This Gang of 4 deserves thanks

Commentary

Four long-time civic leaders in Sammamish decided not to seek reelection the City Council. They deserve the thanks for their community service here, and in the case of one member, her service pre-dating Sammamish.

Don Gerend, Bob Keller, Kathy Huckabay and Tom Odell will go off the Council Dec. 31. Each has put in years of public service doing what they think is best and working toward a goal of a better Sammamish.

Certainly, many will disagree with many of their decisions, tactics and in some cases, demeanor. But everyone should understand that there was no nefarious agenda, only what they thought was best for the City.

To be sure, I have had my political and personal differences with each. I’ve supported, and wound up opposing, each as I disagreed with policies pursued and tactics undertaken.

But none of this diminishes the debt of gratitude owed to public servants whose only thanks, all too often, is complaint and criticism.

One-by-one

Don Gerend

Don Gerend was one of the original Council members and served continuously since 1999. He was originally viewed by the 1999 Council somewhat as an outcast because, after that bitter election, Gerend reached out to the losing candidates and their supporters in what today would be called a bipartisan effort that is the subject today of so much political disdain.

Gerend, a developer in a previous life (so-to-speak), always represented a developer’s viewpoint on the council, but he wasn’t dogmatic about it. He represented a viewpoint that was needed, especially for the small property owner who wanted to develop his property for profit or retirement. At the same time, Gerend wanted to protect Sammamish’s environment.

Over the years, Gerend found himself in the middle between Council factions. Often the swing vote, he also tried to make peace. Thus, he would catch hell from both sides.

Kathy Huckabay

Kathy Huckabay spent 30 years in public service with Issaquah, Sammamish and other organizations. Say what you will about her current term on the City Council, and I’ve said a lot, anyone giving 30 years of volunteer service deserves accolades.

Huckabay was also an original Council member, serving all but two years continuously; she took four years off prior to the current term. Even though the City Council is officially non-partisan, it was well known in 1999 that Huckabay was the lone Democrat on the original Council. Like Gerend, she was largely ostracized that first year. She and Gerend became natural allies then.

Over the 15 years since incorporation, Huckabay advocated for the environment (though this seemed to waiver some last year), human services, etc. Huckabay tended to be at times more focused on regional issues than Sammamish issues, most notably last year’s Sound Transit 3 vote that she supported.

Regardless, 30 years are 30 years and her contributions to Sammamish’s early days were invaluable.

Bob Keller is the Council’s short-timer: he is finishing up one term, unusual in Sammamish history. (Only John James and John Curley before him were one-termers.)

Bob Keller

Keller spent several years on the Planning Advisory Board and the Planning Commission, where he helped shape environmental and traffic policies (all since weakened in many respects by the City Councils at the time and since), and the Sammamish Town Center, now under construction and in limited operation with the opening last month of Metropolitan Market.

Keller’s mark during his one term on the Council was to take an atrocious Comprehensive Plan recommendation from Staff and the Planning Commission and co-lead (with then-Council Member Nancy Whitten) a rewrite of just awful proposed changes to the environmental policies.

When not in service to the City, Keller led the Kiwanis Club as president for many years, staying active in other public service.

Tom Odell is finishing eight years on the Council, two terms. He wasn’t on any City

Tom Odell

committees or commissions before being elected, but he was a regular at Planning Commission meetings during the Town Center process. Thus, when he was elected, Odell was pretty familiar with a lot of City issues.

Odell provided his own list of accomplishments when he announced Saturday he won’t seek a third term (humility is sometimes one of Odell’s shortcomings). What Odell didn’t mention was his strong effort behind the scenes to solve some of the problems between East Lake Sammamish Trail property owners through his interaction with King County officials.

Odell’s style as a Council Member and as Mayor often left people fuming; his intolerance of public comment and efforts to silence officials with whom he disagreed were his biggest failings.

But his dedication, hard work and, yes, even his grumpy, curmudgeonly ways, were benefits to the City.

Institutional knowledge and regional ties

When these four leave the Council in December, a huge amount of institutional knowledge will leave with them. So will relationships with regional committees and elected officials from other jurisdictions.

I wrote last year that I’m not into naming things after politicians. But I do think Gerend deserves something more than a plaque somewhere on some obscure wall. Gerend spent, figuratively speaking, as much time representing Sammamish on regional committees and trekking to Olympia as he did in Sammamish representing citizens. The time he put in—all for a pittance in stipends—on behalf of the citizens of Sammamish is simply mind-boggling.

Perhaps the Donald Gerend Council Room would be most fitting.

Or perhaps the Sammamish Arts Commission could create The Donald Gerend Rocket for City Hall plaza to reflect the rocket scientist he once was—and which was his tag line in the first City Council election in 1999.

Whatever—Gerend is an exception to my aversion to naming things.

By Scott Hamilton

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7 Responses to This Gang of 4 deserves thanks

  1. Harry Shedd says:

    Right on Scott. These four councilmembers have shown dedication and service beyond expectation. They truly deserve our thanks and best wishes for their futures. Don Gerend really deserves more than a plaque. Too often we forget to thank our public servants. THANKS TO EACH OF YOU FOR SERVING SAMMAMISH.

