Lake Stevens Mayor John Spencer won’t seek re-election

Spencer is endorsing City Councilman Kurt Hilt in this year’s mayoral election.

Lake Stevens Mayor John Spencer

Lake Stevens Mayor John Spencer

LAKE STEVENS — There’s much more Mayor John Spencer would like to do for his city.

Even so, Spencer has decided to retire at the end of the year, when he’ll reach the end of his first term as mayor. He wants to spend more time with his family, particularly his wife, Terri, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

He won’t be seeking re-election, but he promises to stay involved.

“I don’t expect to be absent,” he said. “If there are boards and commissions, if there’s a task, I’ll be there to help.”

He has a strong favorite in mind for his successor: City Councilman Kurt Hilt.

“He is well-suited to being a calm and logical and careful leader,” Spencer said.

Hilt last week announced a campaign for mayor. So far, he’s the only candidate. It’s still early, though. The official filing week is in May.

Spencer was elected mayor in 2015 after eight years on the City Council.

Before seeking public office, he compiled a thick resume of government and consulting work, starting with a summer internship in the administration of Gov. Dan Evans.

Spencer grew up in the Eastern Washington community of Cheney before his family moved to Olympia, where he started high school. He attributes his upbringing on a farm — milking cows, planting crops and other daily chores — for driving his work ethic.

“To my fault, I think I’m a little too task-driven,” he said.

He earned a master’s degree in regional planning from the University of British Columbia. He went to work for the state Department of Ecology soon after the agency was formed. For much of his time there, he worked as deputy director, with a brief stint as director in the early 1980s.

Spencer moved to Lake Stevens in 1984, when he took a job overseeing the wastewater utility for King County Metro.

In 1993, he was named general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District. In mid-1995, Spencer left to work for the engineering firm CH2M Hill and traveled the country as a consultant. He retired in early 2015.

The leader can cross a few items off his list for Lake Stevens.

He helped steer the city through a planning process to revitalize its downtown that includes makeovers for North Cove Park and Main Street.

An interim City Hall has opened until Lake Stevens can plan and pay for a permanent site, likely years in the future.

There’s more to do. He wants to make sure that construction starts on a new police station by the time he leaves. The current modular building, which is sinking on one end, is far too small for the current size of the force. Designs for a new police station were millions more than the city was willing to pay.

Spencer also hopes to come up with a plan that would accommodate a new library and City Hall in the Chapel Hill area, on the west side of town. Two recent ballot measures to build a new library have failed. The city and Sno-Isle Libraries own adjacent properties there.

“I’ve always supported the idea that a library and a City Hall complex together could be attractive,” he said.

Not just visually, he said, “but a great center for public knowledge and democracy.”

Spencer’s wife, Terri, is another civic pillar. She served on the local school board for a dozen years, 10 of them as president. She was a founding member of Lake Stevens Rotary and the Lake Stevens Family Center. For many years, she was president of the Lake Stevens Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for classroom grants and student scholarships, and is a partner of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Spencer, 71, said he hopes to spend more time caring for her as her Alzheimer’s progresses. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

“People have reached out to help, and I can’t say how much I appreciate it,” Spencer said. “Unless you’ve been there, you can’t say what it’s like.”

The city has a strong-mayor form of government; the mayor is elected independently from the City Council. The job is considered part-time, but Spencer said it can turn into something much more.

“You can work every day of the week, every hour of the day,” he said. “My biggest problem is pacing myself.”

Whoever takes over will continue to cope with rapid growth. Since 2000, Lake Stevens has quadrupled in size and quintupled in population. Last year, the state estimated there were 32,570 people living there.

The city now encircles three-quarters of the county’s largest lake. Urban demands are coming to formerly rural areas, where streets, sidewalks and parks may not always meet expectations.

A pinch point has been the U.S. 2 trestle, where state and regional leaders have been looking at how to pay for improvements and expansions expected to cost at least $1.3 billion.

If elected mayor, Hilt said lobbying for the highway work would top his priorities list.

“No. 1 through 10 is bird-dogging that trestle,” he said.

Hilt, 47, has served on the City Council since 2016. He’s a representative on the Snohomish Health District Board and the state Board of Health.

Hilt and his wife, Robin, have three daughters. They live in west Lake Stevens.

“All I know is teamwork,” he said. “I’m a firefighter-paramedic. We work in teams.”

He said he’d like to build on the momentum he feels in the city.

“Historically, Lake Stevens was pretty isolated and kept to its own business,” Hilt said. “But we’re in an interrelated world now.”

Spencer believes he’s contributed to bringing that about: “We’re no longer the city between Snohomish and Arlington that people drive through and ignore.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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