Two Pacific Northwest planners are vying to be Astoria’s next community development director — a post that has been vacant for nearly two years.
At a public meet and greet Tuesday, Elaine Placido, the director of community services for Cowlitz County, Washington, and Jefferson Spencer, the former planning director for Jefferson County, mingled with community leaders, residents and city staff.
The city has not had a community development director since Kevin Cronin left in 2017. City Manager Brett Estes has filled in as interim director in addition to his regular duties, but the department has relied heavily on contract consultants and planners to handle day-to-day work.
Placido is the director of community services for Cowlitz County, in charge of combined building and planning and health and human services departments. She oversees a staff of 60 people and also runs a working farm in Rainier with her family. She first arrived in Oregon with the Coast Guard in the early 1980s.
Spencer was hired as the planning director for Jefferson County in 2016 and left the job in April. He was Jefferson County’s first full-time planner since 2012. He has worked primarily in Oregon and Washington state, with a career in environmental and land use planning.
Both have relevant experience and appear eager to be in Astoria, said Jan Mitchell, a former planning commissioner and a longtime planner herself, after speaking with the two candidates at the event Tuesday.
“So for me it’s a matter of how would they work with other city staff and the city manager, how would they engage with the community,” Mitchell said, adding, “Probably either of them could do this job.”
The community development director oversees a department tasked with economic development, land use planning, zoning administration, building inspection, historic preservation and code enforcement, among other responsibilities.
In the past two years, the department has tackled complex code amendment projects tied to waterfront development, as well as complicated development applications.
Since Cronin left, Estes has recruited numerous candidates and made several offers without success. A woman he offered the job to earlier this year initially accepted but then backed out for personal reasons. Afterward, the City Council approved an increase to the job’s salary range at the recommendation of a recruitment agency the city hired to find applicants.
Several issues have complicated the search, Estes said. How much money the city could offer was one matter, but he noted the city is also trying to hire at a time when the economy is strong and planners with the necessary experience are scarce.
Other candidates might have a spouse or partner who struggles to find suitable employment on the North Coast.
Placido and Spencer will participate in a series of interviews with department staff, an interview committee and Estes this week.
“I would like to be able to have a direction and be moving forward before the end of the week and initiate background checks before the end of the week or the beginning of next week,” Estes said.