Interim planning head named; council questions need

Assuming council approval of his contract, career planner Larry K. Frazier of Tacoma will become Bainbridge Island’s interim planning director next week.

But approval is not a foregone conclusion. Councilwoman Debbie Vancil opposes the whole concept of an interim director, and said this week she will lobby other council members to support her position.

Frazier was selected from among four candidates proffered by a job-search firm the city engaged to find a temporary successor to Stephanie Warren, whose resignation became effective yesterday.

“What I liked about him was his knowledge about various levels of government, and that he’s worked for planning departments with different structures,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said. “I’m confident that he can come in, keep the work flowing, manage the staff through the change and provide some guidance for us.”

Frazier will start work on May 1, contingent upon the council approving the contract at a special meeting scheduled for 9:45 a.m. April 30 at City Hall, prior to a 10 a.m. Land Use Committee meeting.

Frazier’s most recent position was as planning director for Cowlitz County, in south-central Washington, a job he held for nine years before being let go in a budget crunch, Kordonowy said. Previously, he had served as planning director for Pierce County, the state’s second largest, for Manatee County, Fla., and for Washington County, Ore.

In all four of those capacities, he directed larger staffs and budgets than the Bainbridge Island planning department, and for jurisdictions with larger populations than the island. He had also worked on the planning staff of Spokane County, and with the cities of Renton and San Diego.

Frazier, 65, earned a bachelor’s degree in urban geography in 1960 from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, and a master’s degree in urban planning in 1966 from the University of Washington.

Frazier said he had no immediate plans for the department.

“I want to reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to talk to the staff,” he said. But he said the job was a caretaker situation, in which his efforts would be directed to maintaining building and planning services.

In announcing Frazier’s selection at Wednesday’s council meeting, Kordonowy said he would not be a candidate for the permanent job.

“We want to separate the permanent position from the interim position. We need someone who can meet the statutory requirements for permit and environmental decisions, and who can manage the work flow.”

Vancil said at the meeting that she was loathe to move forward on Frazier’s contract without seeing a written job description.

In a Thursday interview, she was more emphatic.

“The management structure of that department is broken,” Vancil said. “How is this person going to be effective within a broken system? Will they fix it in their image, and if so, then the permanent director will have to fix it again.”

If Frazier is going to be only a caretaker, Vancil said city Administrator Lynn Nordby could continue in that capacity, as he has for the past two weeks.

Kordonowy said that during the interim director’s tenure, which she said would be a minimum of three months and perhaps as long as six, she plans to seek input from the council and the community in general, then “task the permanent director with evaluating that information.”

While any reorganization will be up to the permanent director, the city administration and the council, Kordonowy said the interim director might provide useful insights.

“If the interim director can provide assessments and input on the job and the structure of the department, so much the better,” Kordonowy said.

Vancil, though, was not persuaded by that plan, saying she was concerned that naming an interim director could lead to an open-ended search for a permanent director. Vancil said her objections have nothing to do with Frazier.

“No doubt Larry Frazier is a stellar candidate, but we have the cart before the horse,” Vancil said. “I don’t feel that we have had a council-level discussion about the need for an interim director. I feel like we’re being steamrolled.”

Vancil said she wanted to know specifically what requirements the administration gave to the job-search firm that located Frazier, indicating that job descriptions should be approved by the council.

Michael Pollock, who left the Wednesday council meeting before the discussion about Frazier, said he shares some of Vancil’s concerns, but believes the issues may be worked out over the weekend.

“I’m not very comfortable in the 15 minutes before (committee) appointing someone when we don’t know the job description, the legal basis for the appointment, how long that person is going to be here and when the community has no input,” he said.

Pollock said he would spend the weekend on the telephone trying to sort out those issues.

“Otherwise, I don’t think this can happen on Wednesday,” he said.

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