Longtime county administrator abruptly resigns in Jefferson County

Morley to help with transition, he says

Philip Morley

Philip Morley

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley has resigned, effective Friday.

The “mutually agreed upon resignation” was discussed in an executive session of the county commissioners Monday afternoon, and finalized between commission chair Kate Dean and Morley on Tuesday, Morley said. It was announced to staff on Thursday.

“It has been an honor to serve the citizens of this county. It’s been the honor of a lifetime,” said Morley, who has worked as the county administrator since October 2008, about 12½ years.

The resignation was effective as of 5 p.m. Friday. Mark McCauley, county central services director, is the acting county administrator.

Morley will be a county employee through June 30, working virtually to assist the county with transition, but not as the administrator.

“In conversations with the commissioners, once we decided we wanted to move forward with a transition, it just made sense for us to get on with it and there are these two months I’ll be on hand to help as may be needed,” he said.

Dean who was not prepared to talk about the resignation when first approached Friday, later said expects to begin hiring process discussions as soon as Monday and hopes to fill the position permanently within three to four months.

Dean said the board of county commissioners wants a change in leadership.

“We have one of the youngest boards of commissioners in the state and we would like to see more innovation and there’s some excitement I’d say at the board level thinking anew about we do things and why and how we can do them better.”

Dean, who is 46, said that commissioners are eyeing a “working board” model, which would have them more involved in the day-to-day work of the county. They are looking at models for “how the government can work differently; more nimbly,” she said.

“It’s become clear in the last year that there is a new board that wants to head in a different direction,” Dean said, “and Philip has provided really stable leadership for the county but I think he saw it was time for new leadership as well.

“We’re really lucky that we have somebody to serve as the interim to keep things rolling along at the county.”

Leadership positions such as Morley’s normally changes every five to seven years and it’s unusual for someone to stay for longer and it’s normal for new leadership to come in to bring new perspective, Dean said.

She did not say why the resignation was so abrupt.

District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour, 50, who has been on the board only since late December, didn’t comment on the resignation agreement itself but was appreciative of the work Morley has done and how reliable he has been, she said Friday.

“Philip has done great service to the county in his 12 years with us,” Eisenhour said. “He’s done great work for the county.”

District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton, who is either 48 or 49, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

“Being a younger board, I think Greg, Heidi and I bring a fresh perspective and desire to roll up our sleeves more than other commissioners have in the past and we think it will be easier to establish this working board model with an administrator who can start over with that understanding,” Dean said. “It makes sense to bring in somebody new as we bring in new ways of doing things.”

Morley, who is 67, said it was time for a change.

“This is a time now for a transition of leadership for Jefferson County,” Morley said. “This was the right time.

“I feel like I set up the county for really being able to move forward towards recovery from the pandemic, building bigger and better for the welfare of the citizens.”

His tenure was bracketed by two national crises: the Great Recession of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other senior management officials have left in the last few months — former Community Development Director Patty Charnas and former Human Resources Manager and Clerk of the Board Erin Lundgren and two retirements are planned later this year.

In addition, the county has been notified of state funding for the Port Hadlock Sewer Project, a facility that has been discussed off-and-on for the last 20 years, and the county is, many feel, heading toward the end of the pandemic,

Morley also tapped the Olympic Discovery Trail extensions, the 7th and Hendricks affordable housing project and the county receiving about $8 million in the next two years from the America Rescue Plan Act funds as major projects that will benefit from new leadership.

“It’s really the right time I think for a new team to tackle these opportunities and I just feel great about having contributed to helping the county through two national crises, accomplishing a lot in the intervening years and handing it off to a new team,” he said.

Terms of a settlement agreement are expected to be finalized next week.

“We expect to reach a settlement agreement that is appropriate with his employment agreement,” Dean said.

The county is really looking at its leadership strategies moving forward out of the pandemic, which played a factor in the decision, Dean said.

“It’s also an opportunity for us to look how we want to do things differently and coming out of Covid is a great time to be thinking about the future.

“So, we will be working with all of the leadership team at the county about what is the position we want to hire for, do we want to make changes in staffing these important responsibilities the administrator holds, how do we want to think differently about leadership.”

“I feel cautiously optimistic, we have a really strong team at the county right now,” she said. “I feel like we’ll weather this fine, with maybe a few bumps in the road.

“It’s so easy to do things the same way because that’s how it’s been done, and sometimes it takes a change like this to think differently and government is never going to be the most innovative sector to work in,” she continued.

Both Morley and Dean said that there was no animosity concerning the resignation and that the process has been “very gracious.” A farewell lunch was offered for him on Friday. They said that there was “a lot of respect” from both him and the commission in an effort to move the county forward.

Morley chose to resign verses retire because he doesn’t know quite yet what he wants to do next, he said, adding that he just hasn’t had time to process that decision for himself.

“I’ve put in pretty long hours working for the public here and for the citizens of Jefferson County,” he said. “So, I’m looking forward to spending some time for me and really looking at what the next chapter may be.

“I haven’t really had the time to be present to myself and my future to even think about it. So, that’s part of this too, stepping back and having the time to think about next steps.”

Morley said he is proud of his contributions toward “creating a culture of collaborations” between the eight elected county officials and the appointed county directors, that he feels has been key to the county working through crises.

Morley is confident that McCauley will be successful as the interim administrator, as his current role already had him step into the administrator position when Morley wasn’t there and he served as the county manager for Clark County before being hired in Jefferson County, Morley said.

“He had my job in a larger county, so Jefferson County is in good hands,” he said.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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