Seattle Mayor Ed Murray tapped John Okamoto to serve as the new acting director for the city’s Human Services Department (HSD). Okamoto will replace current HSD interim Director Catherine Lester, who will remain with HSD and assist Okamoto in his transition.
“I started my ‘calling’ in public service in the Human Services Department many decades ago when I was a summer youth worker job developer and counselor,” Okamoto said in a statement. “Coming back to HSD is a full circle for me.”
HSD funds and operates programs and services that meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable people in our community—families and individuals with low incomes, children, domestic violence and sexual assault victims, homeless people, seniors, and persons with disabilities.
Okamoto served as executive director of the Washington Education Association from 2008 to 2012. His management experience includes leadership positions with the Port of Seattle, and the Washington State Department of Transportation. He also served as director of the former Department of Engineering and is the former Director of Personnel for the City.
“My family has deep history in elder care programs with the creation of Keiro nursing home, the Midori senior housing and Nikkei Manor assisted living facility,” Okamoto said. “I volunteer with homeless meal and housing programs at Operation Nightwatch and Lord’s table. I am deeply passionate about social justice, equity, and inclusion, but I don’t have an extensive background in human services, housing, and homelessness issues. It’s going to be very important for me to reach out to our nonprofit service provider community and to other external stakeholders and make sure my leadership is informed by their insights and perspectives.”
In appointing Okamoto to this interim role, Murray has tasked him to identify where the department can refine its focus, to strengthen partnerships and alignment with other funders, service providers, and stakeholders, and to lay the foundation for transformational change for the next permanent director.
Okamoto’s interim assignment will start on August 1, 2014, with an annualized salary of $151,000. The search process for the permanent HSD Director will be placed on hold until early 2015, with a goal of identifying a new permanent director by the middle of next year, the city said in a statement.