Affholter to cross divide between politics, builders

EVERETT — Shannon Affholter didn’t earn a job leading the region’s largest homebuilders group through prowess with a nail gun or a circular saw, let alone making new subdivisions come to life.

It was the Everett city councilman’s government and business savvy that won over the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

When he starts his new gig Nov. 5 as the association’s executive director, Affholter will cross to the other side of a sometimes cozy, sometimes strained divide between the housing industry and local government. Those who know Affholter said they’re confident he has the skills to pull it off.

“They were looking for somebody who can handle a nonprofit organization, somebody who is outward-thinking and energetic,” said Lynn Eshleman of Pacific Ridge Homes, a member of the search committee that selected Affholter. “We had a list of qualities and experience that we were looking for and he fit those.”

The builders announced Affholter’s selection last week after a five-month search that vetted more than 300 candidates.

Affholter plans to step down as an elected official Oct. 31, making his official announcement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He also plans to stay through the end of the month as vice president of business and economic development with Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for me personally and professionally,” Affholter said.

The Master Builders Association is a federally registered nonprofit with annual revenues of more than $7 million. The group’s former executive director, Sam Anderson, earned a base salary of more than $200,000, before benefits. Its 3,000 members include multimillion-dollar corporations as well as one-man drywall businesses and small-scale remodelers.

The highest-profile part of the group’s mission involves representing the housing industry around Puget Sound by persuading governments to adopt growth-friendly policies.

The builders figured into one of the biggest controversies involving the administration of former Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. In 2009, the county’s former planning director assaulted a female lobbyist for the association on a Redmond golf course, during an alcohol-fueled mixer for government planning officials and builders. The former planning director was later convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault. Evidence surfaced that some in Master Builders leadership discouraged the woman from making official complaints.

Affholter said he plans to be up front with the public.

“The key thing is just being transparent,” he said. “If there are going to be any missteps along the way, to make sure we handle it very professionally.”

As Affholter settles in, one priority for the organization is streamlining county and city building permits, Master Builders spokeswoman Allison Butcher said. The association also wants to work with local governments over the next year as they chart 20-year growth plans.

The group coordinates programs to help members pay for workers compensation, health insurance and special employee benefits. The association also stages home shows, engages in community service and helps train people for jobs in the construction trades.

“They’re more than a government affairs organization; they do a lot of great things in the region,” Affholter said.

The builders might be best known as a political powerhouse, with its members consistently among the biggest campaign donors in local politics. Affholter won’t be directly overseeing the group’s fundraising arm, which is governed by a separate board.

Affholter, 45, is married with two children, who are in elementary and middle school.

He grew up in Toppenish, the son of a high school teacher. He said he learned about hard work on nearby farms.

“I’ve painted houses and I’ve built barns,” he said.

Affholter graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, then went to work selling long-distance phone service. In 1996, he and his wife moved to Everett.

“We didn’t know a soul,” he said.

About 10 years later, he was mounting the first of two successful City Council campaigns.

Mayor Ray Stephanson called Affholter “someone of incredible integrity and honesty.”

“I think for the Master Builders and their board and their search process, they looked across the nation for their best candidate and they happened to find their best candidate from Everett,” Stephanson said. “I think the world of Shannon, he’s a very bright guy who has a great background.”

Affholter’s professional resume includes stretches with Merck &Co., and Moss Adams LLP. Since early 2012, he has worked at Economic Alliance Snohomish County. He’s finishing up a master’s degree in business from Western Washington University.

“Of course he’ll be missed, but we wish him well. We’ll look forward to partnering with him in his new role,” said Troy McClelland, the Economic Alliance’s president and CEO.

McClelland credited Affholter with successful outreach to business and local government leaders. He singled out efforts to promote science and technology education as a way to attract skilled manufacturing to the area.

Affholter would have been up for re-election in 2015. The City Council is preparing later this month to begin a process to appoint somebody to fill out the final year of his term.

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

A new councilmember

Filling Shannon Affholter’s Everett City Council seat:

Affholter plans to announce his resignation, effective Oct. 31, at Wednesday’s Everett City Council meeting. He would have been up for re-election to another four-year term in November 2015.

At the Oct. 16 City Council meeting, council President Jeff Moore expects to propose an appointment process to fill out the final year of Affholter’s term. A council majority must approve the process.

The procedure is likely to resemble the one used last winter to pick Scott Murphy to replace retired Councilman Arlan Hatloe. People will have the opportunity to apply for the appointment. All interviews and the final decision will take place during public meetings.

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