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Shakeup in store as Shannon steps down, takes new role at Public Works
Editor's note: the article below was submitted as a press release by San Juan County Communications Manager Stan Matthews.
San Juan County Administrator Pete Rose announced Friday, March 11, that longtime county Public Works Director Jon Shannon has asked to be reassigned from his position as department head to the position of transportation planner within the Public Works Department.
In a letter formally making the request, Shannon said that he has been struggling with a chronic health condition for the past year and that the stress and long hours required by the director position has aggravated the condition.
“Jon is an extremely talented and knowledgeable man and I am glad that we have been able to find a way to keep his talents in the organization.” Rose said.
Shannon’s decision and the decision of seven-year veteran county Engineer John Van Lund to retire at the end of April, have prompted a number of personnel moves within the Public Works Department.Rose has promoted Senior Engineer Rachel Dietzman, who has worked for the department under Mr. Van Lund’s supervision since 2007, to the position of county engineer.
The county’s current transportation planner, Shannon Wilbur, will move into the senior engineer’s position, opening the position Shannon, the department's director, will assume.
“Jon Shannon and I and our human resources staff talked about his move at length," Rose said. "The common wisdom is that once someone has been a department head, it is nearly impossible for that person to move back into a staff role in the same department – but in this case I agree with what our citizens love to say: ‘San Juan County is unique'.”
Shannon said it was a difficult decision, but it was his love for the islands that tipped the balance.
“There are nearly a dozen openings for public works directors around the state now, but my wife and I want our kids to grow up here.”
Shannon has been a resident of Shaw Island since he was hired by the county as manager of the Solid Waste Division in 2001. He became Public Works Director in January, 2003.
“Over my 8 years as public works director I have accomplished a lot that I am proud of," Shannon said. "We have built a very talented and dedicated a team that will continue serve the community; we’ve completed several major projects – including the Cattle Point Road, Fisherman Bay Road, and Roche Harbor Dock – that had been lingering for decades; and we worked hard to increase the amount of state and federal funding to the county. Through those efforts we have received millions of dollars for our local infrastructure projects.”
However, the stresses of the position have been intense. Shannon became the target of strong personal attacks from a group of citizens after, at the direction of the Board of County Commissioners; he negotiated the purchase of a tract of land on Beaverton Valley Road. Neighboring property owners feared that a trash transfer station would be located on the property and mounted an intense campaign to prevent that from happening.
And over the past two years, the Public Works budget has been stressed by a sharp drop in state road fund revenue, and the Solid Waste Division has seen the volume of trash drop 33 percent below its break even level. The County Council and some citizen activists have pressured Shannon and his department to continue the current service levels as revenues has dropped.
During his time as director, Shannon gave the former county commission and, subsequently the county council, frequent warnings that the solid waste division’s volume-based revenue structure and lack of capital funding was vulnerable to the kind of a meltdown that has now sent it more than a million dollars in debt.
“I’m not looking back," he said. "I am looking forward to being able to put my expertise as a planner and my love of public infrastructure to good use, and letting someone with fresh eyes and fresh ideas deal with the challenges the department is facing." Shannon acknowledges that moving into the new position will mean a pay reduction of nearly one-third the amount of his director's salary.
“If it was about money, I would have moved on a long time ago,” he said. “But I just don’t think there is another place on earth like San Juan County. This is where I want to live and this is where I want to raise my children.”