The last city council meeting of 2009 saw three people with 25 years of local government experience walk away from Sammamish City Hall – Kathy Huckabay, Jack Barry and Lee Fellinge.
Huckabay and Barry have been councilors as long as Sammamish has been a city; 10 years. Their involvement in local politics and community organizing predates even that. Fellinge joined the council in 2004, replacing Troy Romero mid-term before winning his first election in November of 2005.
He and Huckabay decided early in 2009 they would not seek another term. Barry threw his hat into the ring, seeking a fourth term, but was defeated in the November election by Tom Odell.
All three are heavily involved in Sammamish away from city hall and politics, and their departure has left many wondering what else they may have on their horizons.
The Reporter caught up with Huckabay, Barry and Fellinge over the holiday break – as all three were enjoying their first respite from the pressing demands of city business in quite some time.
For Huckabay that break will not be a long one.
She will use the extra time to involve herself more directly in a number of key issues across the county and the state – notably transportation.
Though no longer being a councilor means she will have to step down from her position as vice chair of the Regional Transit Committee (RTC), Huckabay will continue as a board member of the Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC), an independent group of transportation planners, transit users, environmental activists and council members, which in recent years has begun to play an active role in the transportation decisions at a state and county level.
“This has long been an interest of mine,” Huckabay said. “They focus on alternate forms of transportation, work with environmental groups, cities, a wide range of people.”
Rather than being stripped of any influence, Huckabay believes that not being a city councilor will in fact allow her to express her opinions without restraint. The Reporter asked her if she felt this would be a “freeing” experience.
“Absolutely,” she said. “You are constrained a lot of the time by the policies which the council has set, and which you have agreed to obviously. You are constrained particularly when talking in public. And that’s something I’ve missed – the creative opportunity to bring in new ideas and thoughts.”
One of these is her belief that there are too many transit providers, leading to a fragmented, inefficient system.
“We should have one transit agency, and that’s something I’ve felt constrained talking about in the past.”
Huckabay, who was instrumental in the mobilization of communities and neighborhoods ahead of the incorporation of Sammamish in 1999, also believes there is an opportunity for Sammamish residents to drive the creation of a community recreation center “just as we did before incorporation – you talk to the citizens, get them working together, get that energy.”
“A big interest of mine is why the community center is not moving forward,” she said. “The dream has always been to have a community center in the town center. I’d like to see the city create that. The city should be out looking to buy land now, while it’s cheap.”
Huckabay, who is on the board of managers for the Sammamish Family YMCA and the advisory board for Habitat for Humanity East King County, said the cities of Kirkland and Newcastle were good local examples of the kind of facility Sammamish should have, and believes that residents should involve themselves as much as they can in the process.
But, like everything, the conversation about a community center may be dominated by the economy.
“The hot item this year is going to be finances,” Huckabay said. “The reality is, nobody is building. The Issaquah Highlands has been struggling for years to get commercial developments up there, and they’re in a prime position right off the I-90 corridor.”
If and when the development does come to Sammamish, Huckabay said she hoped it would focus on serving the people that live here rather than those that would travel to shop here.
“Gosh, we’d just like some more restaurants, cafes, local services,” she said. “That’s what I hear from people – they aren’t so excited about the shopping.”
As for the future, Huckabay, who in 2004 was the Democratic candidate for the 5th Legislative District, has said she will not be running for office for at least the next couple of years, though said she remained open to a return to the council, or the planning commission, beyond that.
For the time being though, she and her husband Warren are enjoying the freedom to travel – “while we are still young.”
Jack Barry, too, plans to spread his wings a little in 2010, his first year in the past decade free from the demands of public life.
He plans to use this winter and spring to “sit back and take a breather, cool my jets and let the unknown be known,” before heading to Europe for a few weeks with his wife Janet, children and grandchildren.
When he returns, Barry, who in 2009 was recognized by the Rotary Club of Sammamish for 22 years of perfect attendance, said he has “a couple of things in the mill.”
“This summer I plan to get reinvolved in the community,” he said, indicating that human services was an area which interested him. “I’ve been involved in the past with Friends of Youth, and Youth Eastside Services, and am always interested in things of that nature. I’m committed to acting to help people who need help.”
In the final weeks of his term as a councilor, representatives of many groups expressed their admiration and fondness for Barry, and his wife Janet, who together have been at the heart of Sammamish’s young community. It was in their living room that the idea for the SAMMI Awards was born – a legacy that will long shape the city as a place that likes to give credit to its volunteers and unsung heroes.
Looking back over the years, Barry said he is especially proud of his role in helping the vision of Sammamish manifest.
“When I first ran I did so on a pledge to work on infrastructure,” he said. “Back then, 228th was a little two lane road. We’ve improved that.”
Barry said he was pleased with the city’s development of its stormwater infrastructure, and the public and private partnerships that were necessary to see the expansion of the school district.
“One of pet things has always been the youth,” he said. “I was proud to be involved in the creation of the first City of Sammamish Youth Board, back in 2000.” Since then, Barry has worked to ensure the voices of students and young people are heard at city hall, work which has done as much as anything to secure his place as one of the city’s most beloved statesmen.
Like Barry, Lee Fellinge is using this time to consider what he wants to do next. In the immediate future, Fellinge will be spending a good deal of time in southern California, renovating the home which until recently his mother lived in, the home in which he grew up. Now retired, Fellinge is appreciating the extra time stepping away from city hall is giving him.
It was a role that, at times, demanded of him 40 hours a week or more, on top of a full-time career. So, what was the urge to get into local politics?
“At first I just really wanted to see what could be done to make government work better,” he said. “As you get into it, you do start to see things that make you a bit cynical about the process. But you also see that there are individuals who are able to make a real difference.”
Like Huckabay, Fellinge plans to stay involved with the Sammamish Kiwanis. And he hopes stepping down from the council will be an opportunity for him return to some involvement with the King County criminal justice system – when he retired Fellinge did probation work with adult offenders in King County.
“I still have a quite an interest in that,” he said. “It’s about trying to help people who in many ways have made bad choices, which has gotten them in serious trouble, and help them become productive citizens.”
Fellinge doesn’t expect his hiatus to last long.
“It’s all around that I see, opportunities for asking ‘how can we make things work better?'” he said. “I’m exploring what that next thing will be – it never takes long to find it.”
As for whether the new councilors can meet the challenges ahead, Fellinge said it will come down to how much hard work they are willing to do.
“I think it’s going to depend on their own choices, as to how much they want to learn to bring them up to speed. It is a tremendous time commitment,” he said. “But they are bringing their own set of skills, which is good. One of the things that I learned is that nobody is a lone-ranger. You have to get things done by working with other people.”
Fellinge said the council’s ability to recognize and utilize the disparate skills and talents of its members went a long way to deciding its success.
When we were good, we took advantage of that. When we were less than good, we let that be decisive,” he said.