City attorney takes job as UW chief of staff

City attorney Jack Johnson, who joined the City of Bainbridge Island about 13 months ago, will return to the University of Washington for a second tour of duty – this time as the university's chief of staff to President Michael Young.

Johnson, 57, joined the city in August 2010 after spending nine years as chief of the university's division of the State Attorney General's Office. He  grew up in Kitsap County and has lived on Bainbridge Island since 1985. His new position begins on Oct. 24.

"It's not a job I applied for – the president contacted me about it," Johnson said Wednesday. "But it's a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity to help contribute to the success of an outstanding university. I couldn't pass it up."

Essentially, Johnson said, he will report directly to Young "and support him in a variety of ways, but I won't be functioning as his legal advisor."

City Manager Brenda Bauer made Johnson one of her first staff hires after she left her position with the City of Seattle in early June 2010 to join the city as interim city manager.

Bauer said the city has been fortunate to have Johnson on the staff, if only for a year.

"It's been extraordinary to work with him," Bauer said. "I consider him as one of the top municipal attorneys, period. For us, just a lot fewer things went wrong, which can be attributed to Jack working with staff on many complicated issues that were resolved at the lowest possible level."

Bauer said Johnson's extensive experience in the public sector made him invaluable because "by providing a leadership role he helped us solve problems with a variety of solutions, rather than just saying what the law is."

Since graduating from the UW law school in 1980, he has spent his entire career in the public sector, including as a prosecutor for Kitsap and King counties, and 11 years as head of the City of Seattle's Civil Division before joining the university as its lead attorney 10 years ago.

Johnson said he has enjoyed working where he lives and as city attorney. He said he learned a lot about land use law and shoreline regulations, and also became to realize the community is "very engaged and talented."

When asked what he learned during his year as a member of the city staff, he said: "Mainly, I have been impressed by the diligence and integrity of the people who work for the city. From Brenda Bauer on down, this is a client that any lawyer can feel good about representing."

Bauer said it's too early to know the direction the city will take in hiring a new attorney.

"We have a lot of outside legal counsel now or we might want to make an interim appointment until we know how we're going to go forward," Bauer said.



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