The head of the state facility that houses about 300 of Washington’s violent sexual predators announced this week that he will leave to work with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, helping manage its fish program.
Kelly Cunningham became CEO of the Special Commitment Center in 2009 and has worked at the facility on McNeil Island for 15 years. He will start as deputy assistant director of the Fish and Wildlife Department’s fish program Sept. 1.
Superior courts civilly commit people they define as sexually violent predators to the SCC when they finish their prison sentences. There they are offered specialized mental health treatment that can lead to their return to the community.
Cunningham was offered the new job Friday, and Monday told the secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services that he would take the position. DSHS oversees the SCC.
The department hadn’t decided who would fill the position in the interim after Cunningham leaves, DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley said Wednesday. The position paid about $96,500 in 2011, state records show.
Generally, an acting CEO would be appointed before a recruitment process, Shapley said.
“But of course we’re coming to a transition period at the end of the year,” Shapley added. “We know we’re going to have a new governor, and we know we’re going to have a new secretary; it’s hard to predict right now.”
In an interview Wednesday, Cunningham said he first moved to Washington as a young husband and a new father, taking the first position in state service that came along. That happened to be with the SCC.
But he has always been interested in fish, and working with natural resources has been a long-term goal, he said. Growing up in Alaska, he spent time with his father at the Bristol Bay fishery, he added.
That’s why he enrolled in a master’s of environmental science program at The Evergreen State College in 2004, with the goal of getting the job he was offered last week, he said.
“I’ve always had a strong connection to fish and fisheries,” he said.
During his time at the SCC, Cunningham helped the facility get out from under a federal injunction to make sure the center met constitutional mental health standards. The injunction required a transition facility be established off the island, among other things.
Cunningham said he worked with the court to identify the elements needed to be built into the center’s program and to develop standards for it to be measured by each year.
When the state Department of Corrections closed its McNeil Island prison last year, Cunningham arranged for the center to take up operations previously provided by corrections inmates and staff members. That included having some security guards cross-trained as firefighters and emergency medical technicians, he firstname.lastname@example.org