2 County Council careers come to a close

EVERETT — Their names have become synonymous with diligence and detail.

Now, after 12 years on the Snohomish County Council, it’s time for Dave Gossett and John Koster to step down. Term limits will force the political stalwarts from opposing parties to leave office by the end of the year.

“None of us succeed alone,” Koster told a council room full of well-wishers Wednesday. “I am so grateful for the opportunity and the honor of serving the citizens of Snohomish County and working with such a great bunch of people here at Snohomish County.”

Likewise, Gossett offered thanks for the chance to serve the public. He also made the room laugh by poking fun at some of the job’s less enjoyable moments.

“You get the nasty emails and the people who come to public hearings and tell you you’re all thieves and all of that kind of good stuff,” he said. “But, most of the time that doesn’t happen.”

Both men walked away with trophies honoring them as the county’s “Rock Star” employees for December 2013. The monthly employee recognition was something County Executive John Lovick instituted when he took office six months ago.

“You are both shining examples of what elected officials should be,” Lovick said.

Gossett, a Democrat, and Koster, a Republican, have much in common — and plenty of differences.

They both represent the areas where they grew up, at opposite ends of the county. Both 62, they’re six weeks apart in age. Voters sent them to the County Council during the same 2001 election cycle.

Koster grew up in a Silvana dairy family and went on to run a farm of his own. He served in the state House of Representatives for six years before winning District 1 representing north Snohomish County.

Auditor Carolyn Weikel, who was a non-elected Auditor’s Office employee back then, watched the former state lawmaker adapt expertly to the new role.

“He learned to appreciate the county employees and the work that they do,” she said. “That made him a successful council member.”

During his time in office, Koster developed a reputation as an unflinching social and fiscal conservative. Always passionate, he stood his ground and kept his loyalties.

At times, he toiled in adversity. Since 2008, Koster has been the only Republican on the council, albeit in a county environment where partisan politics are orders of magnitude milder than in state or federal office.

A custom-made wood sign with the name “Lonesome ‘R’ Ranch” still hangs in his office, as an inside joke and a testament to toughing it out.

He made three unsuccessful runs for Congress between 2000 and 2012, twice against U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who used to hold the same County Council seat.

Gossett’s District 4 seat covers inland suburbs at the south end of the county. He grew up the eldest of five boys in one of those communities, Mountlake Terrace, where his parents bought one of the first post-war homes there. He worked as a public school teacher before discovering his bent for mastering the inner-workings of government.

When first elected to the council, the cerebral Gossett already had worked years in the council offices — as a policy analyst. Before that, he served a dozen years on the Mountlake Terrace City Council, including terms as mayor.

“He’s so detail-oriented. You can always count on Dave to understand all of the facts,” Weikel said. “The other thing I like about Dave and John is that they asked the tough questions and expected and demanded honest answers.”

Fans of the soon-to-be ex-councilmen can be found well beyond Snohomish County.

Laura Merill, policy director of the Washington State Association of Counties, and a former Pend Oreille County commissioner, traveled to Everett on Wednesday to wish them well. She singled out Koster’s work on public lands and Gossett’s work public health.

“They did a wonderful job,” Merrill said. “They were always there and always shared their perspectives.”

A similar changing of the guard took place in Snohomish County government at the end of 2007, when term limits forced Councilmen Kirke Sievers, a Democrat, and Gary Nelson, a Republican, to step down. Nelson, of Edmonds, went into retirement, while Sievers, of Everett, was elected county treasurer — a post he’d held before.

Arlington City Councilman Ken Klein won the November election for Koster’s seat and is to be sworn in Jan. 6, the first Monday of the new year. Former Mill Creek City Councilman Terry Ryan was elected to Gossett’s seat.

When Koster and Gossett joined the council, the head honcho of county government was Bob Drewel. The former executive remembers them fondly for serving the public good with integrity.

“Two very different political views, but similarities in the ways they approach their jobs,” he said. “They worked them hard, they worked them honestly. They probably had two of the smallest agendas I’ve ever seen in terms of not putting their own interests first.”

They are solid public servants who deserve a future role in government, Drewel said.

“When you have talents like that and you have dedication like they do to public service,” he said, “you hope there is an opportunity for them to continue.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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