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Kenmore city manager eyes finish line

  • Written by Don Mann
Fred Stouder finally decided it was time.

Sometime in early 2012 — after the city finds his replacement — the 68-year-old Kenmore city manager is stepping down from his  post after nearly four years.

Kenmore is currently taking applications for a new city manager.

“There are others things I’d like to do,” Stouder said last week. “I have too many friends about my age who’ve waited too long. It just feels like the right time.”

Stouder came aboard in an interim capacity in 2008 after longtime city manager Steve Anderson moved on to Bothell, and the idea was to stick around six months before moving on to some consulting work before easing into retirement.

“I didn’t want to work for a city any bigger than 60,000 and any smaller than 20,000,” Stouder recalled. “Then I started this job in Kenmore and really liked the (city) council. There were things I saw and sensed that maybe I could help on ... and later they asked me to stay two more years and I agreed to that.”

It’s the last stop in a 30-plus year career that started as an assistant city manager in Yakima and included city manager positions in Burien, Petaluma, Calif., Goleta, Calif., and Prosser. Born and raised in Indiana, Stouder brought his midwestern work ethic to each outpost and still routinely works 70 to 80 hour weeks.

“These jobs, or at least how I do them, sometimes require 12-hour days,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the work and I don’t complain about it. Nobody makes me put in all those hours; it’s just the way I’ve always approached it. Like any position of responsibility, or any position where you’re trying to accomplish things, things just take time and it seems they take even more time today for a lot of different reasons.”

Kenmore as a city can point to an impressive list of recent accomplishments, and it’s not just a happy coincidence that they occurred on Stouder’s watch. Over the last two years, the city by the lake invested publicly and privately in renovating downtown Kenmore, with a sparkling new city hall built on-time and under budget, a new King County Library System branch, a new Northshore Fire District headquarters with state-of-the-art training facilities, a relocated post office and streetscape improvements which transformed NE 181st Street into a pedestrian-oriented focal point for downtown.

Moreover, more than $80 million in infrastructure investment along State Route 522 has improved the environment for pedestrians and the traffic flow for transit and the more than 50,000 vehicles that travel the regional corridor each day.

Fact is, the SR 522 road improvements are currently two-thirds done, as the city continues to seek federal and state funding sources for the roughly $18 million in repairs  still needed to complete the project.

Stouder and Kenmore Mayor David Baker have made a handful of trips to Washington, D.C., to be present at the table when legislators have doled out the dollars and will be returning in January for more of the same.

“There are intersection improvements being done in two and three and four million dollar chunks,” Stouder said. “We got $2.5 million in federal money recently and $600,000 from the state. You’d love to get $10 million all at once but that’s not realistic in this economic downturn. My view is that it will take longer and in smaller chunks of funding, but you keep working at it. And it tells us that our presence at the table makes sense.”

Stouder took little credit for the library and fire station, which were funded by voter-approved bond issues. But the library wouldn’t have happened if not for the relocation of the post office, in which he played a major hand in a quick conversion that required some tricky timing.

“The library folks wanted to take advantage of the bid climate and they needed to get the post office out of its old location. The post office was days away from closing down and moving to Bothell and we provided them relocation assistance. The concern of the city was if the post office closed down without a new place in town it was never going to open up (in Kenmore) again.”

Long story short: Stouder determined the only facility in town capable of housing a new post office was the old Kenmore City Hall across the street on 181st, yet the new city hall was eight months away from readiness. In a finesse play, Stouder sold the idea to U.S. Postal Service officials and city staff rented temporary space a few blocks away, the post office moved into the vacated space at the old city hall, construction began on the new library where the post office used to be, and a downtown civic center was born.

“We got a temporary space for eight months, paid rent we wouldn’t have had to, had to make some roof repairs on the old city hall — we spent $80,000 making that building safe — and moved out early. But, hey, we did it happily because it kept the post office here. It was a big psychological thing — very important for a community’s sense of itself — and that’s something I grasped quickly,” Stouder said. “Plus there was a significant business component to the move, because a lot of our businesses depend on that post office. And everyone worked on that — the mayor and the council. We put in a lot of time and a lot of stuff was done in a hurry. It showed that the community cared and that library is now a wonderful place where people congregate.”

As the clock ticks on his tenure, Stouder said he’d stay busy working on priorities like finding economic development opportunities with Bastyr University in conjunction with Saint Edward State Park, working with the Army Corps of Engineers on dredging and repair to address Kenmore’s longstanding Swamp Creek flooding problem, continue to pursue development of the Lake Pointe project — the 45-acre site on the shores of Lake Washington proposed since Kenmore’s incorporation in 1998 for mixed development and a lynchpin to its master plan vision and economic future. And he will continue to pursue SR 522 funding.

Stouder was asked what accomplishments he was most proud of, and he paused for thoughtful consideration.

“When I got here there were two things that attracted my attention,” he said. “First, city councils were getting their packets Friday evening for a Monday meeting. Now they get them two weeks in advance.  We’re asking them to make important decisions and we don’t want them coming back two or three or four times because they got the information at the last minute. Part of my job as city manager is to support the decision-making process and I learned long ago about the attention to details.”

He said the other thing was that Kenmore no longer has to rely on outside contract services. “Most new cities after about five years get their own building inspector. Our old inspector was a consulting firm in Seattle and it might take us three weeks to get the response we needed. Now we have our inspector right here, more efficiencies in-house, more efficient services right here in city hall — development services and civil engineering services at a lower cost which helped the city mature from a new city to a functioning, sustainable organization. I’m very proud of that accomplishment, because at the end of the day you’ve got to worry about streets, sidewalks and quality of life.”

And what will he be doing in six months?

“My wife and I will be doing some traveling,” he said. “I’ve been to Central America several times because I’ve had an interest in that part of the world since my days in the Peace Corps. But I’ve never been to Europe. Plus we have three grandchildren in the Tri-Cities area and I want to enjoy some time with them. Also I’ve got lots of reading to catch up on and I’ve got some plans to do some writing. But mostly I look forward to not having to go to meetings.”

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