North Bend finds new department director in Snoqualmie

To find North Bend's new community services director, Mayor Ken Hearing ultimately looked next door. He selected Gina Estep, senior planner for the city of Snoqualmie, as the person for the job.

"She was the best prospect," Hearing said.

Of the many applicants for the job, Estep was selected as one of four finalists. Her performance during the final interview set her apart from the other contenders, Hearing said.

Once Hearing's selection is approved by the City Council - expected to take place at its next meeting Sept. 19 - Estep will officially be the successor to former director Larry Stockton, who resigned June 2 after 10 years with the city.

"I'm very excited about the new position," Estep said. She said it was a difficult decision to apply for the job and ultimately leave Snoqualmie because she learned so much during the eight years she worked as a Snoqualmie senior planner and the great respect she has for her co-workers and supervisors. However, when she learned North Bend was hiring, she said she saw it as an opportunity to advance her career in an area she loves.

Though Estep lives in Kirkland, she has ties to the Upper Valley: a former collegiate basketball player at Western Washington University, she coaches girls' basketball at Chief Kanim Middle School.

Estep's new position in North Bend will include an added economic development component, Hearing said. He said he was looking for a candidate who would be more open to encouraging new businesses.

By hiring Estep, Hearing filled the first of several key positions vacated in recent months. In July, Hearing dismissed former city manager George Martinez. Two other employees - special projects coordinator Sara Sayles and management analyst Tonie Cook - left in August.

At the time of Martinez' dismissal, Hearing said the reasons behind Stockton's departure were similar to those behind Martinez's dismissal. Hearing said he and other city leaders wanted someone who would work more actively to promote business opportunity in North Bend.

The new changes in the job description won't require a change in the city code, which describes the job duties, because the code specifies "other duties as assigned," which ought to cover the economic development component, Hearing said.

North Bend is in the process of receiving applications for the city manager position and will begin reviewing those in late-September, Hearing said.

The duties of the other two positions will be folded into other existing positions, he said. For example, Estep will handle Cook's former duties as a liaison to the city's Economic Development Council. The city is hiring a public works office coordinator who will handle emergency management and grant writing. Another position is being considered for a future hire, but the exact duties of that job haven't been specified yet, Hearing said.

Though Estep's experience doesn't include much economic development knowledge, she is bright and a fast learner and should be able to quickly learn what she needs to do, Hearing said.

He also cited her experience working on Snoqualmie's economic revitalization plans, as well as what she learned while applying for permits from the other side of the desk when helping her family shepherd projects to completion, as important knowledge Estep will bring to the job.

Her last day working for Snoqualmie will be Sept. 15. Her anticipated start date for North Bend is Sept. 25.

Estep has been a senior planner with Snoqualmie since 1998. Before that, she was an assistant planner for the town of La Conner and the city of Lake Stevens. She started her professional career as a planning technician for the city of Carnation in 1995. She has a bachelor's degree in urban and regional planning from Western Washington University.

Estep has also coached high-school and college basketball and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the Snoqualmie Valley Charity Golf Classic.

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