County public works official hired as Camas city administrator

Capell another loss for Clark County’s senior leadership team in 2013

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 
photoPete Capell

The city of Camas has selected Clark County Public Works Director Pete Capell as its next city administrator.

Capell will begin his new job Jan. 6, and will be paid $131,652 per year in salary.

Capell was one of three finalists for the job. Also considered for the role were Peter Mayer, who previously served as the director of Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation and is currently the deputy director for the Snohomish Health District in Everett, and Joe Hannan, the city administrator for Mukilteo.

By selecting Capell, the city gains 17 years of knowledge accrued during his tenure with the county. Fourteen of those years were spent in his role as top administrator of the public works department.

"Pete brings a great deal of experience to us, and we are very fortunate to have him agree to work with us," said Camas Mayor Scott Higgins. "Camas is a city that will continue to attract business and positive growth, and Pete is uniquely prepared to help guide us through those changes."

For Capell, a graduate of Oregon State University with a degree in engineering, the new job marks a fulfillment of a career goal he said he's long been interested in.

"I'm really excited," Capell said. "They have a great staff, and they have great people to work with. And it's a pretty stable organization with a good group and a great work environment. And they have a great vision for the future. Camas has just got it all going."

Earlier this year, Capell was one of two internal candidates considered to replace the now retired Clark County Administrator Bill Barron in the top county job. The position was instead given to Mark McCauley, the former director of the county's general services department.

"It's not related to not being selected for the county administrator position," Capell said. "I think this has just worked out well for me."

Another county loss

And for Clark County, the hire means the organizational brain drain deepens as tenured administrators continue to leave the county. Capell becomes the sixth member of the county's senior leadership team to depart in 2013.

Joining Capell and Barron in the past year's exodus from the politically turbulent county were former Deputy County Administrator Glenn Olson, who chose to take an administrator job in Kitsap County rather than apply for the Clark County administrator role; former Public Health Director John Wiesman, who accepted a job at the state's health agency; former Budget Director Jim Dickman, who took a similar role with Pierce County; and former Environmental Services Director Kevin Gray, who accepted a settlement from the county and resigned after withdrawing a whistle blower complaint he had filed against Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke.

Last month, former county Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Rekah Strong told Mielke and Commissioner David Madore that they were to blame for the high turnover.

"Your employees fear you," Strong said at a public meeting. "They're not engaged. They're operating in a place of paralysis. … We've had a mass exodus of employees because people are fearful."

Strong resigned her position in July.

Capell said he wouldn't comment on motivations for high turnover of staff.

But he did confirm that he had received an email from Madore in July in which the Republican commissioner criticizes Capell and his allocation of staff time after Madore's plan to remove parking fees at county parks resulted in increased vandalism and scattered rubbish in parks.

While police blamed the problems on increased traffic from the removal of the fees, Madore wrote to Capell that staff duties, not the number of park visitors, was the issue.

"I find it perplexing that suddenly we have a problem in our parks," Madore wrote, shortly after voting with Mielke to remove the fees. "Since removal of the park fees, we have the same level of staff in the parks, and continue to care for our parks with excellent maintenance. Since the basic services, park staff and park maintenance have not changed since the removal of fees, I am left wondering, how is the park staff now being utilized? Since they are no longer in booths collecting the fees, have they been redirected or assigned to other important duties? Are they out in the parks, monitoring, reporting, and greeting the public?"

In the leadup to Barron's retirement, Capell appeared the obvious successor to the county administrator role. Capell was often put in charge when Barron was out of the office, and Barron even named Capell as his choice to take over.

And while Madore appeared to have soured on Capell in the aftermath of the parks problems, it was Capell who later rectified the issues.

And as recently as last month, Madore told Capell he had hit a "home run" in his creation of a county parks department after the county and city separated their joint agreement to operate parks and recreation.

According to Capell, the plan that he drafted with the urging of Madore is expected to save the county roughly $400,000 per year beginning in January.

Still, Capell hadn't won all the commissioners over. Mielke told him it appeared he had simply created more bureaucracy during the first presentation.

Capell said he was asked during the interview process at Camas how he would respond if the mayor or council directed him to move forward with a plan he disagreed with.

"I told them it's my job to tell them if I disagree," Capell said. "But at the end of the day, they are the ones elected to make those decisions and it is my job to get it done."