Kathy Lambert reflects on two decades serving the Valley

Longtime King County Councilmember was once an elementary school teacher.

Whether it was a sidewalk, a streetlight or a septic tank, no task was too dull for Kathy Lambert during her 20 years as a member of the King County Council.

In a county that is often Seattle-centric, Lambert was seen by many as a tireless and meticulous voice for those in rural and unincorporated areas, becoming a policy expert on some of the most thankless aspects of local government.

Even in her final days in elected office, Lambert is still sending out press releases and working on new policies.

“I’ve prided myself on being someone who got into the nitty-gritty,” Lambert said. “Projects like dealing with sewage and garbage aren’t sexy, but someone needs to know those things.”

Lambert’s commitment to the Snoqualmie Valley is easily visible. It’s rare to find a Fall City Community Association (FCCA) meeting she hasn’t attended, or a large project she wasn’t involved in.

She brought King County Executive Dow Constantine out to Fall City, which helped 18 businesses out of being red-taped because septic system health violations. During the pandemic, when the Snoqualmie Chamber of Commerce was hosting weekly meetings for struggling businesses, Lambert was rarely absent.

“In the 20 years I’ve served as councilmember and mayor, I can think of few public officials who I’ve worked with around the state or region that have been as hard working,” Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said while presenting Lambert a key to the city. “It’s pretty common we’re addressing agenda bills that have to do with [her] good effort and hard work.”

The daughter of a San Francisco police chief, Lambert has been dedicated to public service for 27 years — 43 if you include her 16 years as an elementary school teacher in the Monroe School District.

She first became interested in politics at age 16, while interning with her high school superintendent, where she developed an appreciation for how he connected people.

“I really loved how networking helped people and that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I wanted to make sure people could connect to make their lives better.”

Lambert always had an intention to run for public office, but her first foray into the profession happened spontaneously.

About 27 years ago, there was a state representative opening for Washington’s 45th Legislative District and Lambert was a member of the committee designated to select a new candidate.

However, the committee couldn’t find a candidate it liked, until on April Fools’ Day, Lambert got a call that the committee had met without her and unanimously decided she should be the replacement.

“Because it was April Fools’ Day, I laughed,” Lambert said. “I thought it was a joke.”

Within her first day as a representative, Lambert was drafting a policy to help those facing domestic violence and drug addiction, drawing on her experience as a survivor and employee at a rehabilitation center.

Since 2001, Lambert has been the District 3 representative for the King County Council, representing much of north and east King County.

The 3rd District is the largest designation in King County by land area — and second in population — with a diverse range of suburbs, farmland and unincorporated areas. The 3rd District’s size is magnified even more by the fact that King County is the 12th largest county in the nation.

“Running a county of this magnitude is like running a small state,” Lambert said.

When Lambert was first elected, there was little policy helping those in unincorporated communities, including no specific budget for Fall City and an often unregulated and inconsistent businesses permitting process.

“I remember one particularly funny thing where they were going to cut money by turning off all the lights in Fall City at night,” Lambert said.

Lambert became a mayor-like figure among the unincorporated communities. She said her proudest achievement was founding the first-of-its-kind Department of Local Service, which serves as a local government for those in unincorporated areas and has placed a new representative in the county executive’s cabinet.

“Kathy has provided a voice for the unincorporated community on a primarily urban council,” FCCA President Angela Donaldson said. “She has been here for Fall City for the long haul.”

Lambert also said she is proud of the several programs for kids she brought to the county. In 2013, Lambert was named county official of the year by United Way for bringing the Safe Place program to the county, which offers shelter and resources to youth in need. Last year the program helped over 300 kids.

Lambert helped to establish other programs, including creating the county Flood Control District and community courts, and she worked for half a decade to convert an unused wing of the county correctional facility into a 24/7 behavioral health shelter.

In recent years, Lambert has championed progress on biosolids and waste to energy policies at landfills where garbage from the county would be incinerated in a vacuum to create electricity. The council will make a decision on this proposal next year.

As of 2022, Lambert will exit her role as a county councilmember, having lost a reelection bid to challenger Sarah Perry this past November.

Lambert leaves with a bit of a shadow hanging over her. In October, the county council removed Lambert from all of her leadership roles after her campaign mailed a flyer depicting Perry as a “socialist puppet.” The flyer was widely condemned — including by six county councilmembers, the county executive and Valley officials — as racist and divisive.

“[It is] unfortunate that the last few months [they] have tried to cancel 27 years of honorable and dedicated service,” Lambert wrote in an email. “There is so much more and always has been.”

Lambert said she is unsure exactly what is next for her, but it will involve some time off and spending time with her grandchildren. She is currently working on two books: one is a children’s book and the other is about her experience in government. She has also been asked to serve on a few committees.

Reflecting on her two decades in office, Lambert said she hopes constituents will remember her as someone who was a problem solver who put in late nights because she cared. She is also hopeful that residents will stay in touch.

“I really love the people and the area,” Lambert said. “People in [the Valley] are community-centered and they take care of each other. I just loved being a part of it.”