County Council delays on Reardon’s request for hiring

EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon says a planning department without a director is like a “classroom without a teacher.”

And he wants to fill the vacant job as quickly as possible.

But the County Council on Monday rejected his request to lift a countywide hiring freeze.

“The economy will rebound,” Reardon said. “When it does, we need to be prepared to meet our customers’ and taxpayers’ needs.”

The Planning and Development Services director is in charge of permitting, long-range planning and code enforcement. The post has been vacant since previous director, Craig Ladiser, was fired in August after an investigation found that he exposed himself to a female building-industry lobbyist at a golf tournament. Larry Adamson, who manages code development, now serves as acting director.

The council decided against giving Reardon the go-ahead partly because nobody from the executive’s office showed up to explain the request. They postponed the issue until next Monday.

During the meeting, Councilman Brian Sullivan asked Council Chairman Mike Cooper if he could discuss this during his next leadership meeting with the executive.

“I would be happy to do that when we have leadership again,” Cooper said.

Councilman Dave Gossett added, “I don’t think we can wait until 2011 or ‘12.” Reardon’s term ends in 2011.

Later in the day, Reardon retorted: “This is not the time for silliness, this is the time to do the job.”

The executive said his door and his phone lines are always open.

“Whenever Mr. Gossett wants to give me a call, he’s more than welcome to do so,” he said.

The hiring-freeze disagreement is the latest illustration of the frosty relationship between the executive and the council — all Democrats save for Republican Councilman John Koster.

During Monday’s meeting, councilmen said one reason for delaying action is the importance of passing the county budget, a process expected to take until late November. Reardon has proposed balancing the county’s 2010 finances through furloughs and pay cuts to avoid layoffs or curtailing services.

Cooper and other members of the council have suggested different options, even a total reshuffling of county government.

The planning department, “could be merged, it could be downsized,” Cooper said later in the day. “We’re going through a general downsizing of county government anyway. Let’s make sure that it fits into our long-range plans before we make that decision.”

Two years ago, with the housing market at its peak, the planning department employed 261 workers. Since then, the department’s staff has shrunk to fewer than 100, largely due to falling revenue from the housing slump. Staffing levels are now back to early 1990s levels. Annexations could bring more long-term changes.

The hiring freeze has been in place since the second half of 2008 and is likely to be extended through next year. On Monday, the council approved two other exemptions, authorizing the prosecuting attorney to hire a legal secretary and a victims advocate.

Olympia-based Karras Consulting started a national search for a new county planning director last month and is now wading through more than 60 applications to forward the best candidates to the county. The firm also found Snohomish County’s information-technology and human-resources directors.

“This job can be a difficult job because there’s always a lot of controversy over these issues of growth versus the preservation of cultural and natural resources and the quality of life,” said Dennis Karras, the search firm’s CEO.

They hope to find a planner with at least three years of supervising experience and a master’s degree. The job pays up to $150,000 a year.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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