The Issaquah Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 9 hosted its annual update and business member luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn.
The speakers were Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly, city administrator Wally Bobkiewicz, and Issaquah School District (ISD) Superintendent Ron Thiele. Each presented briefly and then the floor opened to audience questions.
The event was sold out and there were about 80 people in attendance.
Issues discussed included student health, the opioid crisis, the school district’s progress on its bond of 2016, growth in Issaquah, transportation, mobility, light rail, affordable housing, the city’s strategic plan, projects and trends.
The speakers were introduced by the chamber’s board chair Kari Magill, who extended a welcome to newcomer Bobkiewicz, who has been in the city administrator position for about four months now.
“We look forward to all the great things he’s going to help our community do as we grow,” Magill said.
Bobkiewicz shared some of his personal background, including how he served as city manager for 10 years in Evanston, Illinois, and he also vowed to help support local businesses.
“You have my commitment that city staff will be behind you as much as we can to help you be successful,” he said.
He also said that when it comes to a strong desire for regional transit and wanting to face issues related to mobility and transportation, he does not plan to sit tight and wait for their problems to magically be solved.
“We’re not going to sit back and wait for the ribbon cutting to come in the mail,” he said. “It’s a fluid situation, but Issaquah is ready.”
Mayor Pauly said that despite challenges she is excited for new opportunities and trends the city is seeing as they continue to grow and plan for the future. She talked about Our Issaquah, the city’s first strategic plan that passed council after a year of broad community engagement and hard work from city staff.
“This is a very exciting time for our community,” Pauly said. “We are internally aligning our staff and resources to be able to deliver on the community priorities and move the needle in the areas that the community has told us are most important to them, and as a quick reminder, the goal areas included mobility, growth and development, environmental stewardship, social and economic vitality, city leadership and services, and infrastructure.”
To read the strategic plan go online to https://www.issaquahwa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/5196/Strategic-Plan—Our-Issaquah?bidId=.
“The goals and objectives outlined in our five-year strategic plan paint a picture of the path we need to be on in order to build the community that meets our shared expectations,” she said.
Thiele talked about challenges and opportunities as well, but in schools.
“The state of the ISD is good. Enrollment is up,” Thiele said. He noted that there are 20,847 students in the ISD and said past declines in enrollment appear to have been a “blip.”
Back 19 years ago when he joined the ISD, he said there were some 13,000 students. Growth has been a major talking point for the district for some time. He expressed his excitement at how the ISD has made progress on its 2016 bond project list of building and remodeling schools, and how it now has acquired the property needed for the remaining schools.
Thiele also said he’s been good on his word, successfully meeting targets and implementing changes he had pledged — such as introducing a seven-period day high school schedule, which students in session now are experiencing (so long as school is not closed for snow, he joked).
He also highlighted that the school district has more mental health counselors and support systems for students and staff, as well as new safety measures and a director of safety and security.
“I made promises to you two years ago and we’ve kept all those promises,” he said.
Thiele also talked about wanting to continue fully implementing all of the ISD’s new programs, but they are paid for largely, in addition to some state funding, by a 2018 voter-passed Educational Programs and Operations Levy that is set to expire in 2020 and will be up for renewal.
In attendance at the event were city employees, chamber board members, Issaquah residents, and local business leaders.