County official takes on new challenge

Jeff Kelley-Clarke has spent a lot of time lately answering a one-word question: Where?

Moldova, that’s where.

Formerly part of the Soviet bloc, the small country is shoehorned between Ukraine and Romania. Once the Romanian principality of Moldavia, it’s now the poorest country in Europe.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

Jeff Kelley-Clarke, Snohomish County’s solid waste director, is giving up his view of the Everett skyline to work for the Peace Corps in Moldova.

Yet, the chance for a rich professional and cultural experience is luring Kelley-Clarke there. The Snohomish County Public Works Department’s Solid Waste Division director has been chosen by the Peace Corps as country director for Moldova.

Kelley-Clarke, 49, has worked for Snohomish County for 25 years, but his Peace Corps history predates that. From 1976 to 1978, he served in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, where he met his wife, Paula.

“We had been talking ever since our first international experience about going overseas again,” Paula Kelley-Clarke said. Now that they’re what she calls “barely empty-nesters,” the time was right for the Everett couple.

Open house

There will be a farewell open house for Jeff Kelley-Clarke 3-5 p.m. today in the Willis Tucker Conference Room of the Snohomish County Administration Building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett.

Their daughter, Brenna, is finishing a doctoral program at Harvard University. Son Sean is a junior at the University of Washington.

“They are thrilled for us, really proud of their parents taking a step out there to the unknown,” Jeff Kelley-Clarke said. “This gives us a chance to travel and to serve. After 25 years with Snohomish County, it’s a chance to take a look at a totally different system. Whatever we do when we come back, we’ll have different perspectives.”

They’ll be posted in the capital city of Kishinev, in a house being vacated by the previous country director. Kelley-Clarke will be the agency’s chief administrative officer in Moldova, in charge of about 138 volunteers. Peace Corps programs there focus on agriculture, English as a second language, public health and business development.

“It’s a wonderful country, rich in music and art,” said Paula Kelley-Clarke, who has taught at Everett Community College and served on the Everett School Board.

Jeff Kelley-Clarke signed on for 21/2 years, with the possibility of a second tour. After Bahrain, he was sold on the Peace Corps experience.

“It has a big impact on both volunteers and the people of the country,” he said.

Jim Aguirre, public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps’ regional office in Seattle, said it’s common for country directors to have volunteered earlier in life. “It stays with people for a lifetime,” Aguirre said.

The Peace Corps’ gain is Snohomish County’s loss.

“He’s an exceptional individual. Both he and Paula are exceptional citizens of the community, they’ll be missed in many arenas,” said Peter Hahn, Snohomish County Public Works director.

Hahn said the Solid Waste Division has come a long way under Kelley-Clarke’s leadership. Kelley-Clarke was head of solid waste for more than 12 years, and worked in the planning department before that.

“In the last 14 months, we’ve completed construction on two transfer stations to serve county citizens for a long time to come,” Hahn said.

Establishing the new transfer stations near Paine Field and in Mountlake Terrace was a politically charged and expensive project. With that accomplished, Kelley-Clarke was free to seek new challenges.

“We wish them the greatest luck,” Hahn said. “We’re proud of their endeavor to help other nations. He’ll do an incredible job, I’m sure.”

As for replacing Kelley-Clarke, Hahn said he will be acting solid waste director for the foreseeable future. Budget considerations have county officials considering privatization.

Hahn added that when Kelley-Clarke shared his news about Moldova, it sent “all of us at public works to look at updated atlases.”

Paula Kelley-Clarke said the family hopes to be together there next Christmas.

“Good for him for wanting to give something back,” Aguirre said of Jeff Kelley-Clarke. “He’s giving something back twice.”

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com.

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