Acting chief of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency resigning to take job in Oregon

After nearly 15 years of helping to protect Lake Tahoe, the acting chief and one of the final candidates for the permanent top position at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has announced he will be resigning.

Jerry Wells will be taking a job in Eugene, Ore., close to his and his wife's families. Wells, his wife Donna, and their two high-school-age children, Adam and Jennifer, live in Carson City.

"The offer was such a good opportunity career-wise and personally," said Wells, who has worked at the bistate agency since 1985. "The timing doesn't work really well, but I just couldn't pass it up."

Wells, 49, will remain the acting executive director until May 26. He has been serving in that position since Jim Baetge, the agency's chief for five years, left in January for health reasons.

More than 100 people applied for the top job and about 10 will be interviewed later this month by a subcommittee of TRPA governing board members. The full board is supposed to consider the top candidates on April 26.

Wells, who was in the list of top 10 candidates, said he hopes a new executive director will be able to start at least a week or so before he leaves at the end of May.

During the past few years, TRPA officials developed an Environmental Improvement Program to outline what environmental work needs to be completed at Tahoe.

After the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, Tahoe, state and federal officials have rallied behind the EIP and are trying to raise money for projects.

Wells said he feels with the EIP and the way the agency's staff is organized now that TRPA is in good shape for its next director.

"The good news is I think we have a really good program in place," he said. "The new executive director won't need to come in and re-invent the wheel."

Wells owned a consulting firm in Oregon before coming to TRPA as the chief of the project review department. He was promoted to deputy director in 1990.

As deputy his salary was $80,000; as acting director he earns about $84,000.

"I really have enjoyed it," he said. "It's been an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. It's been very, very rewarding.

"I'll miss Tahoe for sure."

In Oregon, Wells will be the director of planning for the Lane Council of Governments, a planning body for 23 cities and other jurisdictions, including Eugene and Springfield. Of the 260-employee agency, Wells will oversee about 60 workers, comparable to the size of TRPA's staff.

Wells on Wednesday appointed Gabby Barrett, chief of TRPA's long-range planning division, to be acting deputy director.

If there is a gap between Wells' departure and the new director's first day, it will be up to the agency's board who will be the acting executive director. However, Wells said Barrett, who has worked for the agency since 1976, would be his recommendation for the temporary post.

Barrett said Wells' service has been important.

"He's been sort of a stabilizing influence. He's the person who has taken care of all the details and kind of kept the agency running. He's been a key component," Barrett said.

"When it was Jim Baetge and him as a team, Baetge was the idea guy, Wells was the work-on-the-details, get-it-done guy."

Steve Chilton, chief of TRPA's environmental compliance division, said one of Wells' biggest assets is his ability to find a common ground in an atmosphere of conflicting, highly charged points of view.

"I and virtually everyone else here are very sorry to see him go," Chilton said. "Jerry has always been a person who can calmly and diligently assess a situation. He's always been able to find a win-win solution."


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