By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Nichols, 42, submitted his notice of resignation to the Clallam County Board of Commissioners on Friday.
A longtime chief deputy prosecuting attorney, serving since 2006, Nichols became the acting prosecutor when his former boss, Deborah Kelly, retired Dec. 31 with one year left on her four-year term.
Nichols will leave the prosecuting attorney’s office when Payne, the recently appointed county prosecutor, is sworn in next week.
County commissioners voted 2-1 in a contentious meeting Tuesday to select Payne from a field of three candidates, which included Nichols, to fill the last year of Kelly’s term.
Commissioners Mike Doherty and Jim McEntire voted for Payne. Commissioner Mike Chapman voted against the nomination, lending full support to Nichols.
Kelly and several others walked out of the meeting after Payne was nominated.
Nichols said he resigned “out of respect for Mr. Payne and his administration as prosecutor in 2014.”
Payne said he was “disappointed” when he heard about Nichols’ impending resignation.
“I don’t know what’s behind it,” Payne said.
“I wish him well.”
Payne, 57, of Sequim, is an assistant state attorney general and a former Marine.
Nichols had been Kelly’s second-in-command since 2006.
In his public interview with commissioners before the appointment, Payne didn’t mince words about perceived dysfunctions in the prosecutor’s office.
“About eight years ago, Mark Nichols was promoted by Deb Kelly into the chief deputy spot. And then he proceeded during the next eight years to have a 215 percent turnover, to have 44 people get terminated or fired or quit, and basically play manager, if you will, I guess.
“I just don’t think he was qualified.”
In response, Nichols said he has “no regrets” about the way he managed the office under Kelly’s direction.
“As chief deputy, it was my job to stand by the elected prosecuting attorney’s personnel decisions,” Nichols said.
In his resignation letter, Nichols said “it has been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Clallam County over the last nine years as a member of Ms. Kelly’s administration.
“My work in the criminal courts as well as in the civil arena has proven to be both personally fulfilling as well as professionally rewarding.
“Equally rewarding to the job have been the people that I have worked with and met.”
Born and raised in the Seattle area, Nichols moved to the North Olympic Peninsula about 15 years ago and considers the area to be his home.
Payne has said he intends to run for county prosecutor.
Nichols, too, is “strongly considering” his own bid for the $127,302-per-year position.
Since they are both Republicans, Payne and Nichols would face off against each other and perhaps others in an August primary, with the winner advancing to the general election in November.
“We had three candidates that were presented to the Board of Commissioners for their selection,” said Clallam County Republican Party Chairman Dick Pilling.
“Actually, I think our two favorites in the party, of course, would have been Will Payne and Mark Nichols.
“I don’t think I can even say whether one was favored over the other. They’re both very good men.”
Pilling said each candidate was highly qualified.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t have had both of them,” he said.
In his resignation letter, Nichols said he is “proud to leave behind a Prosecuting Attorney’s Office staffed with dedicated and competent public servants.
“These employees are directly responsible for the administration of justice in the county. I would urge you to treat them well, recognizing that they are one of your greatest assets.”
In addition to considering running for office, Nichols, who is not married, plans to take training in his role as president-elect of the Nor’wester Rotary Club and catch up on friendships.
“Last but not least, I probably have a blind date with a steelhead in one of the West End rivers,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.