State hires mediator to help decide UW branch campus location

MARYSVILLE — The state board charged with finding a location for a possible new branch campus of the University of Washington has hired a sort of mediator to help resolve what became an impasse over the location question.

In a memo e-mailed to state legislators in Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board said it had brought on attorney and former state government executive Bill Wilkerson to negotiate a decision on the campus site and write a final report on the location question.

Signed by coordinating board Executive Director Ann Daley, the memo describes Wilkerson as someone “with extensive experience conducting multi-party mediation and negotiation.”

The memo notes the state legislature charged the coordinating board with making a “consensus recommendation on a single, preferred site” for a new University of Washington campus by Dec. 1 of this year.

Late last year, a state hired consultant named a location in downtown Everett as the preferred site for a branch campus. A Marysville location in the Smokey Point area came in second.

But almost immediately after the recommendation was made, Marysville officials and their supporters went on the attack, pointing out what they felt were numerous flaws in the consultant study. Naturally, Everett officials shot back and praised the study. Both sides lobbied legislators, who had — and still have — the final word on where the branch lands, if it lands at all.

By March, legislation supporting the campus had completely bogged down, with certain legislators supporting the Everett location, while others, most notably State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, pushing for the Marysville site.

Ultimately, the legislature adjourned for the year with no decisions made on the campus issue. Lawmakers did set aside $100,000 for further consideration of the question.

Wilkerson could not be reached for comment following his hiring. His contract with the higher education board runs through Nov. 30. Terms were not disclosed in the memo sent legislators.

Haugen said she has worked with Wilkerson in the past and was contacted by the higher education board regarding his hiring. She said she hasn’t always agreed with Wilkerson on some issues, but still was encouraged by the education board’s actions.

“I feel good about it,” Haugen said. “I think he’ll do a good job and I think he’ll be fair.”

A former director of the Washington Forest Services Association, Wilkerson was the lead negotiator in the state’s salmon recovery plan, which the education board’s memo describes as the largest habitat conservation plan in the country.

Locally, Marysville Chief Administrative Officer Mary Swenson said Wilkerson has not contacted the city, but she expected that will change fairly soon. After discussions with state legislators, presumably those on the Marysville side of the fence, Swenson said she assumes Wilkerson is boning up on the campus issue. She indicated a belief the question will heat up again as the fall progresses and Haugen said the campus undoubtedly will be an issue when legislators meet next year.

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