Five Questions with Mark Isaacson, Director, Water and Land Resources Division

MarkIsaacson1. What was your first role with King County?  I came to the county in the early 1990’s in the heady days after the Growth Management Act became state law.  I worked in the director’s office of the Department of Public Works as a program analyst on plans to meet the state mandated concurrency requirements for public facilities.  I came to that job as a city planner – and the attraction was taking the color maps of the county and working to build infrastructure considerations into the planning process.

2. What does Water and Land Resources Division do? The WLR Division staff protect and restore our natural resources and provide a safer place for King County residents.  Our programs are varied –perhaps the most diverse business lines of any in county government.  The division has excellent programs for flood protection, habitat restoration, stormwater control, water quality, monitoring and lab analysis, hazardous waste reduction, stewardship, noxious weed control, agriculture, forestry, and land acquisition.

3. What do you like most about your job as Division Director? The staff are dedicated, passionate, embrace challenges and solve problems. It is never dull because most people in this division are not afraid to innovate.  Our engineers are pioneering bioengineering along our river systems to protect people and restore habitat.  They are leaders in restoring wetlands and reconnecting floodplains.  The local hazardous waste staff redesigned their program to reach more residents who had not heard about hazardous chemicals and are working to get in place a pharmaceutical take back program.  Our environmental lab remains the top rated lab in the region.  We transfer development rights from rural and agricultural lands to cities to preserve our land base.  WLR pioneered a program that allows developers to spend mitigation dollars in areas where we need it most – improving our rivers, streams and sensitive habitat areas.  Our stormwater team received a glowing audit from the EPA, which was not easy. Then they used Lean concepts to be more efficient when managing our 1,000+ stormwater facilities.  The Division is a very impressive group of people.

4. What is the biggest challenge in your job? At an operational level, my job is to set a constructive pace and tone, provide a unifying direction, and position people to succeed.  But at a policy or political level, the challenges are different.  The WLR division handles many goals and aspirations that are important to the public.  Sometimes those goals may collide and must be sorted out without too much disruption.  It’s fun and sometimes I succeed, and frankly, sometimes I don’t.  Either way, I love the job and am blessed to come to work every day with such impressive people doing such important work.

What is your main goal for 2014? Develop a budget that works.  My main goal is to have a clear budget that recognizes some practical limitations, is responsive to community desires, and prioritizes the most important work.  It is one important tool to hold me accountable for our performance.