City of Bainbridge Island picks new planning chief

Gary Christensen has been chosen to be Bainbridge Island’s new planning director.

Gary Christensen has been chosen to be Bainbridge Island’s new planning director.

The city made the announcement Tuesday.

Christensen, who is currently the administrator/manager of the Skagit County Planning and Development Services Department, is expected to begin his new job in April.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Gary join the city of Bainbridge Island as our new planning and community development director,” said City Manager Doug Schulze.

“Gary’s extensive knowledge, experience and proven leadership skills will be instrumental as we complete the comprehensive plan update, and streamline and enhance our planning and development processes to take them to the next level,” Schulze said.

Christensen replaces former director Kathy Cook, who announced late last year that she would retire in early January. In recent weeks, the planning department has been led by Joseph Tovar, the city’s comp plan consultant.

Christensen was the top choice from a pool of 40 candidates from 15 states and Canada.

The city extended a final job offer to Christensen on Feb. 29.

According to an offer letter obtained from the city, Christensen will be paid a salary of $131,133 a year ($10,928 a month). He will also get 13.33 hours of vacation leave a month, and 80 hours of vacation on the day he is hired.

Christensen will serve a probationary period for his first six months. If he is fired without cause, he will receive a severance package of nearly $22,000 and reimbursement of up to $3,000 for moving expenses.

The city hired Strategic Government Resources, an executive search firm  based in Keller, Texas, to do a nationwide search for a new planning director. City officials said the search was a highly competitive process, with the top four finalists “being interviewed and thoroughly vetted to determine the best fit for the city.”

Christensen is a certified planner with 29 years of experience in local government, with 27 of those years working for Skagit County. He is a graduate of Washington State University and has a master’s degree in regional planning. Christensen also has a bachelor of science degree in agricultural land resources from Montana State University, with an emphasis in landscape design.

City officials said he will bring a wealth of planning knowledge and experience to Bainbridge Island. Christensen is an appointed member of the Puget Sound Partnership and Washington State Conservation Commission Ag Incentives Committee, and is also currently president of the Washington State Association of County and Regional Planning Directors.