Search begins for emergency agency head

Emergency Management Division Director Jim Mullen retires; 7 candidates to interview

Staff writerMarch 3, 2013 

The agency that coordinates the state’s emergency response hopes to have a new leader installed by midmonth.

Emergency Management Division Director Jim Mullen retired Thursday. Interviews of seven job candidates start next Friday, and whoever is chosen will lead the planning for and commun-ications during such disasters as earthquakes, tsunamis and terrorist attacks.

Mullen said he picked a natural stopping point to leave in between major projects and after a 21-month stint as president of the National Emergency Management Association. He said he was tired and ready to spend time with his wife, Linda, after eight and a half years in his state job and 12 years in the same job with Seattle.

“That’s 21 years with your BlackBerry on, and 21 years with never more than a week off,” Mullen, 65, said Friday.

Employees in the agency have a lot of new bosses. It’s been less than a year since replacements stepped in for the assistant director below Mullen and for the boss above him – Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, whom new Gov. Jay Inslee then opted to retain.

Mullen announced his upcoming departure Jan. 16, the day Inslee took office, but said he had made the decision the month before. He said it was his call and that the new general didn’t argue.

He said his retirement isn’t connected to turmoil in the Emergency Management Division in recent months and years, which had led then-Military Department leader Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg to diagnose the division as plagued by a “permissive attitude and lack of accountability.”

Some problems involved alleged misuse of state computers. Others were centered in a unit that oversaw local 911 spending, which Mullen concluded last spring had wasted more than $700,000 on a canceled technology project. The News Tribune reported last December on the mishandled contract, an internal investigation that found ethical lapses, and the departure or reassignment of key employees.

Some of the last official fallout from that project came in January. The Executive Ethics Board concluded a key employee, Lorri Gifford, didn’t violate state ethics laws in dealings with the company, SAS. Unrelated to the project, the board found evidence that a number of Emergency Management employees, including Gifford, had used computers for personal benefit. The board is still investigating.

Several people inside and outside the 911 office had said it was functioning more effectively and ethically. And Mullen said the agency as a whole had improved.

“I don’t think I would have been interested in leaving at all if I didn’t feel we had walked through the fire and come out stronger,” he said.

Filling in during an interim period is the former acting assistant director, Peter Antolin, who is not seeking the job permanently.

Ron Weaver, the Military Department’s chief of staff, said Emergency Management needs to quickly put a permanent leader in place to deal with federal budget cuts and other challenges.

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