Lake Stevens mayor says it’s time to leave

LAKE STEVENS – Lynn Walty, the city’s mayor since 2000, has resigned.

In a letter sent to city staff Friday, Walty, 65, said he was stepping down for personal and professional reasons. His last day in office will be Nov. 3.

Local and regional elected officials praised Walty for his long career in city government, serving as a city councilman, mayor and chairman of the Community Transit board.

“I think Lynn has been the best mayor we’ve ever had,” said Jim Mitchell, a Lake Stevens resident, former state representative and longtime Lake Stevens Sewer District commissioner.

Walty served as a city councilman from 1978 to 1983 and again from 1995 until 2000, when he was elected mayor.

Walty has overseen a number of city projects and tremendous growth.

New police and transit stations were built, agreements with the Lake Stevens Sewer District were reached and the community’s efforts to annex the urban growth area around the lake were launched.

The city’s population grew to nearly 10,000 in January after the city annexed 800 acres along the north part of the lake.

The Frontier Village annexation, when complete, will add another 3,300 people, nearly doubling the total population from a year ago.

In August, the City Council approved a plan to nearly double the number of city staff.

Walty said his success led to his decision to retire. The rapid growth requires a new kind of leadership.

“There’s a time when your leadership and your ability is not the best to keep moving (the city forward),” he said. “I’ve come to a time to let someone else take the annexations and the community to another level.”

Lake Stevens has grown up since Walty was first elected mayor, said Robert Legg, a Lake Stevens Republican running for state representative.

“It’s more complex than it once was,” he said. “To (his) credit, Mayor Walty has recognized that the city has outgrown his ability to lead at this time. He is taking this step to allow someone else to take the helm because he’s courageous and cares about the community.”

Walty, a retired Boeing engineer, said he was starting to hear “chatter” coming back to him that maybe it was time for him leave.

“If there’s going to be chatter going on, that can’t be good for the community,” Walty said.

Although Walty was widely praised, he also has made unpopular decisions.

In January 2004, he took on additional mayoral duties after retiring. Dave O’Leary, Lake Stevens’ last city administrator, was let go at that time.

In fall 2005, the City Council budgeted for a city administrator to be hired in 2006, fearing that Walty was spread too thin with the extra responsibilities.

But Walty, finance director Jan Berg and police Chief Randy Celori convinced the council at a January retreat to allow the trio to manage the city.

Berg managed planning and administration while Celori ran police and public works.

Walty said the team worked well together, and he feared moving too soon to bring in a city administrator would slow things down.

In late July, Walty presented a staffing plan that did not include adding a city administrator until 2008.

At the time, he admitted that the decision to hold off on hiring a city administrator might be the undoing of his bid for re-election in 2007.

“The next months and year are horribly important,” Walty said at the time. “My legacy will play out over the next year.”

It is unclear if the difference over the city administrator position was pivotal to Walty’s decision to step down.

On Friday, Celori said he would recommend to the City Council that a city administrator position be created soon, and he plans to recommend Berg for the job.

Some City Council members reached Friday supported that idea. Now, they must appoint a new mayor to serve out Walty’s term, which expires in December 2007.

Under law, they cannot act until Walty leaves office, Berg said.

Walty also said he will resign as chairman of the Community Transit board before the agency’s Nov. 2 meeting.

A new chairman will be elected at that meeting.

Walty said he plans to remain in Lake Stevens.

“I believe the good Lord is in charge of my life,” Walty said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know who holds it – our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Herald writer Lukas Velush contributed to this story.

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