The Vashon Park District’s five commissioners selected Elaine Ott — a Vashon woman with an extensive background in finance, marketing and sales — as the new general manager of the small public agency.
The board made the decision Friday night, voting five to zero to offer her the job. They sealed the deal Monday night when they offered her a two-year contract at a salary of $78,138 a year. Ott, who was seated in the front row of the small meeting room, stood up after the vote and shook each commissioner’s hand, smiling broadly as she accepted the job.
“I feel fabulous,” she said, moments later. “It’s a good opportunity to try to do something good for the community. … I plan to dig right in.”
Joe Wald, chair of the commission, said he and his colleagues chose Ott from a field of four finalists because of her strong financial background, her connection to Vashon, her strong references and the support islanders voiced for her after she appeared at a public meeting last week and in conversations he’s had over the last several days.
“Everyone had nothing but phenomenal things to say about her,” he said.
John Hopkins, the board’s newest member, said he, too, was thrilled by her selection. “I think it’s a new era for the park district,” he said.
The salary is higher than the agency had budgeted, but commissioners said they had to offer her a better compensation package if they were to get her to leave her current job as the general manager for a building products manufacturer in Kent, where she makes considerably more money.
“That was the hard part,” Wald said of the higher salary. “But I felt that to get the person we wanted, we had to go up a little bit.”
Ott replaces Susan McCabe, the interim executive director who was tapped to take the job after the commissioners terminated Jan Milligan in August. For the past several months, the park district has been buffeted by controversy as it worked to trim a looming deficit, defend a sports fields project that has gone over-budget, reduce the size of its administrative staff and end many of the programs it offered.
Asked why she wanted to take on the position at such a difficult time, Ott, in an interview Sunday afternoon, said she welcomed the challenge.
“It’s a chance to put my skills and my passions to work for my community in a way that improves the situation at the park district, gets it back on track and moves it forward,” she said. “I think there’s some healing that needs to take place. I’m really good at that.”
Friday night, during a public meeting attended by about 20 people — including park district staff and islanders who have been bird-dogging the agency — Ott sounded a similar note, saying her management style is collaborative, open and relaxed and that she strives to bring an attitude of fun into the workplace.
When Truman O’Brien, a former park district commissioner, told her at the Friday night meeting that she was “way overqualified,” she smiled and said, “I don’t think I’m overqualified. I think I’m well-qualified.”
Ott has an undergraduate degree in marketing from Pacific Lutheran University and an MBA from Seattle University. The mother of two grown children, Nathan and Callison Ott, she first moved to Vashon in 1993, left for a couple of years and returned about a year and a half ago. Last August, she married Gregg Rocheford, a database administrator for the city of Seattle’s Safe Harbors program, which is attempting to measure the extent of homelessness in Seattle and King County.
Ott worked for the K2 Corp. from 1994 to 2003, where she was a credit analyst and later a sales operations manager. She also worked for the Richlite Co. in Tacoma, a firm that manufactures sustainable architectural surfacing material. By the time she left last year, she was the company’s general manager.
A classically trained mezzo-soprano, Ott also has an extensive background in singing and acting and was a member of the Seattle Symphony Chorale and the Seattle Opera Chorus.
Islanders who have been attending the park district’s meetings over the last several months said they were pleased by her selection.
“She’s very sharp. She has a great financial background. I think she’ll be a good professional face for the park district. That’s what they need,” O’Brien said.
Hilary Emmer, another islander, said, “What I really liked about Elaine was her emphasis on collaboration, listening to everyone … and asking people to come forward with solutions.”