Tourism bureau finds interim head

OLYMPIA - John Blankenship has been hired as the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau's interim executive director. He has ties to the organization and starts next week, the board president said Friday.

Blankenship previously was the bureau’s treasurer; he starts Thursday in his new role. He is expected to fill the position until a full-time executive director is hired, likely during the first week of November, VCB board president Steve Garrett said.

“It’s in our best interest that we have an interim director, and it’s a real natural for us to put him in that position,” Garrett said about Blankenship’s ties to the group.

Blankenship, a former U.S. Fish & Wildlife deputy regional director, could not be reached Friday. He said in a prepared statement that his job is to “keep the organization moving forward.”

The Wolf Haven International board of directors fired Blankenship last month, saying they wanted someone with more financial and fundraising expertise to run the nonprofit wolf sanctuary near Tenino.

Blankenship replaces former executive director Mike Dexter, who was fired by the VCB board’s executive committee last month after serving in that role for nearly three years.

Dexter was hired in November 2007 from Iowa, where he was the president and chief executive of the Cedar Rapids Area Convention Bureau for 11 years before resigning in June 2005. Following that, he worked as a consultant. At the time he was hired, the executive director position paid $57,000 a year, plus benefits. That year, the bureau had a budget of about $380,000.

The bureau, which promotes tourism in Thurston County, now operates on an annual budget of about $300,000, Garrett said. Some of that is generated by hotel and motel tax revenue from the county’s three largest cities, as well as membership dues.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403