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King's reign nears its end; longtime Friday Harbor administrator announces retirement plans
Of its many claims to fame, the fact that Friday Harbor is managed by an administrator whose longevity is unmatched in Washington state is not -- widely known.
But those days are numbered.
After 24 years at the helm of Friday Harbor, retirement beckons for town Administrator King Fitch, and those plans have been set in motion.
"It's time to go, I know that," Fitch said of the pending retirement. "I just feel it. I think 25 years is long enough."
Friday Harbor Mayor Carrie Lacher today announced that Fitch intends to hand over the helm of the town's day-to-day operations by the end of June, 2012, and that he notified town employees of that decision earlier in the day. Lacher said Fitch informed each member of the town council with a personal telephone call.
Fitch's pending departure will present a tough challenge for the town in the months ahead, she said.
"There just doesn't seem to be a good time for difficult news," Lacher said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Fitch's dedication, knowledge, and expertise have been critical to ensuring the well being of this town. His daily presence will be sorely missed."
Even though calling the shots for the town for nearly a quarter-century may be enough, Fitch said the decision to step down is painful just the same.
"As you can imagine, after more than 25 years of service with the town, this has not been an easy decision for me but one that I believe best serves the future of the town," Fitch said in a prepared statement to town employees. "I have had the privilege to serve at the pleasure of five honorable mayors that have betowed upon me their complete trust to manage the day-to-day operations of this wonderful town. Without their support I could not have accomplished the many challenges that presented themselves during my tenure with the town."
That tenure began even before Fitch was selected town administrator by former mayor Jim Cahail. Fitch, who stepped into the administrator post on Sept. 8, 1987, had been working part-time for the town as a building inspector at that time.
"He seemed to me to be very sharp and very interested in the job," Cahail recalls.
As it turned out, Fitch served as town administrator for eight of Cahail's 10 years as Friday Harbor's mayor. They were productive years, Cahail said.
"We all got along good together," he said. "We didn't agree on everything, but you know, that's the way it should be.
Lacher said the list of accomplishments that Fitch put in place over the years is long and significant, which include securing of water rights for the town's future growth, facilitating implementation of the state Growth Management Act, merging the island's fire departments and overseeing several major public works projects, including the recent replacement of the submarine sewer line.
"Mr. Fitch can be proud of his achievements and the legacy of his tenure with the town, she said. "Council members, residents, local business owners, staff and crew all have benefitted from and rely on King's steadying hand at the tiller."
By town ordinance, the administrator is appointed by and serves at the will of the mayor. Fitch and Lacher are currently working on a strategy and timeline for the upcoming transition.
As for the future, Fitch, who will turn 65 in early January, said that he looks forward to having more time to spend with family and with his four grandchildren in particular. And though he and his wife, Pam, have no intention of leaving the island, Fitch said he looks forward to that day when he can also walk down the streets of Friday Harbor without making a mental list of all potholes, catch basins or cracks in the sidewalk that he needs to attend to the following day.
"I'm looking forward becoming a tourist in our town again and walking through the town with fresh eyes," he said.
— See the Sept. 28 edition of the Journal for more coverage of King Fitch's pending retirement and for islanders' reaction to coming departure.