Handled multiple tasks in 12-year tenure
Perry Huston, who has handled everything from the county’s comprehensive plan to water availability to decisions on subdivisions for a dozen years as Okanogan County’s planning director, has resigned as of July 17. He submitted his letter of resignation to the county commissioners three days earlier.
“He cited personal reasons for needing to go and take care of personal business that was important,” said Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover last week. “It was totally his decision.”
In his letter of resignation, Huston said, “Although we have talked for some weeks now about my approaching departure I realize this is earlier than planned. For that I apologize but due to the incredible amount of work to be done and the pace the load makes necessary I have neglected a family obligation for much too long.”
Beyond his regular workload, Huston was a familiar presence at after-hours meetings throughout the county, heading up public meetings on large, countywide endeavors like the comp plan and zoning code, and on issues like water, wildfire and the proposed gravel pit near Methow. He regularly led commissioners’ proceedings on complex topics, citing details of state law and county code by number and section.
One of the most significant projects on Huston’s plate when he resigned was the comp plan, said Hover. Huston has been revising the plan to incorporate public and agency input and recently issued a draft environmental impact statement on the plan, with six chapters and five appendices — thousands of pages in all.
Huston was also the county official responsible for the environmental review of countywide matters like the Shoreline Master Program and all-terrain vehicle routes, and of proposals for nightly rentals and subdivisions that generally have a more limited impact.
In his letter, Huston pointed to the major projects he’s handling, which are at a point where a change would be smooth.
“Transition is challenging no matter when it comes but with the comprehensive plan in the comment period for the next phase of review, the interim zone amendments you have discussed adopted, and the WRIA 49 [Okanogan watershed planning] process well on its way this is probably the best time within the window of time I have afforded myself. In some respects this presents a wonderful opportunity for you to bring in fresh eyes and rested hands to help you carry on your mission,” he said.
Huston also served as the county’s enforcement officer, following up on complaints about unpermitted projects or construction and occasionally issuing orders of violation.
Huston started at the county in April 2007 as planning director. His role was expanded to include the position of administrative officer in 2015, which added $10,000 to his annual salary. He was earning close to $90,000 under his current contract.
Since Okanogan County doesn’t have a county administrator and has a limited budget, those tasks have to be handled by someone, and often fall to the planning director, Hover said.
“Even though my 12 years has had occasionally tumultuous times I have enjoyed my work in Okanogan County and consider my time here well spent. I have enjoyed working with you as a board. I must now look to the future. While it has been many times fun and rewarding it is now time to move along,” Huston said in his letter.
Before joining Okanogan County, Huston was a Kittitas County commissioner from 1999 to 2006 and a police officer for the city of Ellensburg for 10 years.
“My staff has the tools necessary to support you through this transition. I feel it is sometimes forgotten that when my job assignments went outside the traditional role of planning director so too did theirs. From operating the fairgrounds to managing the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] paperwork for the Carlton Complex fire they have always been willing and capable when asked to support me in my efforts to support the Board of County Commissioners,” Huston said in his letter.
Angie Hubbard, a senior planner in the department who’s been with the county since 2007, is serving as interim director. The county is reviewing job descriptions and responsibilities in comparable counties to capture all the duties the planning director performs, said Human Resources Director Tanya Craig. They’re also researching the role of a community development director, a position Okanogan County has not historically had, she said.
The commissioners are evaluating the structure of the planning department to ensure they have adequate staffing and expertise, Hover said. They hope to advertise for a new planning director in the next few weeks.