May 4, 1998
Jane McClure/Valley View
David Hunter, Carnation's newly appointed mayor
by Jane McClure
CARNATION--For the first time in more than two months, residents here will have a mayor overseeing their city government. Although he freely admits it was not an easy decision, David Hunter agreed to accept his former City Council colleagues' unanimous appointment to the position last week. He said it was the support of family, city council, other citizens and city staff that convinced him he could successfully balance the demands of family and career with the additional mayoral responsibilities. "I feel privileged to serve as mayor of this community," Hunter said. "I hope people will be patient with me while I learn what needs to be done."
Hunter is director of group purchasing for the Sisters of Providence Health System. Both he and his wife are Washington natives and moved to Carnation four and a half years ago. They have one son, a student at Cedarcrest High School, and a daughter, enrolled at Carnation Elementary. It was a desire to be involved in the community and to bring his business background to city government, Hunter says, that led him to run for city council over two years ago. During his council tenure, he served on the finance committee and the utilites and public facilities committee.
Hunter has served as the city's mayor pro tem since March 3. He said one of the toughest issues he would face immediately as the town's new mayor would be concluding the investigation of former police officer Frank Sloan and the resolution of any subsequent proceedings. "There will need to be a healing period after all this," he said. "We need to be open and understanding to everybody's feelings during this period."
Hunter hopes to determine a long-term direction for the police department quickly, something he says he will do with citizen input. "We need to create public forums as to how to handle this," he said. "Citizens need to make decisions after being presented with the full range of options and the financial obligations each entails." Hunter went on to explain that the city has been in a reactionary mode for much of the last year for a variety of reasons, including the police department investigation, the former mayor's resignation, persistent turnover in key staff positions and the lack of a satisfactory mechanism to respond to citizens inquiries.
"The first thing is to stabilize the staff, then get processes in place that will allow the city to be proactive." To that end, Hunter said he intends to secure a permanent finance director, a position that has been staffed by six different persons within the past two years. The city also has budgeted for a full-time administrative position to relieve professional staff of clerical and support functions they now perform themselves. Duties of this position also would include helping the public access information and records.
Describing himself as a good listener with a hands-off management style, Hunter said he sees his primary role as that of facilitator, "someone bringing things together to get things done." He said he would rely on the expertise of staff and reports from the city administrator, to whom all department heads will report.
"I can't say enough good things about him," City Administrator Randy Suko said of his new boss. "David Hunter has superb management skills, is very aware of issues and is very sensitive to people." Suko also noted that the mayor has a "strong commitment to accomplishing things in the right fashion, and the staff welcomes his leadership."
One of the ongoing challenges Hunter identified for the city is its ability to maintain a rural lifestyle amid rapid growth and development. He explained that because many new residents are relocating from more urbanized areas, there is an increasing expectation and need for more city services. Citing recent difficulties Carnation's business sector has had with the King County Health Department's approval of septic systems, Hunter said a major issue the city will need to address is that of sewers. He explained that Carnation now qualifies for federal grants and low-interest loans that would help finance 50-70 percent of the costs associated with this type of infrastructure improvement. This eligibility almost certainly will be voided by the next census, so Hunter estimates the city has an 18-month window in which to act.
Another issue Hunter said residents may want to consider is the adequacy of the city's strong mayor form of government, and whether a council-city manager form of government may not be more satisfactory. Addressing both issues, Hunter emphasized, must be undertaken with community involvement and can take place only after the police department is on track. He cited the competency of the city staff, the fact that local residents enjoy living in a rural environment, and the city's solid financial situation as resources that would be available to meet upcoming challenges. "We are a growing community," he said. "The tax base is more solid than many people realize."
Carnation's mayoral position is part time, and pays a monthly stipend of $400 per month. Although the term is for four years, appointees must run in the next municipal election, which is scheduled for November, 1999.