Schelli Slaughter recently took over as director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.
Slaughter, the former executive director of the Family Support Center in Olympia, replaced Tom Stuebner who was asked to resign in January by the Board of County Commissioners. He had led the department for less than a year.
Two commissioners were elected in November, and commission chairman Bud Blake said the three-member board wanted to take the department in a new direction.
“(Public Health and Social Services) historically has done an amazing job at focusing on public health and safety and we know we have strong programs in that area,” Blake said in a news release announcing Slaughter’s appointment. “What we were really looking for was someone who would focus on enhancing childhood and family prevention social programs in our county.”
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Slaughter began March 27, and has an annual salary of $108,000.
The Olympian recently sat down with Slaughter to talk about her new job. Here are excerpts of the conversation.
Q: First, how is everything going?
A: It’s going really great. It’s been a lot of fun — exciting, interesting and challenging, so far.
Q: Why were you interested in the job? And how long were you at Family Support Center of South Sound?
A: I was there for 14 years. One of the things that I’m really passionate is about working with Thurston Thrives and working across systems and kind of looking bigger picture at our community and making those kind of bridges between Thurston County and local governments and nonprofits and businesses and all of the different sectors. So when this position came up, I just thought that it would be a really great opportunity. ... I loved my work at Family Support Center and I wasn’t planning on leaving for a long time, but I thought I could have good impact in our community at this level.
Q: One of the things that Commissioner Blake mentioned is that the new commission has some new goals, or maybe a new direction for this department. What kind of sense are you getting that the commission wants to change or adjust? What is that new mission?
A: Right now, Thurston County is working on a new mission vision and values statement, so the whole county is starting that process with the new board. Definitely my department, Public Health and Social Services, is going to want to align with that. Also the Board of Health is also going to be going through that same process, kind of establishing our unifying mission. I would say that our Board of Health, the commissioners, are really passionate about this community and child and family wellness and prevention efforts. Those are things that are really important to me as well. It’s a time of kind of opportunity in our community to change, grow, transform and improve things. We’re all going to work together on that.
Q: What’s your background? Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
A: So I’m actually local. I was originally born in Lewis County and went to elementary school in Rochester and I went to Timberline High School in Lacey. I originally went to University of Puget Sound and then I transferred to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I studied psychology, women’s studies and pre-law. I didn’t end up in pursing law because I got more interested in the psychology side of things. Then I had kids and took some time off and I ended up living in King County. I moved back to my hometown for my kids to go to school, and went back to school at The Evergreen State College for a little while. I’ve been back in Thurston County continuously for the last 15 years.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: I’m a single mom. I have four kids: a 6-year-old son who goes to Lincoln Elementary, and a 15-year-old son and a 17-year-old son who go to Capital High School. My 19-year-old daughter is at SPSCC.
Q: Tell us about what your job here entails.
A: I am director of the department, and I’ve been here a whole month now. We’re a pretty broad department. We have a lot of areas of responsibility, everything from environmental health, which includes food safety and hazardous waste, and air and water quality and septics, which a lot of people have heard a lot about, infectious disease — that can be anything from mumps, measles, flu, HIV, that whole aspect of public health — and then we have community renewal and housing. … There’s just a tremendous amount of diverse areas that make up our department. It’s an amazing group of really dedicated staff that really care about our community, and how all of those things are really connected.
Q: Is there anything that you inherited with the job that you’re going to change in the next few months? Budget issues? Any program issues that we’ll see you involved in?
A: There are a lot of different issues that I think will be coming up. I just think in general whenever there’s leadership change in an organization, and this department has gone through some transition the last few years, I think it’s always just a really good opportunity to reassess and take a look and listen. I (want to) do a lot of listening to the employees and the community and the public and all of our stakeholders to just know how we can be the best department and how we can engage more with the community.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: My kids do keep me pretty busy. But when we have nice weather, I love to be outside. I enjoy running and keeping as healthy and fit as I can. I like to do a little bit of photography and I like to just spend time with friends and family and enjoy everything our community has.
Q: When Tom (the former director) was asked to leave, I know it freaked people out. How do you think the employees are transitioning?
A: I think one thing about the county as a whole is that it’s really a time of change for the whole entire county. The directors in all of the departments across the county are all new within the last two years. We have a new Board of County Commissioners, and a new county manager, so everybody is kind of on the same page. We’re all new and looking at: what does that mean for Thurston County? And I think for me coming into that, it’s really been a smooth transition. People have been really warm and welcoming. I think an asset that I brought to this is that I already have a lot of relationships in the community and I’m local, so I think that that really helps to make a difference. I knew some of the employees already that I’ve been able to work with on some issues over the years, so I think that’s made it pretty easy. ... My position is that it’s a politically appointed position so I think there’s a certain amount of just change that happens, whether that’s every four years at a federal or state level. It sort of comes with the territory.