Clallam readies for new planning chief

February 19, 2003

By Jeff Chew - Peninsula Daily News

Port Angeles - With Clallam County getting its first elected community development director next January, county leaders are discussing the legalities, budgetary effects and reorganization of the Department of Community Development.

In November, voters overwhelmingly changed the appointed community development position to an elected office.

The director generally oversees county land-use and planning.

No candidates have announced their intention to run for the office on Election Day, Nov. 4.

And appointed Community Development Director Bob Martin said Tuesday he is still considering his options.

Anticipating an elected director, county leaders plan to reorganize Community Development.

"The voters spoke, and we'll work with it," County Commissioner Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, said Tuesday after the commissioners' weekly work session. We'll work through it."

"We need to come up with a departmental organization that works," added Commsioner Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness.

County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chris Melly advised commissioners Tuesday that under the charter amendment, the elected community development director would not be allowed by law to address public health matters.

Those issues will strictly fall under the county health official's authority.

"We can't have an elected person making a public health issue decision," Melly said.

According to the voter-approved county charter amendment, the elected community development director "shall administer, enforce and advise the county commissioner on all laws, except health, with respect to the environment, natural resources and the land and shoreline development."

Job responsibilities include supervision of zoning, land division, environmental policies, building and fire codes, forest management, mining, agriculture, watershed planning and flood plain issues.

"It is the intent that the director have the administrative and managerial rights and responsibilities common to elected officer," the charter states.

The charter amendment did not address the director's salary, so that decision will be left to commissioners, who are also faced with departmental restructuring.

"Under a provision of the county charter, we need to move environmental health out of the Department of Community Development," County Administrator Dan Engelbertson said. "There is discussion that the environmental health division would move in with the county health official."

"Most counties have a public health department," Engelbertson added.

With the charter requiring its natural resources division remain under the direction of Community Development, other issues are raised, including:

· Should water quality issues at Dungeness Bay fall under the Environmental Health division or are they a Public Health Department issue?

· Is the elected Department of Community Development director responsible for the Dungeness Bay water quality issue or does the matter fall under the public health division?

"We're trying to look at the basic structure," Engelbertson said.

The county commissions will make decisions and set the director's salary by summer, in time for county budget planning.

Tharinger, whose Sequim-area district faces many growth-related challenges, was especially vocal bout his concerns with an elected director.

He said when the environmental health director resigned last year, it left a $70,000 a year position behind.

Andy Brastad, acting natural resources director, is also acting as environmental health director.

Under the new charter organization, Brastad will no longer be able to work two positions.

Tharinger said this will mean the environmental health director's position will again have to be filled, creating budget implications at a time when county funds are especially tight.

Tharinger also expressed concern about who the county Planning Commission will report to, the elected community development director or the county commissioners.

"There is some confusion on who (the elected director) reports to. And elected officials tend to be an independent lot," Tharinger said. "They have their own constituency. So where does the elected director fit in?"

Tharinger said the position requires a professional with engineering and planning credentials.

But the charter amendment doesn't require them.

"To get someone with those kinds of abilities will be much harder," he said. "We will probably have to hire someone to make up for the loss of skills."

Tharinger said he fears the county could face "legal exposure" with an elected director managing critical areas and sensitive shorelines.

"It opens us up to third-party lawsuits if the director is not supporting the laws," Tharinger said.


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