February Planner of the Month: Kirsten Sackett

As tax season gears up Kirsten Sackett may soon become the go-to planner for questions about form W-2G or W-4P. Prior to her current position as Community Development Director for the City of Ellensburg, Kirsten held a number of jobs, from telemarketer (she apologizes) to tax preparer for H&R Block.

Prior to accepting her position with the City of Ellensburg about 11 months ago, Kirsten was Planning Director for a small town in Colorado. Impressed by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the proactive planning efforts of Washington State, Kirsten found the idea of working in a GMA state appealing. Since moving to Ellensburg, Kirsten and her family have found it to be the perfect fit for the entire family, with an excellent sense of community, location of CWU (and all its attractions), access to great education, and proximity to so many beautiful areas of the state.  Moving to Washington has proven to be an excellent decision for her professional career and her family.

Read on to for more about Kirsten in her own words:

  • Why did you choose the planning profession? Or did it choose you?
    Planning chose me, but I soon came to embrace it as well. I have a B.A. in English and was working on a Master’s Degree in Political Science, when I began pursuing an internship that was made available through the University of Colorado and the State of Colorado. Through the program, the State provided funding for Master’s students to work for rural municipalities that had little funding and were willing to provide real life learning experiences for the students. Every other student in the program obtained an internship working for the City Manager, while I ended up working for a City Planner. The City I went to wanted me to write them a new Comprehensive Plan (I’m not kidding), and things snowballed from there. Fifteen months later I WAS the City Planner, and a few years after that I was promoted to Director of the department. I really had just intended to work the two-year internship in the planning field and then hope that I hadn’t pigeon-holed myself out of a future job in city administration. As it turns out, I have come to love the planning profession.  
  • What part of your job do you find most rewarding?
    I love working with community members, and helping them navigate whatever planning process they are undertaking. I especially enjoy getting out into the community and working on long-range planning projects. This often includes having conversations with folks and finding out what they value most about their community, in an effort to find ways to preserve the things they love as well as improve those things that need improving. 
  • What is the oddest thing a citizen has ever asked or said to you?
    I suppose I will just generalize by saying that I am always disappointed by the people who don’t believe that even though I am from the government I really AM here to help!  During a recent long-range planning effort I encountered too many people who took the time to attend various community input meetings only to tell us that the City didn’t care really about their opinions and was going to do what they wanted anyway. I’m disappointed when I’m not given the opportunity to demonstrate otherwise.
  • What was your first planning-related job?
    The first was the planning internship I already described, but I will further state that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. 
  • What advice would you give a new planner?  
    If you have a degree in planning, don’t be surprised if the job isn’t exactly what you thought it would be. Beyond planning theory, you need to be able to read a code book and decipher legalese and figure out how to process various applications. You also need to have an open mind and be prepared to interact with all sorts of personalities.
  • What are you looking for when you hire a planner?
    I want someone with sense, and with good communication skills. I like to see some planning experience of course, but I also need a planner who has the emotional intelligence to adapt to different personalities and settings. I also need somebody that communicates well, both in writing (lots of report writing), and in person. You have to work with so many outside parties—residents, developers, attorneys, elected officials, etc.—that you always have to be on your toes and able to present yourself well as a representative of your community.  And to top it all off, it’s icing on the cake if I can find someone with a sense of humor—because I think you need one to keep your sanity in this career. 
  • What do you wish you had known when you started your career?  
    That it’s okay to ask questions of colleagues and supervisors, and that it’s even okay to make a few mistakes. You can’t be perfect right out of the gate, but if you do make a mistake (unintentionally), you’ll never have a better learning experience as you’re not likely to make the same mistake again!
  • If you were not a planner what profession would like likely be in?
    Some sort of career in writing, perhaps editing, or technical writing. I might even try my hand at a novel or two. 
  • How do you find planning in Washington to be different from your previous experiences?
    I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that because of the Growth Management Act, not only was planning tolerated, it was mandated by the State and supported by other City departments. Previously, I had to make arguments for the need for planning, write grants and beg for funding. It’s simply nice to know that it’s required to update our Comprehensive Plan, and that all aspects of city government recognized the importance of long range planning and have a role to play in planning out the future of the community.  

Return to February issue of The Washington Planner