Issaquah mayors of the past and present recently gathered at the Issaquah Senior Center for a panel discussion about their time serving as mayor and their views of the community.
Four former Issaquah mayors — Keith Hanson, Rowan Hinds, Ava Frisinger and Fred Butler — joined current Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly for a question-and-answer panel on May 18.
Pauly asked several questions that ranged from funny and light, to more serious reflections on their time in office. One of the most significant questions the panelists answered was why they chose to run for mayor and what were the best and worst aspects of that experience.
Hanson, who served from 1970-73, said the best part of being the mayor in the early 1970s was working on ordinances that beautified the town and set standards for landscaping. He looked at landscaping ordinances from other cities, broke them down and built them back up in a way that fit the city of Issaquah at the time. The worst part, he said, were the situations in which city staff had to be laid off.
The longest-tenured mayor in Issaquah history was Frisinger, who served from 1998 to 2013. She said that after spending 10 years on City Council, she wanted the challenge of the mayor role and wanted to experience municipal government from the administrative side.
“The best thing about being mayor was working with city councils who really reflected the voices of people in the community, who listened to people in the community and who brought their concerns forward and helped fund the resolution of some of the problems there were in the community. And people the people are the hugest part of being mayor,” she said. “The worst…not being able to accomplish things that were really needed. Whether it was because of budgetary issues, times when things couldn’t be done that seemed like they were really important.”
A council member for 12 years before becoming mayor, Butler served from 2014-17 and echoed many of the same points expressed by Frisinger, stating that the title of mayor conveys a lot of responsibility that is important to keep in mind when elected. He also expressed some frustration that the role of the mayor does not always make it possible to solve every problem and address every concern from citizens.
Hinds, who also had a decade of council experience before serving as mayor from 1990-93, said that being the mayor of Issaquah was the best job he ever had and he still missed it.
“For me, politics is not what you get out of it, but what you put into it, what we bring to it as individuals and that’s particularly energizing. It’s just a fantastic feeling to be able to help people and do things,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to make things happen and I really appreciate that. The worst part about it? It had to end.”
The other big question Pauly asked was about the legacy each of the panelists left behind.
Butler stated that with the opportunity to participate in several regional boards and committees he was able to play a significant role in bringing trying to improve transportation on the Eastside by bringing light rail to Issaquah sometime in the future.
Hanson was proud that he and his staff were able to introduce a many pieces of legislation regarding growth, inspired by the work of larger cities at the time, early on before the city had to contend with those issues themselves.
Hinds was unsure of what his legacy was, but when Frisinger answered the question, she said the comprehensive planning efforts, such as the acquisition and restoration of open spaces, she worked on in her time as mayor were built off of the work done by Hinds.
“We were able to do that in a large way in Issaquah because there was the planning behind it and because we had a parks and recreation department that was able to write a master plan for the wildlands within Issaquah,” she said. “Those things were done essentially upon building on someone else’s legacy, so when Rowan said he wasn’t sure what his legacy was, there are all sorts of good things that were done by you and that I think I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants and accomplish things for the benefit of the city.”