VRFA administrator decides to retire

Robertson spent 35 years in public service; he led the formation of the state’s first regional fire authority

Eric Robertson. FILE PHOTO

Eric Robertson. FILE PHOTO

Eric Robertson has decided to retire as administrator of the Valley Regional Authority at the end of the year, concluding more than 35 years of public service.

Robertson shared the news with his staff on Thursday.

“I have been extremely blessed in my career, given the opportunity to lead the formation of the first regional fire authority in the state,” Robertson told his employees. “I could not be more proud of you, the VRFA team, and the work you have done. I know you will continue to provide our communities with the highest level of service.

“I am so thankful to have been here for what will be 12 of the most rewarding years of my career,” he said. “I am thankful for the many board members, past and present, who allowed creativity and risk-taking, which resulted in the VRFA becoming a model department for others to follow. I am grateful for so many things, so thank you for allowing me to serve with you.”

Robertson, who will turn 55 in December, said it is a good time to step away, given the energy and long-term time commitments the job demands overseeing the VRFA and its future organizational projects.

“It’s time to pass the baton and give someone else the opportunity to put a different lens on the organization and where it is headed,” Robertson said. “It’s time to give he or she the opportunity to leave their thumbprint on it.

“I’m ready,” Robertson said of his decision. “I could have stayed longer and continue to lead the team, and we have a great team. It was just that this is a great time to transition to a new leader.”

The nine-member VRFA Board of Governance, led by Nancy Backus, its chair and Auburn mayor, will work to find and appoint Robertson’s successor as soon as possible. The board includes Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier, Algona Mayor Dave Hill and two council members representing each of the three cities the VRFA serves.

Robertson said he will do his part to make the leadership change as seamless as possible.

“As you’d expect from Eric Robertson, he has created a strong foundation for the VRFA, and has worked with our board to develop a success plan that supports a smooth transition of leadership. I anticipate we will name a successor before the end of the year,” Backus said.

Leaving his mark

In 2007, after serving in several roles in state and federal government, Robertson was hired as the first administrator for the VRFA. Robertson’s accomplishments in that role include guiding the process to meld the Auburn and Pacific fire departments into a regional fire organization; bringing financial stability and sustainability; negotiating and implementing the annexation plan for the Lea Hill and West Hill additions to Auburn; assembling the district’s first comprehensive facilities assessment; and overseeing capital project planning and construction of $19.8 million in capital improvements. Approved by voters in 2008, the projects included construction of a new fire station to serve the Lakeland community, a complete remodel of the South Auburn fire station, a new fire station in the newly-annexed Lea Hill neighborhood, and purchase of a ladder truck to meet the needs of the growing region.

Other hallmarks during Robertson’s tenure as administrator include improving the delivery of service to the communities, which facilitated the Washington Surveying and Ratings Bureau rating improvement in all three communities. Outstanding financial stewardship by the leadership team prompted a credit rating improvement by Standard & Poors, to an AA-, and allowed for the refinancing of the bond funds – creating a saving of nearly a million dollars over the term of the bonds.

The VRFA is known for its strong regulatory compliance, never having received a finding during the annual audits by the Washington State Auditor’s Office or its annual reviews by the Washington Cities Insurance Authority. Robertson holds “the hiring and development of an outstanding leadership team” as the paramount achievement.

“In every decision, Eric Robertson strives to do the right thing – what’s right for our communities and residents, firefighters and professional staff,” Backus said. “His ability to build relationships throughout the community has served us all well. He’s a constant presence at events in Auburn, Algona and Pacific, in support of our nonprofits organizations and schools – and he serves the community through the Auburn Noon Lions Club.

“Eric is recognized throughout the state for his keen understanding of organizational leadership, and he has guided the VRFA to more efficient management systems,” Backus added. “His work as chairman of the Washington Fire Chiefs Legislative Committee has contributed to safer communities here, and around the state. Our Board of Governance extends our very best wishes to Eric, but we will miss his steady leadership.”

Lifelong duty

Robertson began his public service in 1983 with the Washington State Patrol at the age of 19. He was commissioned as a State Trooper, assigned to Enumclaw, in 1985 and held several positions. In 1994, Robertson was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he served two terms representing the 31st Legislative District in King and Pierce counties.

Robertson was promoted to captain at the State Patrol in 1998, led the Office of Government & Media Relations and served as commander of the Office of Professional Standards.

In 2002, Robertson was appointed by President George Bush as the United States Marshal for the Western District of Washington, serving as the regional administrator for the Marshals Service. He accepted the position as the first administrator of the Valley Regional Fire Authority on March 1, 2007, serving as the chief executive of the organization. Robertson received the U.S. Marshals Service Director’s “Leadership beyond the Standard” award in 2005 and the Washington Fire Chiefs President’s Award in 2018, as well as several awards during his legislative service.

In retirement

Robertson plans to spend more time with family – he has five children and three grandchildren – and friends.

“I don’t have any big plans,” he said. “I enjoy traveling and seeing different things.”

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