Mike Thomas will transition from San Juan County Manager to Friday Harbor Town Administrator starting Dec. 13. This was made official on June 17, with Duncan Wilson officially retiring on Jan. 22.
The town administrator works as the chief administrator of the town, working with the mayor and town council, and keeping the public and council informed on all operations.
When Duncan announced that he was going to retire, Thomas expressed interest, which ultimately led to landing his role as new administrator.
“The opportunity presented itself and I thought, what a great opportunity to still work in the islands but instead of the county, working for the town,” Thomas said.
Thomas came to the island eight years ago with his wife and two children who both graduated from Friday Harbor High School. Since then, he has been serving as San Juan County Manager. This is his 30th year working in local government. For the majority of those years, he worked in King County.
In his time as county manager, Thomas said he has noticed how involved the island community is in their local government, which is a quality he values. He said he is excited to be going into a system that he sees as already being extremely well-run, he said, attributing a lot of success to Wilson and Friday Harbor Mayor Farhad Ghatan.
Wilson’s retirement marks 40 years of municipal work, his work in the islands being his favorite.
“These have been the best nine working years of my life,” Wilson said enthusiastically. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best councilmembers I’ve ever worked with and the mayors have been excellent as well.”
One of the biggest successes the town has had is fiscally surviving the pandemic, according to Wilson.
“We had money in reserve that we put away, and we kept up on a lot of our revenues. We were anticipating taking a real gauge last year and it turned out we are down 15 percent of our revenues, but we were able to work through that. That was a relief, we were worried that we didn’t have enough saved, but we did and we came out really well,” Wilson said.
Being town administrator, although one of Wilson’s favorite jobs throughout his 40 years of experience, is not always an easy job. Wilson noted balance as being one of the most important things for administration, which can at times be difficult in a place where people can have so many varying opinions. How Wilson said he goes about maintaining balance is tending to all people and opinions and not leaning too much to one side. He calls this the “razor blade of making decisions.”
“Sometimes, you’re going to get pushed one way or another. Keep that clear mind and walk the middle road,” he said. “We live in an amazing community and have great culture. It is a dream to live in this place. The number one rule is don’t screw it up.”
With Thomas going from King County to San Juan County he gained experience in maintaining balance by tending to two very different environments. He describes this as one of the aspects he enjoys most about the job. He said King County is urbanized with about 2.25 million people versus the rural population of 16,000 in San Juan County. Despite any challenges that might come with a new place, Thomas said he enjoys the differences between counties.
“Every place is unique and you must find what suits the needs of those individual places,” he said.
Thomas compared finding balance to piecing together a puzzle. What he particularly likes about San Juan County is its sense of individuality.
“Each island wants some government services but each one has its own flavor of what they want,” he said.
While Thomas already has experience solving problems countywide, he is excited to do business on a town level. As for any issues the town is dealing with, Thomas said he wishes to keep an open mind with solutions by waiting until he knows the organization well enough before putting anything on a to-do list. He will have several working days with Wilson from Dec. 13 to Jan. 22 to figure this out.
“He has a really good working knowledge of the island, the town, all the people, the issues we have here. He is already 90 percent of the way there,” Wilson said. “Mike could probably walk in tomorrow and do an excellent job.”