January 25, 1997 in City

New Ecology Director Gets An Opportunity To Broadcast His Beliefs

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington state’s new environment czar isn’t nearly as well-known in Spokane as his opinionated older brother, KXLY Radio talk show host Mike Fitzsimmons.

But that’s soon to change.

Thomas Fitzsimmons, 46, is about to vault to statewide prominence as the new head of the Washington Department of Ecology.

Does he agree with brother Mike’s hard-right politics?

No.

Tom Fitzsimmons is a Democrat and a believer in bipartisan civility. Gov. Gary Locke recently named the former Thurston County administrator to head Ecology, an agency with more than 1,400 employees and a $250 million biennial budget.

“Mike and I have loud arguments over Thanksgiving dinner,” Fitzsimmons joked in an interview Friday in Spokane.

Fitzsimmons will face a long list of contentious issues in his high-profile cabinet job.

He’ll also have to deal with a Legislature controlled by Republicans who’d like to trim back Ecology’s budget and its power.

Fitzsimmons is already an Olympia insider. He headed Locke’s transition team, getting a close-up look at the selection of key agency directors and staff. His wife Brenda works for state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.

A wildlife photographer and mountain climber who once led an expedition to Mount Everest, Fitzsimmons says he’s thrilled with his new job.

“The environment has always been a major interest. If I could have waved a magic wand, it would have ended up this way,” he said.

Fitzsimmons’ No. 1 goal: Trying to resolve bitter divisions over water permits in a state with dwindling water resources.

Water is one of the most strife-torn areas of state government, and Ecology’s rules have for years drawn criticism from environmental groups, industry and other government agencies for delays and inefficiencies.

“We must sort out our priorities on this issue,” Fitzsimmons said.

He’ll also have to deal with lingering anger among Eastern Washington bluegrass growers about a new state rule phasing out field burning by 1998 to protect public health.

Fitzsimmons won’t rescind the burning phase-out enacted by his predecessor, Mary Riveland. But he does intend to pay close attention to how it’s implemented.

“It would be harmful to roll back the rule. But I want to minimize its impact on the people affected,” Fitzsimmons said.

Fitzsimmons grew up in Western Washington, one of eight children.

He graduated from the University of Washington in 1973 and obtained a master’s degree in public administration from Seattle University in 1979.

He worked for King County as a program development manager before becoming Thurston County’s chief administrative officer in 1986.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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