Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a shakeup of city leadership in a trio of departments Friday, including a new interim head of Seattle’s Human Services Department.
Durkan named Helen Howell the new temporary head of human services, which is the department that spearheads Seattle’s homeless outreach and response efforts. Howell has served for the last two years as a senior policy director for the King County Housing Authority.
Howell will be replacing current interim Human Services Director Jason Johnson, whose recent tenure in the position was fraught with controversy regarding a failed confirmation process scuttled in Seattle City Council.
Durkan had sought to have Johnson fill the role permanently in 2019, leading to a process met with delays brought on by accusations from Councilmember Kshama Sawant that the city wasn’t going through a robust enough search process to head up the department.
Despite accusations from the mayor that the council was “deeply unfair” to Johnson in not considering him for the role full-time, she eventually withdrew her nomination. In February 2020, Johnson announced he’d be resigning, before agreeing to stay on longer in the wake of the pandemic.
Howell will step in to lead the HSD beginning in January 2021, while the city embarks on what Durkan’s office promises will be “an inclusive, nationwide search” for a permanent director.
Other shakeups announced Friday include Curry Mayer’s appointment to lead the Office of Emergency Management, and Calandra Childers being named interim director for the Office of Arts and Culture.
The previous head of the Office of Arts and Culture, Randy Engstrom, had served in that position for the last eight years, and will now “turn his attention to teaching, advocating for national cultural policies, and spending time with his family,” Durkan said.
Curry Mayer is currently serving as Bellevue’s Emergency Manager, and will be replacing Seattle’s interim OEM head Laurel Nelson.
Read More: Seattle’s homeless response gets new interim head before nationwide search