After a two-month search for a new executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, Gov. Chris Gregoire decided to promote from within.
Gregoire announced Friday that she had appointed Gerry O’Keefe, formerly the No. 2 man at the agency, as its new head.
O’Keefe has been filling in as executive director at the partnership since Dec. 1, when David Dicks resigned to take a job at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.
Environmentalists who have been bird-dogging the partnership’s efforts to restore and protect Puget Sound generally reacted positively to the news.
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“It was a great choice,” said Mike Sato, a representative of the environmental group People for Puget Sound. “Gerry is experienced, he’s steady on, and I think that’s really important at this point.”
“The continuity is important,” Sato said. “Administratively he’s going to do very well because he knows how the system works.”
Dicks left the agency with mixed reviews.
He guided the partnership through the establishment of a playbook for restoration of the Sound – an “Action Agenda” – but was dogged by repercussions from a state audit that found violations of state contracting and purchasing requirements during the agency’s startup phase.
O’Keefe joined the partnership last March – after the critical audit.
Before, he was director of Natural Resources at the Grant County Public Utility District. Earlier in his career he spent eight years at the state Department of Ecology.
In announcing O’Keefe’s appointment, Gregoire reiterated her support for the partnership, even as budgets are being slashed.
Its operating budget for the 2009-11 biennium is $14.5 million, half from federal funds and half from the state. The agency is requesting the same amount for the 2011-13 biennium.
“Even during these tough economic times, we need to invest in the health of our Puget Sound,” Gregoire said. “Our economy depends on it – whether that’s our seafood industry, our tourism industry, even our shipping industry.”
O’Keefe said he was honored by the governor’s confidence in him and vowed to keep the effort on track.
“It’s now our task, as an agency and as a people blessed by the beauty of this place, to make this vision a reality,” O’Keefe said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”