EVERETT — Ethel McNeal grew up in a town where no matter whose kids were outside, everybody’s parents and grandparents kept an eye on them.
Neighbors held each other accountable. They agreed that instead of complaining about something, you try to make it better, she said.
Those thoughts are driving her in her new role on the Everett City Council. McNeal, 67, was appointed Jan. 3 to the seat formerly held by Mayor Cassie Franklin. The appointment lasts until the position is elected again, in November.
“I’ve watched Everett ever since I’ve lived here,” she said. “I’ve paid very close attention to what’s going on.”
McNeal’s family is Native American and African-American. City officials believe she is Everett’s first councilwoman of color.
She originally is from Meridian, Mississippi, where she was the sixth of nine children. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom and sometimes restaurant cook and caregiver. Her father was a woodworker and ran a sugar cane mill. As a young woman, McNeal participated in the marches and protests of the civil rights era. People she knew were killed during that time, fighting for a better world.
In the late 1960s, she visited Everett and decided to stay, later graduating from what was then Everett Business College.
Her career included 23 years with the Scott Paper Company and 18 years with the Edmonds School District. She retired in 2014.
Since then, she’s been volunteering in the Everett School District. All three of her children graduated from Cascade High School. She’s also been working with the Office of Neighborhoods. She was part of the city’s Envision Everett 2037 effort, and she is a longtime member of New Life Church, where she has served on the church council and worship team.
She and her husband live in the house they bought near Silver Lake in 1980.
“We liked south Everett,” she said. “It was a growing community at the time … some of the best neighbors you could ask for.”
McNeal has a long history of making connections and bringing people together, Council President Paul Roberts said at the Jan. 3 meeting. In addition, he cited her experience with labor issues as a past union president.
He and others encouraged her to apply for the council vacancy, he said in an interview.
“Her work on the vision committee was really great,” he said. “I suggested it might be something she should think about someday and she did.”
Also at the meeting, Councilman Jeff Moore noted that McNeal will be the second voice on the current council who lives on the south end of town. That will be important this year, he said. There’s an ongoing conversation about potentially changing some council seats to be elected from geographic districts. Historically, most council members have lived north of 41st Street.
McNeal said she is looking forward to learning more about districting, the budget and other policy questions facing the city.
She wants to be part of a local government that is caring and respectful, she said. Everett is seeing major shifts, as is society at large, she said, noting the anticipation of light rail as well as the struggles of big box stores.
She is mindful of what the future will look like for her two grandchildren.
“I want to make sure Everett is prepared for that change,” she said.