Opinion

King County enters the Dow Constantine era | Bob Roegner

Fresh off a surprisingly decisive win over Susan Hutchison, new King County Executive Dow Constantine has moved quickly to start refashioning county government.

His first appointment of primary opponent Fred Jarrett as deputy county executive was roundly applauded. Jarrett is a Democratic State Senator from Mercer Island who also served in the state House of Representatives. As a council member and mayor of Mercer Island, and past president of the Suburban Cities Association of King County, Jarrett has solid suburban credentials. He knows the suburbs and their problems very well, having spent significant amounts of time in Renton, Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and others over the years. Interestingly, the former Republican had also been approached by Hutchison to serve in her administration had she prevailed.

As a former legislator, Jarrett knows the ropes in Olympia and all the players. King County’s legislative proposals for additional revenue options ran into problems with the Legislature due to issues and costs associated with the county’s labor contracts. Jarrett should be able to help the county with some of his former colleagues. Possibly as part of that issue, the current assistant to the executive for labor relations won’t be part of the new management team.

Also added to the executive’s office are old pros Steve Call as interim budget director and Frank Abe, who is actually returning after serving as the council’s communications director for the past several years.

Call had retired from county service a few years ago and has been working in the private sector. He is widely respected both in and out of county government. Even though his tenure may be short, his appointment brings credibility at a key time. Former budget director Bob Cowan was out with health issues for several months. His deputy filled in admirably, but Call’s history with the departments and council will prove beneficial. Cowan has returned to county government to help out as chief administrative officer over the Department of Executive Services. This is a key appointment. We’ll watch to see who gets that position on a permanent basis.

Another familiar name to south county watchers is Rhonda Berry, who was appointed assistant deputy county executive. Berry has been the city administrator for the City of Tukwila for several years.

Other appointments include Sung Yang, chief of staff for Seattle City Light as director of government and labor relations; Carrie Cihak, King County Council legislative analyst as director of strategic initiatives; and Lorie McKay, who will move from state and federal relations to director of customer service.

With fewer resources, less staff and bigger problems, Constantine and his new team will face significant challenges. These are just the first round of changes, and there will be more as Constantine seeks to redirect county government with his own vision. Many of these staff are new and untried, just like the new King County Executive.

Managing in King County is the big leagues, where mistakes end up on the front page of the morning paper. This appears to be a good start, but we will have a better feel after the rest of the appointments are made — and we see how they respond when the actual art of governing begins.

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