David Dicks has stepped down as executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency assigned the task of cleaning up Puget Sound.
Dicks, who helped form the concept of the partnership and directed it through its start-up phase beginning in 2007, announced Wednesday that he has accepted a job with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.
Dicks will stay on as head of the Tacoma-based agency through the end of this month. Gov Chris Gregoire, who appointed Dicks to the partnership job, will choose his replacement.
The governor praised Dicks on Wednesday and said she had appointed him a member of the partnership’s seven-member Leadership Council, a board of volunteer advisers.
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“David has given the past six years of his life to the creation and running of the Puget Sound Partnership,” Gregoire said. “Thankfully, David will continue to be a major player in Puget Sound restoration with my appointment of him today to the Leadership Council.”
Dicks, 39, said he was not asked to step down from the $125,000-a-year position.
“It was completely my decision,” he said. “It was mostly because I was kind of feeling that it was getting time to do something else.
“These are hard jobs, and this one has been particularly hard because it was a start-up, with a giant mandate: ‘Go save Puget Sound.’ Overall, it has been a fantastic experience because that mission is so overwhelmingly positive and compelling to me.
“As I said to Gov. Gregoire, this will probably be the best job I’ll ever have, and it’s hard to walk away from it.”
Partnership staff members and others who have worked with Dicks praised his work Wednesday, but he sometimes has been on the hot seat during his tenure.
A state audit of the first few months of the start-up of the agency turned up violations of state contracting and purchasing requirements. The offenses were relatively minor, but were an embarrassment and damaged the partnership’s credibility.
The issues surrounding the audit led to personal attacks that grew into a distraction from the agency’s mission, Dicks said.
Also, he said, the perception in some quarters that he was given the job because he is the son of U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, refused to go away, no matter how many times Gregoire and Norm Dicks said it was not true.
As executive director of the partnership, David Dicks managed a staff of about three dozen people at the Urban Waters building headquarters on the Foss Waterway. The agency’s operating budget for the 2009-11 biennium is $14.5 million, half from federal funds and half from the state.
Since 2008, nearly $500 million in state and federal dollars has been set aside for more than 600 Puget Sound projects in the 12 counties surrounding the Sound.