Durkan announces some new department heads

Going into 2021, there will be new faces at the helm of the Human Services Department, the Office of Arts and Culture, and the Office of Emergency Management.

The big news is that Mayor Durkan is appointing Helen Howell as Interim Director of the Human Services Department, replacing Interim Director Jason Johnson. Last year Johnson failed to be confirmed by the Council as permanent Director after department employees raised concerns about his management of the department; when it became clear that the Council would not confirm him, Mayor Durkan withdrew his nomination but chose to keep him on as Interim Director — in part because later this year when the new regional homeless authority is stood up the department’s budget and staff will be gutted and the department will look very different. Early this year Johnson resigned, but he agreed to stay on longer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s notable that Howell is also being appointed as an Interim Director; according to the Mayor’s press release announcing the changes, “Howell’s tenure will be on an interim basis while the City embarks on an inclusive, nationwide search for the permanent director. Incoming Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, current Deputy Director of the Department of Education and Early Learning and formerly the head of the Homelessness Services Investments division, will lead the recruitment process and will announce the next steps for the search process in 2021 after working with employees.”


After eight years, Randy Engstrom will step down from directing the Office of Arts and Culture on February 1, 2021. According to the press release, Engstrom ” will turn his attention to teaching, advocating for national cultural policies, and spending time with his family.” Mayor Durkan is appointing Calandra Childers as Interim Director of the department; Childers is currently serving as Deputy Director. According to the press release, Durkan will announce the process for appointing a new permanent Director some time in 2021.


Finally, Curry Mayer will become Director of the Office of Emergency Management this month; currently she is the Emergency Manager for the City of Bellevue. She replaces Interim Director Laurel Nelson, who has had quite the year helping the city navigate through the COVID pandemic, the closure of the West Seattle Bridge, and protests and riots.


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