying protest signs and passing out leaflets describing their dissatisfaction with the contract conundrum.

Taking the oath of office along with Somers was Assessor Linda Hjelle, a longtime deputy assessor with the county who won election to her first term in November. Auditor Carolyn Weikel, clerk Sonya Kraski and treasurer Kirke Sievers all were sworn in for a third term, after running unopposed.

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

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