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Meet the new boss: Q & A with Friday Harbor Administrator Duncan Wilson
Duncan Wilson takes over as administrator of the Town of Friday Harbor knowing that his tenure begins beneath a long shadow cast by his predecessor, King Fitch, who stepped down at the end of June after 25 consecutive years of managing the town.
Still, Wilson, born and raised in Seattle, has extensive resume of his own in public administration. And Wilson, unlike Fitch, a former town building official known for a "meat and potatoes" management style, is also an attorney.
A graduate of the University of Puget Sound school of law (now Seattle University), Wilson practiced law in Washington state for 22 years before joining the city of Covington as city attorney and deputy city manager. He later became manager of the city of North Bend.
Closer to home, Wilson and his wife, Traci, have been married for 22 years and have two daughters, both in their early twenties.
Here are a few of Wilson's thoughts about tackling his new assignment, town priorities and what the future holds for Friday Harbor.
Journal: What significant memories about managing North Bend do you bring to Friday Harbor?
Wilson: When I arrived, North Bend was in the midst of a 10-year building moratorium because they had exhausted their allotted water rights. We obtained a new 50-year water supply and lifted the moratorium. We then annexed land which expanded the city by over one-third and created a utility local improvement district that brought sewer to the annexed area. That was a $19 million dollar project. We were able to get voter approval for a transportation benefit district that added two-tenths of 1 percent to the city sales tax, dedicated exclusively to needed transportation projects. We executed an inter-local agreement with Fire District 38 to jointly build a new fire station and then received voter approval for the bonds. We also went through an extensive branding campaign for the city that resulted in a new logo, tag line and brand statement that has been widely adopted by the business community.
Journal: What has King Fitch warned you to look out for in Friday Harbor?
Wilson: King reminds me that the town has survived by providing “meat and potatoes” with the avoidance of flash and dazzle. King has saved for the rainy day, avoided unnecessary risk and has maintained fairness as a credo. He also has said to avoid driving at Second and Spring when the ferry lets out in the summer.
Journal: What projects are at the top of the pile as you begin your work?
Wilson: The mayor has emphasized completing our obligations to seek annexation to the fire district; navigate through the landfill and transferstation “opportunities”; finalize the solid waste management plan and shoreline master program; and start the planning process to create a tourism master plan. We have issues to address at Sunken Park, the business improvement district, lodging tax priorities, funding for transportation improvements, and wrapping up the Peace Health project. In the near future we will face the replacement of the aging water transmission line from the Trout Lake source to the water treatment facility and then on to the town.
Journal: Any projects you are especially looking forward to?
Wilson: Well, what I am most looking forward to is working with the community on branding the town and promoting economic development. How that can be accomplished has not yet been decided. I work for the mayor and must answer to the town council. I can propose ideas until I am blue in the face, but unless I have their support they are just ideas.
I do think that we can re-visit how we promote our assets, which are the historical character, cultural diversity and natural beauty. We have to do a better job at getting people to the island with a minimum of disruption, educate them about the opportunities for entertainment and enrichment, and yet still preserve the personality that makes Friday Harbor so special.
Journal: Any project you are not looking forward to?
Wilson: No “projects of doom”, although I am fully aware of the complexities with the water line transmission project, especially in finding the appropriate funding mechanism.
Journal: What is your assessment of the budget situation in Friday Harbor?
Wilson: The town has relatively little debt and a strong bond rating. In addition, the real property tax rate is one of the lowest in the state. The mayor, council and administration have been good stewards of the citizen’s money, which is essential to gain and maintain trust. When the town does need to go to the voters on a project, having that trust is invaluable. While the budget here is tight, the foundation is solid.
Journal: On a personal level, what are you looking forward in Friday Harbor?
Wilson: My wife (Traci) and I made the move to Friday Harbor as a quality of life decision. Our kids are now grown and we wanted an adventure; where better to go? I think San Juan Island is the crown jewel of Washington.
Journal: There's always a lot going on between the town and county. How do you plan to work with the county?
Wilson: I think one of the advantages of coming in from the outside is that I have no history and no axe to grind. A fresh start can invigorate a governmental relationship. I have known Bob Jean (interim county administrator) for years and I look forward to working with him. This town isdependent upon the county and the county is dependent upon us as well. We have so many mutual interests.