In a major staff shake-up, Spokane County commissioners Thursday replaced longtime administrator Marshall Farnell with an affable department head who has a reputation for problemsolving.
Commissioners met for more than five hours Thursday as top managers shuffled in and out of the closed-door sessions. In the end, Jim Lindow was named to replace Farnell and Dennis Scott, public works director, was given authority for engineering and planning.
Commissioners also terminated consultant Carol Darby’s contract.
The changes, which reflect a trend toward consolidation, were announced by commission Chairman Skip Chilberg late Thursday afternoon.
The swiftness of the personnel actions came as a surprise, especially to the man tapped to replace Farnell.
“Obviously I’m in a little bit of shock at this point, too,” said Lindow, a 49-year-old Rogers High School graduate who started with Spokane County as a probation officer in 1971. Lindow has a psychology degree from Eastern Washington University and a master’s in counseling from Whitworth College.
The changes become effective this morning when Lindow is expected to move into Farnell’s office. There will be a formal search, but commissioners have confidence Lindow has the credentials to be hired permanently.
Farnell, chief administrator at the county for 16 years, has been a mentor to Lindow, who managed the juvenile detention center and Geiger Corrections Center, and in 1992 was appointed to head five departments, some with severe employee morale problems.
Commissioners say Lindow is efficient, articulate and can anticipate problems and concerns before they arise. They added that Lindow has certain skills that Farnell does not. He is a better people person, able to analyze and present policy options and articulate ideas to the public, they said.
One of Lindow’s management philosophies, taken from Gen. George Patton, is posted on his office bulletin board: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want them to achieve and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Farnell, who makes $79,162, was given authority over administrative services, which includes budget, purchasing, building maintenance, computer services and the print shop.
“I think it’s positive,” said Farnell. “I know coming from me that’s hard to believe, but I think change is inevitable. It can breathe new life into the organization.”
Chilberg said commissioners were ready to promote Lindow last year. But before taking action, they decided to wait to hear consultant Carol Darby’s recommendations and to be sure Pat Mummey’s replacement was in agreement.
Many of the changes in the management structure announced Thursday were recommended by Darby, who issued a report on county operations last month. Her main suggestion was strengthening the commissioners’ office so policies made by elected officials could be implemented quicker and without confusion.
Though Darby’s work was praised by Commissioner Phil Harris, who took office Sunday, he made the motion Thursday to terminate Darby’s contract.
Darby earned her money, Harris said, but commissioners should now use the funds to make changes, rather than study them.
Darby’s contract requires 30 days notice and Harris wanted to pay her off immediately. Chilberg said the county should expect some work from Darby and said he will supervise her until the contract ends.
“I think she has some very important skills and we need to take advantage of that,” said Chilberg.
Both Darby’s report and the commissioners say there has not been enough coordination among departments handling building permits, utilities, engineering and land-use planning. Scott will now bring together those functions.
“It’s not a matter of putting one under the other, but of creating a team,” said Chilberg.
Scott has handled difficult tasks and was praised by commissioners for putting together plans for the Gleneden sewer interceptor. An engineer by trade, Scott is politically savvy and active in community affairs. Like Lindow, he’s articulate and brings issues to commissioners before they boil over.
Chilberg said he is confident the changes made Thursday will affect the county for years to come.
“It’s a lot for one day,” added Hasson.
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