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On Feb. 5, 2021, after 20 years as director of Linn County’s Planning & Development Department, Les Beck will retire. Planning & Zoning Division Manager Charlie Nichols will succeed Beck as director.
Beck was hired as Linn County’s director of Planning & Development in 2000 and has served in that role since. His reputation is one of professionalism, leadership, and commitment to positive workplace culture and customer satisfaction. Beck led the department through natural disasters, including the 2008 and 2016 floods, and through the destructive August 2020 derecho. With Beck’s leadership, Linn County has a strong record of support for the use and development of alternative and renewable energy. In 2012, Linn County was designated a Small Wind Innovation Zone by the Iowa Utilities Board. The designation allows owners of small wind energy conversion systems to take advantage of an expedited local approval process. Under Beck’s leadership, Linn County received a Gold designation from the national SolSmart program in 2017 for making it faster, easier, and more affordable for homes and businesses in Linn County to use solar energy. Beck’s vision is also the driving force behind the Dows Farm Agri-Community, which will be a first of its kind in Linn County, and will create a unique living, educational, and economic experience. The Dows Farm Agri-Community will keep 75 percent of the 179-acre site in conservation open space or agriculture, with only 25 percent of the site allocated to development. Throughout his career with Linn County, Beck also served in leadership roles on various employee committees, and was instrumental in Linn County’s Customer-Centered Culture work, which is an on-going education and training program for Linn County employees to enhance customer satisfaction and product improvement.
“It has been my great honor to be part of the Linn County organization these past 20 years. I have been fortunate to serve under Boards of Supervisors who believed in the work of the Planning & Development Department and allowed us the freedom to grow, and to have worked alongside staff who trusted the idea of being good at what we do, but always striving to be better. My goal from the beginning was to bring integrity, innovation, vision, and leadership to the job and to work with people toward solutions. I hope I have been successful in that. I am excited for Charlie’s leadership moving forward, and for the truly outstanding people in the department,” Beck said.
Charlie Nichols, who is succeeding Beck, was hired in 2019 as planning & zoning division manager in the Planning and Development Department. In this role, Nichols provided direct support to his predecessor on setting the department's strategic direction, operationalizing strategies, and developing and implementing the County's comprehensive plan and fringe area plans. Nichols also helped to ensure compliance with floodplain management, comprehensive planning, disaster planning and recovery, and other federal and state mandates or guidelines. In addition, he was responsible for the administration, supervision, technical duties, and code enforcement of the Planning & Zoning Division. Prior to joining Linn County, Nichols worked for the City of Cedar Rapids in the Community Development Department, and before that as the planning director for the City of Burlington. Nichols received his Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Iowa.
“As a native of Mt. Vernon, the places and people of Linn County are part of who I am. It is an honor for me to lead a department with such a strong record of service to our community. The Linn County Planning & Development Department is a recognized leader in implementing forward-thinking practices and developing a customer centered culture. Earning and maintaining the public’s trust has been our guiding philosophy for two decades, and I look forward to applying this ethos to the new and emerging challenges and opportunities facing our county,” Nichols said.
“Charlie Nichols will take over a department that was led by Les Beck, one of the most dynamic, engaging, and knowledgeable Planning and Development directors in Iowa,” Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said. “We are excited for Charlie and his staff to continue the high-caliber focus on increasing customer satisfaction in the ways customers interact with Planning and Development.”
“It has been an honor to work alongside and learn from Les Beck. He is the consummate professional, and a visionary, who took our Planning and Development Department to historic heights,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker. “Les has laid an incredibly strong foundation for the department, and I’m excited to see Charlie Nichols build on this success while charting a new path forward.”
About the Planning & Development Department
The Linn County Planning & Development Department is responsible for providing fair, consistent, and objective administration of zoning and building regulations for the unincorporated areas of Linn County and cities that contract with the department. The Planning & Development Department is also responsible for balancing the needs of the customers and the public through building safety and the wise use of land and environmental resources. The Planning & Development Department has two divisions: the Building Division and Planning & Zoning Division.
Pictured: Charlie Nichols