  2. Ken Gamblin says:

    Thanks, Scott. As always, well said. After closely following the Sammamish City Council over the last year, I agree that they deserve a lot of thanks. They put in long hours directing difficult issues.

  3. Christie Malchow says:

    Well said, Scott. Anyone who has served this City has desired the best for Sammamish. Though visions differ from one person to another, the dedication required to serve as Council cannot be disputed.

  4. Stephen Kamm says:

    Scott: I appreciate your intent here. Public service is exactly that, a service and the act of “suiting up and showing up” should be acknowledged. But it wouldn’t be too much hyperbole to suggest that the service of these four was in many (but perhaps not all) respects profoundly ineffective, at best, and deleterious, at worst, to Sammamish. I’ve commented elsewhere that the Council had a “tiger by the tail” (Sammamish growth) and didn’t have the humility, wisdom or foresight to acknowledge it. The result is what you see every time you drive down a Sammamish road: worsening traffic, houses as boxes jammed next to each other, minimal set-back from the street, new developments popping up under the same building codes, etc. Passivity under the guise of deliberation or restraint is an action. The actions outgoing Council members cannot be commended by the vast majority of Sammamish residents.

    • cityhamilton says:

      Stephen, as one who served eight years on the PAB and Planning Commission, I worked on some level with all but Odell (our terms did not overlap). I understand the requirements of the Growth Management Act and the limitations about what cities (and city council members) can do about growth within the constraints of the GMA. The growth you see today is a result of being within the Urban Growth Boundary of King County. Sammamish is a city that under state and county law must take its share of growth. Before the annexation of Klahanie, Sammamish’s build-out growth target was 72,000 residents. This target was set by the state and county requirements.

      The only upzoning of any consequence that was done while I was directly involved in planning was the Town Center, which itself was a response to not only the GMA (jobs) but also a desire by residents to have their own goods and services, a gathering place and amenities. After I left the planning process (Dec 2009), the city did some small up-zonings under special circumstances, but in the scheme of things, these were inconsequential.

      I supported, over the years, the election of each of the four now-retiring members. In Odell’s case, I was on his strategy committee for his first election, and in Keller’s case, was his advisor until it turned out he was unopposed for his election.

      None of that prevented me from becoming a major critic of them, or of Gerend and Huckabay, at various times over the years because of subsequent policies, actions, tactics, etc. Anyone who is a long-time reader of this blog knows that in 2015, I was a vociferous critic of three of these four and a sometimes critic of the fourth. I became one of the 56% (in the latest survey) who did not like the direction of the city.

      There is a lot to criticize these four (and the city government as a whole) about a myriad of things, including the implementation of growth, but on the macro level, the growth itself is beyond their control because of the GMA requirements.

      • Stephen Kamm says:

        Thanks Scott. And understood. And, to be clear, city growth is challenging in the extreme. And I applaud service, as you do, but still think it appropriate to assess outcome. While the city had macro pressures (GMA), the Council did little address how that pressure (# of units required) was implemented. Yes, there were some nods and feints to # of trees and setbacks, but the end result, at the risk of belaboring here, is what you see when you drive down 228th, to which almost everyone responds with, “Are you kidding me?” Put differently, THAT the city had to grow is understood. HOW the city chose to implement that growth – via the Council – appears (I choose that word intentionally) to have lacked the political will or foresight to circumscribe developers a bit. And I wouldn’t bring it up if it didn’t have an impact on current discussions. The building codes that allowed the type of jammed together boxes seen at Highcroft Development remain in place. Every building permit currently issued allows for the same type of building. Until and unless those codes are substantively changed, we won’t see a measurable difference in how Sammamish grows.

  5. Frank Blau says:

    Thanks for the good words towards our outgoing council members. I too applaud their service to our community. As the former Chair of the Planning Commission, I also understand the limitations and responsibilities imposed by the Growth Management Act. But it should also be noted that many of Mr. Kamm’s complaints, while understandable in many cases, are not not just limited by local codes, they are also limited by the Washington State Constitution, which grants extraordinarily broad latitude to developers. You can’t just change codes because you WANT to, they also have to be legally and democratically developed and implemented. The ironic thing (at least to me) is that some of the people that complain the most about development (on someone else’s property) are the first ones in line to complain about their rights when they can’t develop on their own property as they choose.

    Since I am no longer on the Commission (and in the process of moving from Sammamish to Europe) I can safely say now that I would always be in favor of protecting natural resources, even at the expense of individual property rights, or the rights of developers. But this is an admittedly contrarian position in the local, state, and indeed federal government. Protecting sensitive environmental areas requires a lot of coordination, planning and resources, that sadly, the current administration is hell-bent on defunding, dismantling and privatizing, while denying basic science and common sense. The net result will be loss of natural resources, increased pollution and negligible oversight of our nation’s valuable environmental areas. Say what you will about our local council members, but I believe that each and every one of them (with the exception of maybe John Curley!) understand the important role that regulations, governance and enforcement play in the very real efforts to manage our city’s growth in the face of diminishing resources and the dire impacts that climate change is going to have on Sammamish and indeed, the entire planet.

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