DCD director fires county planning manager
on Wednesday 07 July 2004
Clallam County, WA - County Department of Community Development director
Rob Robertsen made the first major staff change since his November
election: firing planning manager Andy Meyer.
Meyer, a 7.5-year department veteran, was told June 28 to clear out
his desk and leave that day. Meyer suggested Robertsen had political
motivations for the dismissal - an allegation the department director
denied, citing dissatisfaction with Meyer's leadership in the planning
"The disadvantages with Andy had nothing to do with the function
or the mission of the department as far as enforcing codes,"
Robertsen said. "He's implying that vision will be lost without
him but I have an incredibly experienced staff … to say that we're
going to lose vision of the future because we lose one person isn't
a valid argument."
Robertsen received strong financial backing during last year's election
- the first time the department's director was chosen by voters rather
than appointed by commissioners - from builders and property rights
advocates frustrated by the red tape and perceived delays associated
with building applications in the administration of former department
director Bob Martin. Robertson's election marked the change from an
appointed to an elected DCD director position.
County residents voted in the change the previous November.
As planning manager, Meyer was responsible for overseeing both the
current and long-range planning for the county. Robertsen said he
was not happy with Meyer's performance as a manager - he cited what
he called Meyer's failure to provide guidance and supervision to staff
about things like attendance and a refusal to accept certain assignments
or complete others - and fired him for that, not a personal or political
On the other hand, Meyer contended that he was unaware of any management
concerns other than discussions about minor changes and felt instead
the firing possibly was politically motivated.
"If we're looking to shift resources and focus them more on building
then it could be kind of obvious for folks there is a political motivation,"
Meyer said in a telephone interview. He added that Robertsen must
now determine where the resources are going to go: "In helping
to facilitate and expedite business permits, or in dealing with land
In a letter faxed to area media, Meyer noted that Clallam County is
faced with increasing building permit and construction activity and
is at risk of losing the quality of life that many find attractive
"without proper planning and a clearly articulated vision for
"Planning in Clallam County right now is not just about an expedient
permit process," Meyer stated.
County commissioner Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, said he believes
Meyer's strong points are in long-range planning and the effect of
his firing won't be known for several months.
"I think we'll know more in a month or two what Andy's input
was in those processes," Tharinger said.
He added that he didn't want to second-guess Robertsen's motivations
because hiring decisions fall within the DCD director's responsibilities
but said the decision might be a conflict of planning philosophies
and in what the Robertsen expected of his planning director.
Bob Vail, chair of the volunteer county planning commission, echoed
Tharinger's praise of Meyer's planning abilities.
"He always made sure all sides and facets of an issue were on
the table without biasing our decisions ever," Vail said of Meyer.
He described Meyer's role as providing information and answering questions
posed by commission members about technical questions and possible
long-range planning and legal effects.
Vail added that Meyer let his staff lead discussions on areas of their
expertise, filling in where needed and providing comprehensive input.
He added that with one less planner for the members of the planning
commission to go to for information and advice their ability to do
their job could be harmed.
"I'm waiting … to see if there's a plan to replace Mr. Meyer
with a new planning manager," Vail said.
Although Vail praised the counsel Meyer provided in his capacity as
senior liaison between the commission and county staff, he stopped
short of stating whether he felt Robertson's decision was a good one
or not; Vail said he didn't have enough information to make that kind
Robertsen said he never had fault with Meyer's planning expertise,
just his management style.
Revamping the planning department
The department currently has three planners working on short-term
issues and two planners in long-range planning. Robertsen recently
hired an assistant planner to fill the critical areas ordinance position
vacated last fall by former planner Dave Lasorsa. However, instead
of having the new guy - Spencer Bugby - focus solely on critical areas,
Robertsen said the responsibility would be split between him and two
It's part of Robertsen's cross-training management philosophy. He
also wants his department managers to be working managers.
"We are short-handed, there's no doubt about it," Robertsen
said, noting that Jefferson County has about twice the number of planners
as Clallam County with a smaller work load. "But I believe that
can be made up by efficient use of personnel."
So, when he hires a replacement for Meyer he wants it to be a new
assistant planner instead of a more experienced person for a management
position, he said. However, he would first have to get permission
from county commissioners to create a new position.
Instead of a single planning manager, Robertsen is having the current
senior people in long-range and current planning - Steve Gray and
Tim Woolett, respectively - function as department managers. They
would manage all but budgetary and hiring decisions as working managers.
The heavy workload of the county's planners is a point of agreement
between Meyer and Robertsen.
"We have a very challenging staff workload, a difficult budget
time coming up and the update to the county's comprehensive plan,"
Meyer said. "We have a lot of issues facing this county as it
Meyer said he is concerned that the realignment of the department
signals a paradigm shift away from prudent planning to a focus solely
"I am sickened about what this could mean for the existing staff
and the added workload for them," Meyer said. "To remove
a critical position and a policy position that could help an elected
director … it does not seem to make much sense."
Robertsen countered that it makes complete sense for department efficiency.
"Where we have a need in planning is in day-to-day issues,"
Robertsen said. "I am short-handed in workers. I was never short-handed
He noted that Meyer and Martin changed the nature of Meyer's job to
be a department second-in-command rather than a division leader, like
the managers of the building, environmental health, and other department
divisions. One of the first things Robertsen did when he took office
was to reduce Meyer's duties to be comparable to the other division
leaders - with a commensurate cut in pay of about $5,000 per year.
He also made the position exempt from union representation, as county
law permits department heads to do for one position. Robertsen said
this was to keep the position - often the focus of controversy - from
being influenced by union considerations and was not a precursor to
eliminating the post.
The plan to seek the hire of an assistant planner as Meyer's replacement
was an afterthought after the decision to fire him was made, Robertsen
--by Leif Nesheim and Dan Ross
Copyright © 2004 Olympic View Publishing. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
for any commercial purpose without permission of the Sequim Gazette.
NOTE: Clallam County is the first county in the nation to create
an elected position for the Director of the Department of Community
Development, through a change in the Clallam County Home Rule Charter
several years ago.