Former councilman praised for devotion to civic life

MILL CREEK — With a few gracious words to colleagues, an unmatched stretch of service on the Mill Creek City Council came to a hurried end.

Terry Ryan resigned from his post of 17-plus years during a Sept. 4 City Council meeting. Then he had to bolt early to attend to the job and coaching duties that have pulled him away from civic life, at least for now.

Until that point, Ryan had managed an impressive balancing act. While fulfilling the part-time City Council job, Ryan spent his days working in commercial real estate. He coached youth soccer at high levels and found time to serve on civic boards. All while raising four children.

Things began to get more hectic this year, when Ryan, 55, took on more responsibility at Kidder Mathews, the commercial real estate firm where he works. He also accepted a gig as head coach of the Mercer Island High School girls soccer team.

“My work has just kind of consumed me,” Ryan said. “I’m working from about 6 a.m. until about midnight between all the things I’m doing.”

Ryan said he expects to be inundated with work through December, then he’ll consider re-entering public life.

Ryan was initially appointed to the City Council in 1995 and elected to the seat two years later.

Since then, he can claim credit for a role in a host of major civic projects, among them: the Mill Creek Sports Complex, Mill Creek Town Center and the city fire station. He helped attract key businesses to Mill Creek, including Lowe’s home improvement store, the University of Washington Book Store and medical providers.

When needs arose, he gave his attention to the area’s senior citizens and veterans.

Mill Creek community development director Tom Rogers said Ryan was aware of the issues and did his homework.

“I think he always had the best interest of the city at heart,” said Rogers, who has worked in city government for 20 years. “He worked very hard and participated in a lot of the regional committees.”

In Mill Creek, the mayor is selected from among peers on the City Council. Council members four times appointed Ryan to two-year terms as mayor and another as mayor pro tem. The job is nonpartisan.

He served since 1996 on the joint fire board for Mill Creek and Snohomish County Fire District 7.

Since 2000, he also represented Mill Creek at the regional planning and policy group Snohomish County Tomorrow, where he led city efforts opposing “air condos,” a controversial style of dense, single-family housing development that Snohomish County was allowing in areas that Mill Creek and other cities were likely to annex in the future.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring grew to appreciate working alongside Ryan on regional issues.

“One of the many things I like about Terry is that when he makes up his mind to do something, it’s 100 percent or he doesn’t commit to it,” Nehring said. “I really respect that. He makes sure he can do a quality job.”

To some in city government, Ryan’s biggest contribution was his prudent fiscal stewardship, which has left the city with a healthy rainy-day fund and better positioned than most to weather economic tumult.

“He was a bulldog for a fiscally conservative city government and was instrumental is obtaining grants for many city capital projects,” acting city manager Tom Gathmann said.

Political opponents sometimes accused Ryan of being overbearing. Allies praised his can-do attitude.

“He cares for the community and he’s a guy who gets things done,” City Councilman Mark Bond said. “He rolls up his sleeves and he jumps in and he makes things happen. That’s another trait that not all politicians have.”

Bond also shared a personal story of Ryan going out of his way to help after a 2000 motorcycle accident in which he lost his lower left leg. Bond, a Mill Creek police officer at the time, was able to return to work. He’s now a Snohomish County deputy sheriff.

“Terry was very good to me, and was a very good friend to me and my family,” Bond said. “I never want to forget that.”

Ryan has taken it upon himself to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for firefighters every year for the past 15 years. He hasn’t sought credit for it.

“There’s a lot of things that Terry’s done that were under the radar that not a lot people know about, but he did them because he knew they were the right things to do,” City Councilman Mark Harmsworth said.

Ryan grew up in Seattle’s Green Lake area, one of seven sons in an Irish-Catholic family. He credited his late father, Thomas Ryan Sr., with teaching him to treat people right and stick up for the less fortunate. His father, who served as superintendant of the King County Parks Department and as King County deputy executive, also instilled in him a love for public service.

“He helped so many people throughout the years, he was literally my hero,” Ryan said.

Ryan and his wife, Roberta, have three sons and a daughter, ages 18 to 24. The youngest was an infant when he joined the City Council. He said he coached his children every year, in everything from soccer to basketball and baseball.

“I missed a lot of dance recitals and school plays throughout the years, but I wanted to do something for the community and my wife supported me,” he said.

For about as long as he’s served in Mill Creek government, Ryan has coached high school and club soccer. Before his current job leading the Mercer Island High School girls soccer team, he coached at Archbishop Murphy High School, the elite Crossfire Premier youth league, Cedar Park Christian School and Eastside Catholic School.

Back at Mill Creek, they’re trying to find someone to serve out Ryan’s term through the 2013 election.

Gathmann, the acting city manager, said: “We can only hope that his replacement on City Council will also have a strong commitment to investing lots of personal time to help keep Mill Creek a great place to live.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465;

How to apply

Anyone interested in applying for an interim appointment to Terry Ryan’s former City Council seat must submit an application and letter of interest. Applicants must be registered voters who have lived within city limits for a year or longer.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Oct. 26.

The application is available at City Hall, 15728 Main St., Mill Creek; on the city’s website,; or by calling 425-745-1891.

Send completed applications to City Hall, attention City Clerk Kelly Chelin.

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