Clark County has a not-so-new head of executive government as county council approved the appointment of interim county manager Kathleen Otto to a permanent role in that position.
During their Feb. 16 meeting Clark County Council appointed Otto as county manager. She has served as interim county manager since March 2020 and previously served as deputy county manager, director of internal services and director of human resources.
According to a news release, the council approved a two-year contract with Otto, who lives with her husband in the Venersborg area.
“I’m confident Kathleen will make an excellent county manager,” Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien said in a news release. “She not only has the expertise and experience we look for in this position, but she has shown extraordinary leadership as interim county manager during a difficult and stressful time in our history.”
In an interview with The Reflector, Otto said she was humbled by the appointment, saying that moving to the more permanent position was somewhat of a surprise as she was mostly focused on the county’s current business while fulfilling her interim role during a particularly eventful time.
Otto’s appointment to the interim role happened on both the day that former county manager Shawn Henessee resigned and county council declared a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic in March of last year. She noted that it was Friday the 13th when all of those events happened, though for her position in the county, the generally ominous date was more of an auspicious one, given the most recent developments in her tenure.
COVID-19 has been one of the major focuses for the county, Otto said, as it has required county government to coordinate and provide relief for residents and businesses hit by the pandemic and the statewide response. Outside of COVID-19, Otto said a chief focus for county government has been on adjusting a “Vision, Mission and Strategic Actions” statement initially put into place by Clark County Council in 2016. She said the statement provides a framework on what services the county should be providing to its residents.
More generally, Otto had a desire to “get back to the ‘why’ and why we work here” among county staff, explaining that although she reports directly to county council, it is ultimately the community at large that the county works for.
Otto said her primary function as county manager is understanding the policy direction coming from county council and ensuring county staff has the resources to implement those policies .Having more or less been in the same position that she was officially hired to do more permanently, she said that experience gives her an advantage in that she knows who and where to go to in order to fulfil her role of making sure the council has all the information they need in order to make the best policy decisions.
“I certainly don’t know everything, and I learn something new every day. That’s why we have staff that have the expertise,” Otto said. “I know who to ask, and I definitely ask a lot of questions, and will continue to ask a lot of questions and learn.”
Otto said that although she’s received the permanent appointment, her plan of action for the county won’t change.
“I’m not changing how we’re moving forward. It’s not going to change how I am or what the expectation is,” Otto remarked, adding that she felt the change in title helped to provide stability to the government organization.
Otto expressed appreciation for the support she has received from both council and county staff. She noted that although in her position she is the figurehead of executive government in Clark County, there are many other players involved with running a successful organization.
“I am one member of a 1,700-member team,” Otto remarked. “I would not be in this position or be successful if it wasn’t for the council, the other electeds and 1,700 employees that support us.”