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The county’s planning department has found a new director, albeit temporarily.
Penelope Karagounis, one of two planning employees left at the department, will serve as interim director. The move came only days after former county planning director Chris Karres was fired by county officials.
Karres’ last day on the job was June 22.
“The letter I received said I’m the interim director as of Monday (June 25),” Karagounis said. “I am now the interim planning director until they find someone to fill the position.”
Lancaster County Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare confirmed Karagounis as interim planning director.
Sistare said the search for a new director has begun, though she said council members are not involved in the hiring process or the search.
“We don’t do the hiring or the firing, even though some people think we do,” Sistare said. “Of course we talk about it and we have some input, but we don’t have the final say.”
Instead, she said the search involves County Administrator Steve Willis, as well the planning department and the heads of several other county departments.
“They also get headhunters to help look for someone for that position,” Sistare said.
As of Monday, July 2, the planning director position was not listed in the “Job Postings” section of the county’s Human Resources website.
Karagounis and fellow planner Elaine Boone are now the only employees left to deal with the county’s extensive planning issues, which as of late have involved examining problems with commercial rezoning in the county’s Panhandle.
“It’s just the two of us now to manage a large area,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can to represent the county.”
“We’re working as a team, just Elaine and I, to get everything done,” she said. “And we’ll run the planning department until County Council finds us a planning director.”
Also helping in the planning office is administrative assistant Judy Barrineau.
Reflecting on the last few weeks, Karagounis said it was difficult to lose a member of their team.
“We’re sorry it happened because he was our boss, but he was also our friend,” she said.
Councilman Larry McCullough was brief with his comments about the Karres situation during a separate interview conducted last week about the end of the Indian Land rezoning moratorium.
“Chris Karres is a great guy, but I’ll have to direct all your questions about that situation to Mr. (Steve) Willis,” McCullough said.
Karres, who worked 15 years for the county, learned he was fired on June 15 following a discussion with Willis. He worked for another seven days before he was officially let go by the county.
In an interview with The Lancaster News late last month, Karres said the firing came “totally out of the blue.”
The reasons for Karres’ firing remain unknown, with both Willis and Sistare refusing to comment on any specifics.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416