Tumwater leaders set excellent example

It's time for a changing of the guard in the city of Tumwater.

Mayor Ralph Osgood is stepping down after 20 years on the council — 16 as mayor. His sidekick, city administrator Doug Baker, is hanging it up, too, retiring after 30 years in government service.

Mayor-elect Pete Kmet and his new City Council should emulate the Osgood/Baker team. They have provided a steady hand at the helm at city hall and governed with integrity and honesty. Under their outstanding leadership, Tumwater has doubled in population to more than 16,800 residents and the annual general fund budget stands at $16 million. They pride themselves in the fact that while many other government jurisdictions and private businesses are laying off employees, Tumwater actually plans to add one worker in 2010 — the city’s first fire inspector.

Under Tumwater’s form of government, the mayor has a strong hand in the management of city hall and a greater role in the day-to-day management of the city. The mayor, for example, hires the city administrator. Yes, the council confirms the mayor’s choice, but it’s the mayor’s selection. Likewise, it’s the mayor who develops the proposed budget for council consideration. The mayor, not the city administrator, has the ability to fire the police chief or fire chief or any other department head, including the administrator.

And while the mayor presides over the council meeting, he or she can only vote in the event of a tie. The mayor is more administrator than figurehead under Tumwater’s strong-mayor form of government.

That’s why this is a pivotal time for city governance in Tumwater.

Councilman Kmet will vacate his council seat at year’s end and be sworn in as mayor after the first of the year. One of his first duties will be to select the city administrator. The mayor and council members were scheduled to interview the four finalists for the job Saturday — Leonard Bauer, Bill Brandon, John Doan and Mark Hoppen.

The council will confirm or reject the mayor’s choice, but has its own work to tackle. The first order of business will be to select a new council member to fill Kmet’s vacant seat. Tumwater residents have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to submit an application.

But that won’t be the only new addition to the council. Betsy Murphy was elected to a vacant council seat last month and in January will be sworn in. This, at a time when council member Ed Hildreth — who was appointed in March — is still in his rookie year.

That’s a whole lot of new faces at Tumwater City Hall.

But Osgood told The Olympian’s editorial board last week that he has no regrets about his decision to step down.

At 55 years old, Osgood said he’ll continue his job as assistant director of the state Department of Licensing where he leads the business and professionals division. He’ll also be able to spend more time with his wife and daughter.

Osgood said he has long believed that when the “passion meter starts to wane,” then it’s time to get out. “It’s time to leave,” he said. “I knew it was the right thing to do.”

Looking back on their 16 years together as mayor and city administrator, Osgood said he and Baker have many things to be proud of: the explosion of new office buildings off Tumwater Boulevard; creation of the Tumwater Town Center; bringing recycling to Tumwater and more recently the lighting and mobile home ordinances. There was also the five-year effort to repair city sidewalks and the decade-long project to resurface city streets.

His regrets?

The loss of the Olympia Brewery and the failure to build an aquatics center.

There were missteps, too, Osgood said. Most memorable was the city’s effort to condemn property at the Calvary Cemetery to widen Cleveland Avenue — a road improvement project that had its own set of challenges. Osgood said he learned important lessons in that misadventure: to think ahead about consequences of decisions, and to do things in an open and transparent fashion.

That lesson has served Osgood, Baker and Tumwater residents well over the years.

Tumwater doesn’t usually grab the headlines like Olympia and Lacey are prone to do. Residents are generally satisfied with the way the Tumwater has operated and the quiet, effective leadership of the outgoing mayor and city administrator.

Mayor-elect Kmet and his new City Council would be well-advised to follow the excellent example set by Ralph Osgood and Doug Baker during the last 16 years.