Longtime Spokane political strategist Erik Skaggs has taken a $55,000-a-year job as Spokane County’s new director of economic development.
Until last year, he also was a key figure at Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities, Inc., the Spokane-based financial services company that collapsed into bankruptcy.
“Based on the information we have, he directed sales programs at Metropolitan that targeted elderly and retired people – sales programs that were found later to be abusive and fraudulent,” said Mike Shaffer, an attorney involved in the class-action suit brought by investors in the company.
Wednesday, Skaggs’ first day on the new job, county Commissioner Phil Harris praised Skaggs as a valuable contributor to efforts to boost the area’s economy.
“We are extremely lucky to have Erik in this role. He understands our community, has a strong working relationship with local leaders and has a wealth of experience in economic development,” Harris said.
Skaggs’ first assignment with the county will be to organize a Spokane-area economic development summit. The idea was suggested by outgoing Commissioner Kate McCaslin, who said the session is needed to make sure various economic development groups are working together on job creation and business growth.
In his new position Skaggs will be the sole person in the county’s new office of economic development. He will answer to Marshall Farnell, the county’s chief executive officer.
In a press release, commissioners noted Skaggs’ military duty; earlier this year, he completed a tour of duty as an Army reservist stationed in Somalia. The press release noted his months-long stint on the board of the Spokane Public Facilities District; and his four years with the Business Improvement District.
The release did not address his job at Metropolitan, a business failure that wiped out $580 million of investor wealth – much of it belonging to thousands of senior citizens in the Inland Northwest.
Skaggs was a vice president at Metropolitan and a sales director for its brokerage. In 2002 he collected a $130,000 salary and a $40,000 bonus from the company.
Although he was not an officer or a director at Metropolitan, he was named as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit.
“In the case of Skaggs, we made an exception,” Shaffer said.
He said Skaggs and other managers at Metropolitan were responsible for monitoring stock and bond sales to ensure they were done in an ethical manner.
“Unfortunately, he also acted as a cheerleader to make more money,” Shaffer said.
Harris said some view Skaggs as a tough political operative who played hardball to get results. “A better way to describe it is, Erik is a hard and loyal worker,” Harris said. “He has a reputation for doing what his boss asks him to do. When Erik was asked to get results, he got results.”
Efforts to reach Skaggs for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Spokane Mayor Jim West, for whom Skaggs worked for three years when West was a state senator, said the overseas duty, plus the failure of Met, have made Skaggs a smarter, more collaborative worker.
West acknowledged that in the past Skaggs might have fallen victim to a tunnel vision that hampered his ability to work collaboratively. “Erik could become so focused on his job that he tuned out those who were not on the same wavelength. But I think he’s gone through some life-changing experiences in the last year or so,” West said.
The result, West added, is “he seems more willing to listen and work with everyone else around him.” If he hasn’t changed, West added, “he won’t be in that job for very long.”
Skaggs’ job description states dual roles: He’ll be asked to ensure the county does all it can to help the “start-up, retention and expansion of Spokane County businesses and jobs.”
Also, Skaggs will be expected to build an effective working relationship between the county and other area economic development agencies.