After 14 years working for the county, four-and-a-half of those in the big job, Lewis County Manager Erik Martin announced Tuesday morning he will be resigning from his position for a new opportunity in engineering.
Around the end of March, Martin will take a job as director of Perteet Inc.’s south sound region. At the engineering consulting firm based in Everett, Martin will look to grow the business’ operations in Southwest Washington, he said.
In 2018, amid a push for an expansion of the county commission or a switch to home-rule charter system, the Board of County Commissioners at the time — Bobby Jackson, Edna Fund and Gary Stamper — created a “blue ribbon” advisory committee of citizens to evaluate Lewis County government. The group determined a county manager was a necessity and the county later hired Martin.
“The Board of County Commissioners is, of course, the ultimate authority. But, sometimes you find people in those positions who maybe don’t have experience managing organizations,” Martin said.
By hiring a manager, the board was able to focus on community policy issues, he said, and evaluate both what they “can” and “need” to influence in Lewis County.
“They have been able to do that much more in the last four-and-a-half years,” Martin said. “I think it’s made the government run smoother.”
In a news release from the county on Tuesday, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock said it takes a “special person” to craft the position and make a difference in the way she’s witnessed from the county manager.
An engineer by training, Martin previously operated an engineering and survey business in Fife before working for Pierce County and eventually Lewis County Public Works. He moved up the ranks there until he’d become the director of public works.
Shortly after earning his master’s degree in business administration, the county manager position came open. Missing administrative work, he said it felt like fate. Likewise this week, he said the engineering job “fell in his lap.”
“I want the board, employees and citizens to know that this decision has everything to do with a new exciting opportunity; but was made so much more difficult knowing I’m leaving a place I truly love,” Martin said in the release. “Over the years when people have asked me how I like working at Lewis County, I have always responded with, ‘best job I’ve ever had.’”
While Martin said he’s advising the board not to rush the process of filling the position, he gave some advice to any of his potential successors. The first and most important, he said, is the county manager must be relationship-driven above all else.
For those who form positive bonds with staff and community members, the technical aspects of the job tend to fall into place, according to Martin. When people hold grudges or mistrust, roadblocks are bound to be encountered.
Martin said he inherited this relationship focus from Stamper, who passed away while still on the board in 2021.
“I don’t think there was one person in the county who didn’t like him,” Martin said of Stamper.
Secondly, Martin said his approach to the position has been to view it as apolitical.
“It’s not. I get pulled into politics all the time. But I try to focus on, ‘The Board of County Commissioners is going to make political decisions and my job is to carry out those decisions,’” he said. “I might advise the board … but it’s important you don’t align yourself too strongly one way or another.”
This especially helps during disagreements by the commissioners, Martin said. Inevitably, the elected officials will have spats, and if the manager takes one commissioner’s side too often, the relationships necessary to do the job could be damaged.
It is these traits of fairness and openness that even the newest commissioner, Scott Brummer, sees clearly in Martin.
“I’ve always valued your integrity and everything that you have done for this county, the employees and the citizens you’ve served,” Brummer stated in the release. “I commend you for doing an outstanding job; the relationships you’ve built are genuine and I know you will be missed but I’m excited for your new opportunity.”
During his tenure in the role, Martin said his biggest accomplishments have been securing funding on important flood mitigation projects and managing a reorganization of the county’s services at close to no cost in order to better serve its customers.
In the county’s news release, he is quoted saying: “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made on capital projects and the staff we’ve developed. I am also proud of the continued process on flood damage reduction, which is the No. 1 issue here and we need to stay focused on that.”
It took several months for Lewis County to undergo the hiring process that brought Martin in and, he said, it is unlikely he’d be around to train the next rookie. Instead, for the next two months, he will make preparations in hopes the transition will be as smooth.
“I definitely appreciate you. You’re a great leader and you’ll be thoroughly missed,” said Commissioner Sean Swope in the release. “You’re leaving big shoes to fill.”
Considering the challenges of COVID and other issues in the last few years, Martin said he felt the county is in a good place — with a staff of caring, hard-working people. Throughout his time in the role, Martin and his family have lived in Olympia to maintain consistent schooling for his kids. In the future, he said he won’t be ruling out Lewis County as the site of his next home.
“I love it here,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”