County picks head planner
Kootenai County’s new planning and building director isn’t scared of a little growth.
Scott Clark, who will start May 1, is currently the planning director in Grant County – one of Washington’s fastest growing counties that includes Moses Lake in addition to 139 lakes and miles of agricultural land. It’s a place where last year the three tech giants – Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Intuit Inc. – announced plans to build new computer-data centers in the farming town of Quincy, near the Columbia River.
Clark, 43, is a graduate of Eastern Washington University in Cheney and has been planning director since 2000, overseeing an office of nine. He was raised in the Wenatchee and Chelan areas but has spent time in North Idaho because his family enjoys the outdoors. Clark hunts and fishes.
He sees similarities between Grant County and Kootenai County.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of growth, and I’ve had a lot of experience with the issues, challenges and opportunities,” Clark said Tuesday afternoon in a phone interview after the Kootenai County Commission announced his hire.
Clark will earn $79,500 per year, which is a $12,500 increase from the previous planning director’s salary.
The key position was vacant for 10 months after Planning Director Rand Wichman resigned in June to start a private land-use consulting business.
When he left, Wichman advised that to get the needed talent the county had to bump up the salary for the position, which includes overseeing about 32 employees in the building and planning departments and acting as the advocate for major land-use decisions.
Commissioner Rich Piazza said the salary increase was market-driven.
Clark currently makes about $69,500 in Grant County. He decided to apply for the Kootenai County job for “professional growth” and family reasons.
“He’s a good man,” Grant County Commission Chairman LeRoy Allison said. “We hate to see him go.”
Allison said Clark took the lead implementing the county’s growth management act that was mandated by the state after the area had a huge growth spurt in the early 1990s.
That process included crafting a comprehensive plan, which is the foundation of all land-use decisions and shows how the county should grow.
Kootenai County is rewriting its growth plan, which is the center of debate about encouraging development while preserving rural areas.
“He’s very good at public facilitation,” Allison said. “He assisted us enormously in those public meetings. He allows the public to have their say.”
Clark describes himself as “easy to get along with” and that his management style is to have an open-door policy and maintain communication with staff and the public.
He’s not a micromanager, he said, but he knows how to “roll up my sleeves and help.”
Clark said he knows the planning director job is high-profile, yet he isn’t one to seek attention. He also acknowledged that planning can lead to controversy, which has been the case across the West.
“It’s about balancing all interests and hopes and dreams,” he said.
Bev Twillmann of the watchdog group Neighbors for Responsible Growth attended the commission meeting to learn about the new hire.
“I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt,” Twillmann said of Clark. “None of us want to make a prejudgment.” After Wichman resigned, the position remained open until late December, when the commission appointed Cheri Howell as interim director. The commission interviewed several candidates before appointing Howell but said it wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the applicants.
Later, after Commissioners Piazza and Todd Tondee took office in January, the county readvertised the position.
Seventeen people, including Clark, applied.
Commission Chairman Rick Currie said the commissioners liked Clark’s experience and familiarity with management.
“He showed that little thing that you are looking for,” Currie said, having trouble verbalizing what that “little thing” meant.
At the meeting, Currie invited the two other commissioners to comment but neither did.
When asked if all the board members agreed with the hire, Currie said it was a “unanimous understanding.”
Howell didn’t compete for the job, but Currie said the board wanted one local person to apply. He declined to say whether that person was Howell, calling it a personnel matter.
Howell served as director for seven years before resigning in 2001 to start a private land-use consulting company. She returned to the county in February 2006 as a senior planner to oversee long-range planning, including the rewrite of the county’s growth plan. She will continue in that capacity.
Clark and his wife have seven children ranging in age from adult to elementary school.
“I keep pretty busy with that group,” Clark said when asked about activities in his spare time.
He wants to live in Coeur d’Alene but is still trying to navigate the local housing market, saying “things look a little pricy.”
After getting a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning in 1995, Clark worked for Okanogan County as a planning technician and assistant planner. Prior to getting a planning degree, Clark worked as an engineering technician with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Mines.