Family ties call Lacey official

Mary Dean listens to well-wishers Thursday during a reception to honor her years on the Lacey City Council. She has served since 2000.
Mary Dean listens to well-wishers Thursday during a reception to honor her years on the Lacey City Council. She has served since 2000. The Olympian

Lacey City Council member Mary Dean knows it will be hard to say goodbye to a city she's lived in for more than 30 years. Dean and her husband raised a daughter in Lacey, made lifelong friends in book clubs and spent more than a decade serving in its government.

Those goodbyes formally began last month when Dean, who has served on the council since 2000, announced her resignation, effective the end of this year. The council now has the task of appointing a resident to fill Dean’s unexpired term, which is up for re-election in 2011.

“I had every intention on serving a full term here,” she said.

But while her memories and present reside in Lacey, her future and family are thousands of miles away. And when her daughter, who lives in Atlanta, gave birth to a boy in January, Dean and her husband knew it was time to be closer to family.

“We thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a long way between Lacey and Atlanta,’” Dean said.

Ties to Lacey started to weaken last spring when Dean’s mother, who had been living with her for several years, died.

“We need to be with our family and be a part of their lives,” Dean said. “It became very clear going back and forth (between here and Atlanta) that I didn’t like those flights.”

About a year and a half ago, Dean, 60, retired from Community Youth Services, a job she had held for nearly as long as she had lived in Lacey. Before that, she was in the Peace Corps and worked in Ethiopia.

During her time helping at-risk youths get an education and gain careers, Dean came into contact with a lot of local businesses. That led her to attend Chamber meetings, which got her interested enough in city issues to join the planning commission in 1997. She served on the commission until joining the City Council in 2000.

The city celebrated her tenure on the council with a farewell reception Thursday night, hours before her last City Council meeting. Dean says she and her husband will likely start their cross-country trip to their new home in February.

Dean recently sat down with The Olympian to discuss her time on the council, what she’ll miss about Lacey and what she’d do differently if she had the chance.

You’ve lived half of your life in Lacey. What are you going to miss?

Oh God, everything. I love Lacey. I’m a big gardener, and I have to completely learn a new gardening system in the South.

I’m leaving a book group and friends I’ve had for 30 years. It’s traumatic to think about leaving acquaintances you’ve raised your children with and gone through tribulations and joys. To leave now is hard. And Lacey has come into its own, in my opinion, over the last several years.

We, as a council, and previous councils and excellent staff we’ve established a good vision for Lacey. My whole focus as a council member was to have a balance in the community. It might not be exciting news because you focus on the little details, but you have to make sure everything works right for the citizens.

And that there are places for them to play, so we pay attention to our environment and healthy parks. They need places to work, so you try and bring in higher-wage jobs, good roads, good water, affordable housing on all levels.

You’re leaving after almost three full terms on the council. Why did you keep coming back?

I enjoyed coming to council meetings. I enjoyed learning new things. Every time a new topic came up, I mean, what did I know about sewers before? I didn’t know so many of the aspects about running a city. And so when you get on a new committee, suddenly you’re learning all about LOTT.

New things are interesting, and at the committee level you learn a lot of detail. And it’s just very interesting.

What are some of the things you’ve seen change during your tenure on the council?

I think the parks have seen a lot of growth. There’s like more than 500 acres of parks added to our inventory, most notably the Regional Athletic Complex, which I think is a great success. Doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: provide fields for play and bring in teams and provide an economic stimulus. So that worked beautifully.

I’m really pleased that we now have the Lacey Community Market. That is evolving and growing. I was a huge supporter of that. It’s a great place to go on the weekend to get fresh produce. It’s evolved into that to also include collectibles and music and activities. It’s become almost a mini-fair.

That will evolve as the citizens evolve what they want it to be. We started out with one vision of a produce market, and it’s evolved into something else, and I think that’s wonderful.

I’m very pleased about the increase in connectivity between the citizens and the city: the Mushroom Festival through the Hawks Prairie Rotary; all of those ways that the citizens connect and enjoy being part of our community. I think it’s outstanding.

I like what we’ve been able to do for the environment, improving water quality, water conservation programs.

How will you remember the council and city staff?

The staff is great and supported us. They come up with a lot of the great ideas that we get credit for. Every council, because councils evolve, it’s an accumulation of years of councils that come in with different strengths, and a part of that is left, and it carries on through our vision. And once a year, we get together and set our goals for the next year. And those goals are influenced by whatever group of council people are there. So after you get years and years of those, you kind of get a balance in that way, which is a great thing about having seven council people and staggered terms and change.

No one council person is indispensable. They add their value into the mix, and the result is our recent past and our ongoing future. And I think they’ve done a great job since I’ve been here.

Look at the quality of our roads and the amount of money we’ve put in to fix our water lines. The quality of new construction is up, our parks it’s pretty nicely balanced.

Any regrets?

Well, I’m a pretty quiet council person, actually. I’m a really good committee person working behind the scenes. And everyone brings their own personality to it. I probably would speak up more.

The one disappointment is that I will leave before we get our rights through the Department of Ecology. If we can get water rights, we’ll be doing really well.

Any advice for the person who is taking your seat?

Enjoy the process. It eventually works – not every time, but in the long run it’ll come out better.

Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 nhulings@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/outsideolympia