Long-time Gig Harbor planning director Jennifer Kester is taking a job in SeaTac after a change in departments announced by Mayor Kit Kuhn eliminated her position.
“I have accepted an offer with the city of SeaTac to be their Planning Manager,” Kester wrote in a statement to the Peninsula Gateway. “I have greatly enjoyed working for the city, including the opportunity to lead the planning department the last five years.”
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With her goes years of experience and detailed knowledge of city planning policies and practices, including the code changes after a six-month building moratorium ended in August.
“She gave 200 percent,” Kuhn said. “She was detail-oriented and worked very hard for the city.”
Kester worked with the city for 16 year, the last five as the planning director. She managed eight employees and made $119,412 a year.
At the beginning of August, the mayor announced his desire to merge the planning and building departments with one director. The new position would be titled the community development director.
“The city ran this way previously for seven years,” Kuhn said. “In this way it is better to only have one pair of eyes.”
Kuhn said he started having concerns with how the city was structured after he began his first term as mayor.
“When a developer or resident comes in with a building project, there are many different people with different tasks,” Kuhn said. “But to get any questions answered you get sent to many different people. There’s a lack of communication. With a new director, I will have a person who can handle all of this, and they will have the knowledge of all the steps it takes to make a project happen.”
Newly hired city administrator Wade Farris said the department changes will be his first large project, which he hopes to complete by December.
“Gig Harbor is a unique place, on purpose,” Farris said. “I want to flush out this structure and meet the vision of the mayor and council. There are a lot of development projects, and this new person can meet those needs.”
Kester was invited to apply for the new director position but declined the invitation after being offered a position with the city of SeaTac.
“Her invitation to interview did not guarantee her a job,” Kuhn said. “I wanted to make sure to see all the applicants.”
Losing Kester, Farris said, is more than losing a dedicated employee.
“We are going to lose her experience and corporate knowledge,” Farris said. “We are going to use her last three weeks to help transition, train and guide her employees.”
Kuhn said he has not publicly posted the opening for a community development director.
The merger is the not the first shake-up under Kuhn.
In January, the mayor removed former city administrator Ron Williams, following up on one of his campaign promises. Kuhn has since hired Farris to take over permanently. The mayor is also considering hiring an in-house attorney.
“I have no problem with the performance of Wallace, Ogden and Murphy,” Kuhn said. “But everything seems to be a contract, and we are a busy city. Having an attorney in-house to be able for staff, council and myself to walk right into their office and get an answer or change a contract right away will save time, money and efficiency.”
Farris said he is working with the mayor and department heads to create a new employee organizational chart before the mayor advertises for the new community development director position.
“This is a great community to serve, and I wish it the best as it continues to grapple with tough issues,” Kester wrote in her statement. “I am honored and humbled to have been able to work with so many great employees.”