County Council confirms ex-Newcastle city manager as permitting agency chief

May 4, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

King County Council members confirmed former Newcastle City Manager John Starbard to lead the county agency responsible for building and land-use permits.

Officials said they hope Starbard can change the Department of Development and Environmental Services — a department Councilman Reagan Dunn described as “the worst-run agency in county government” until now.

The agency issues building and land-use permits for properties in unincorporated King County, enforces county building and land-use codes, issues business licenses and staffs the King County Fire Marshal Division.

County Executive Dow Constantine appointed Starbard to the post March 1, the same day Starbard started at the agency. The appointment required confirmation from the council.

The council discussed the appointment and questioned Starbard at a committee meeting last week, and then sent the confirmation to the full council for approval. The council OK’d the appointment May 3.

“I’m honored by the trust placed in me by the council and executive,” Starbard said in a statement. “Confirmation in my new role enables me to continue our important work to make our permit processing more efficient and customer-focused, and to prepare for our future as a rural service agency.”

Newcastle City Council members fired Starbard in January. The council attributed the decision to tense relationships between Starbard, elected officials and city residents.

Starbard arrived at Newcastle City Hall in December 2004, after a stint as Maple Valley city manager.

King County staffers and council members praised Starbard before the unanimous confirmation decision. The council did not address the Newcastle firing during the meeting.

“What I’ve seen of Mr. Starbard is a willingness to roll up his sleeves, to get dirty, to do some very hard work under challenging circumstances,” Assistant Deputy County Executive Rhonda Berry told council members before the vote.

Dunn — who represents both cities, as well as unincorporated King County south of Issaquah — said past experiences in municipal government make Starbard the right leader to reshape the permitting department.

“Being a city manager is often the position that draws a lot of the fire and criticism, and you have to deal with a lot of the controversies that occur, while the City Council and the mayor are often more inoculated from it, because you’re on the front lines,” Dunn said.

The councilman then directed a compliment to Starbard, and said past experiences could help him reform the Department of Development and Environmental Services.

“But you have done a very good job, in my judgment, in your past responsibilities, and it gives me hope for the future,” Dunn said.

Dunn and Councilwoman Kathy Lambert — who represents Issaquah and other Eastside communities — said most of the requests they receive from constituents result from conflicts with the permitting department.

“I’m looking forward to the fee structure, I’m looking forward to seeing how the culture changes,” Lambert said. “So, I’m really pleased with the new tone of customer service and the willingness that you have to work with the council members who represent those areas, and making sure that we all hear the same stories and all know how we’re working on this together as a team effort.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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