San Juan County thanks County Manager Mike Thomas for 10 years of public service in the islands

Submitted by San Juan County

San Juan County’s Manager, Mike Thomas, steps down this month after 10 years of public service in the islands. Thomas’ leadership helped the County navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, yearly budget cycles, the implementation of the 32-Hour Work Week, and much more. He oversaw the completion of notable projects including the Prune Alley redesign, the Beaverton Valley Operations Center, Emergency Communications Radio System financing, the Orcas Park-n-Ride, and the implementation of the Home Fund, among others.

“We were incredibly fortunate to have someone of Mike’s experience and expertise at the helm of our organization for so long,” said Councilmember Christine Minney. “His thoughtful leadership and wit will be missed. We wish him well in the next chapter.”

In total, Thomas has 30+ years of experience as a municipal government professional. His policy, management, and organizational skills provided the foundation for his work as a city administrator of the City of Enumclaw, and intergovernmental affairs advisor for King County.

“As our City Administrator, Mike was instrumental in annexing the City of Enumclaw into both the King County Library System and King County Fire District #28, freeing up the city’s General Fund to deal with the lingering effects of the Great Recession,” said Chris Searcy, a former City of Enumclaw college and current City Administrator. “His camaraderie has been missed this last decade, but I appreciate him leaving our organization better and stronger than he found it.”

Thomas was hired to San Juan County in June of 2013. He was drawn to the islands because of the natural beauty of the islands and the small-town charm. The councilmembers of the time were looking for a team leader.

“Hiring Mike was one of the best things I was part of,” said former Council member Jamie Stephens. “We were coming out of a recession and had a temporary County Manager at the time. We were looking for someone who could reevaluate the budget and staffing needs, but most importantly, we needed a team builder.”

Upon his arrival, Thomas was handed a list of high-priority projects, dubbed the “30 Rock List” that served as a road map of what the Council wanted done at that time. The list included such items as department re-organization, completion of the comp plan, and hiring staff.

“Mike was always there to listen, help the County achieve collected goals, and support council,” said former Councilmember Rick Hughes. “The county is in a much better place because of Mike’s work, time, passion and care for every citizen of San Juan County.”

In addition to the long list he was given, Thomas was instrumental in setting the County up for long-term success on legacy projects. He led the acquisition of the Argyle Lots property for an affordable housing project that will add much needed inventory to the affordable housing supply. He participated in the updates of the Shoreline Master Program, the Comprehensive Plan, and the personnel manual that set the stage for the next decade. Thomas also championed the idea of a Public Services Center and led a multi-year effort to reimagine a civic campus to house a majority of County services in a single building that would serve residents for the next 150 years.

“I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to hire and work with really good staff,” said Thomas. “The management team composed of appointed and elected members is doing a great job of providing services to the community.”

Thomas worked hard to keep the budget balanced and led the County in a reduction in expenditures through departmental cuts during economic downturns, bond refunding to take advantage favorable interest rates, levy renewals, a voluntary early retirement program, and by selling under-utilized equipment, buildings, and land. A proponent of teamwork, Thomas implemented cross-department teams on capital projects and worked as a liaison for staff and the County Council.

“Any success that a Councilmember claims is in large part due to Mike’s work,” said Stephens. “He has taken time to mentor or hold individuals accountable, depending on what was needed, and has acted as the honest broker for Council.”

Thomas also represented San Juan County at the Washington County Administrators Association and the Washington Counties Risk Pool where he served as a board member, a member of the Executive Committee, the Secretary/Treasurer, Vice-President, and two terms as Board President (2018-19; 2023-24).

“Mike’s leadership skills, calm and thoughtful demeanor, and being laser-focused on the Pool’s financial and organizational success were extremely valuable,” said Derek Bryan, Executive Director of the Washington Counties Risk Pool. “More importantly, his focus on behalf of San Juan County to reduce risk, avoid claims and lawsuits, and in making sound operational decisions, has saved the County, the Pool, and the taxpayers an immeasurable amount of money.”

During his 30+ year career in local government, Thomas held several other titles including land use planner, budget analyst, regional policy analyst, and community development director. Here in San Juan County, he also assumed the role of mentor.

“Mike was more than a boss to me – he was a friend and mentor,” said Mark Tompkins, the County’s Health and Community Services Director and soon-to-be interim County Manager. “He took a chance when he promoted me to Director in 2014 and provided steady leadership throughout his tenure. His patience and understanding were remarkable. He was forgiving of your mistakes and would support your plans to prevent them from recurring. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for and with Mike during the past 10 years.”

Thomas’ last day with the County is February 22, 2024. The search for a new County Manger is underway. In the interim, San Juan County’s Health & Community Services Director, Mark Tompkins, will serve as the County Manager with Parks and Fair Director, Brandon Andrews, serving as the Assistant County Manager.