SNOHOMISH — A man who helped change how the city of Snohomish will be governed took his oath of office Wednesday as mayor. He promised no shake-ups in City Hall.
John Kartak was elected Nov. 7 as “strong” mayor, a position he had a hand in creating. He raked in 80 more votes than Karen Guzak, a seated councilwoman and former mayor.
Guzak said she was disappointed, but is looking forward to continuing her role on the City Council. She has two years left of her term.
“I’m planning on working for the greater good,” she said.
Wednesday marked the beginning of new leadership in Snohomish. People in town are waiting to see what happens.
Earlier this month, the city manager position was terminated. Larry Bauman, who served in that role for 15 years, was promised more than $112,000 in severance pay, in keeping with his employment contract. A city administrator, who would manage daily operations, is expected to take his place.
In the meantime, Steve Schuller has been named the interim city administrator. He served as the deputy city manager and public works director under the old structure. Schuller will help lead the transition.
Kartak, a semi-retired contractor, called himself a “grassroots” candidate for the mayoral job. He has never held an elected office.
He has compiled a network of advisers, including department directors in City Hall, community leaders and fellow mayors in neighboring towns.
“I’m reaching out in every direction,” Kartak said. “There’s so much goodwill and thoughtful advice available.”
Kartak will be working with four new members on the City Council, in addition to the city administrator. He has been interviewing candidates for that job. The finalists all have experience working in local government. However, hiring might take some time.
“I’m going to move forward very cautiously,” Kartak said.
He also promised no big staffing changes in City Hall.
“There were a lot of rumors during the campaign that Kartak wants to fire everyone,” he said. “Kartak wants to fire nobody.”
Among his plans as mayor, he is looking to review the 2018 budget that was passed earlier this month. He wants to ensure tax dollars are being used efficiently.
From the beginning of his campaign, Kartak described himself as a candidate who would listen. It is important to him that everyone in the community has a voice in city issues, he said. Kartak plans to meet with neighbors and business owners on a regular basis.
During the campaign, Kartak asked the owner of a business on First Street when the last time an elected official came to talk with him. That person told him it had been three years.
Kartak hopes to change that by stopping into stores and visiting with owners. He emphasized a need for building personal relationships.
He also sees a need to keep marijuana stores out of town.
An advisory measure on the November ballot asked voters whether they would support lifting restrictions that currently prohibit the production, processing and sale of marijuana within city limits. The measure failed by more than 67 percent.
“I think it was a win by a very large margin,” Kartak said. “I had been predicting that a strong majority would be voting to keep the ban on marijuana stores, and on occasion, I’m right about a thing or two.”
He vowed to oppose any effort to lift the ban. If need be, he said he would use his veto power, a new authority that comes with the strong-mayor form of government.
The issue of safe injection sites, which are sanctioned areas for using heroin, also has weighed on Kartak’s mind.
The Snohomish County Council issued a six-month moratorium in September, barring any sites from locating in unincorporated areas. The council is discussing a more permanent ban. Marysville this week imposed a six-month moratorium to give the planning commission time to study a permanent prohibition. Lake Stevens also implemented a year-long ban in October. Other cities are considering a similar path.
Kartak plans to follow suit.
“The small town of Snohomish simply can’t afford to go down this road in our bedroom community full of families and children,” he said.
Kartak is scheduled to be sworn in a second time, in public, during a City Council meeting Dec. 5.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins @heraldnet.com.