New City Manager Blair King is Finding His Way and Getting Things Done!

Blair King Bainbridge Island City Manager For Bainbridge Island City Manager Blair King local governance is every thing.

“A city provides an array of services and is the closest (governmental entity) to the public,” he says unabashedly. “What drives me crazy is that people think the federal government is better than local government… (The latter) is not an inferior form of government.”

King, who has spent nearly four decades in local government positions – mostly in Coastal California cities – has been at his post at Bainbridge City Hall for just over a year. He recently spoke to the Bainbridge Business Connection (BBC) group – a gathering of small business people who meet Friday mornings at OfficeXpats in The Pavilion – and detailed his role, his accomplishments during his first year on the job, and his wish list going forward.

Blair King Bainbridge Island City ManagerWhen King assumed his new job in May of 2021 after many years in a similar position with the City of Coronado, near San Diego, the City of Bainbridge was still in full Pandemic mode. City Hall was closed, he had to determine how to distribute $7 million provided by the federal government for Covid-19 relief, and he was tasked with filling some 20 vacant full-time positions. (The City has 137 full-time equivalent employees).

To get his feet under him, King conducted one-on-one meetings with some 40 community leaders, plus others recommended by the City Council. With their help, he distributed CARES Act funds to both organizations and initiatives deemed essential during the Pandemic, such as the Housing Resources Board, sustainable transportation, affordable housing, wastewater reuse and other causes.

Before clicking off a laundry list of accomplishments and goals to the BBC, King demonstrated a sense of humor and a quick grasp of Bainbridge culture and politics. In his initial conversation with many islanders, most of whom he recalls were nice and gracious, they typically said – in his words: “Welcome to Bainbridge Island, (now) I have a better idea.” He laughs at the memory, but one thing he didn’t find funny was his first experience with snow.

Blair King Bainbridge Island City Manager“Everyone told me the snow never sticks here,” he recalls of late December 2021 winter storm. “(But) I have to say that from Christmas to New Year’s, we had snow on the ground the whole week. There were ferry complications, people walking on Winslow Way with suitcases, cars spinning out…” On another subject, hiring, he also brought a light touch. “We need certified wastewater treatment operators,” he says. “These people are rare. (Students) don’t get out of college saying to themselves, “gee, I want to be a poop operator!'”

Despite the levity, King believes wastewater is indeed a big issue for Bainbridge and other communities in the Puget Sound. That’s one reason why the city has hired a consultant to review their practices. “Treated effluent is really an asset that can be better used than (flushing water) into the Puget Sound,” he says. He sees treated wastewater eventually being used to recharge water systems, and for fisheries, as well as other positive uses.

Over the past year or so, King has helped direct the passage of a number of key pieces of local legislation. Some of these include the long-discussed sustainable transportation plan; the Sound to Olympic Sakai Park and Pond trail; the completion of the Eagle Harbor Drive new bike and walking trail; the passage of the waste reduction ordinance, an effort to reduce single-use plastics in certain businesses; and the climate action plan. The latter is geared to try and reduce greenhouse gases on Bainbridge by 25 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2045.

Blair King Bainbridge Island City ManagerKing says other initiatives are unfolding, such as the new police and courts facility to be housed in the retrofitted former Harrison Hospital Medical Clinic site on Madison Avenue; the recently hatched Bainbridge Creative District, that will make arts and culture a “more important part of the Bainbridge brand”; and new affordable housing units at 550 Madison Avenue.

What’s more, the now not-so-new City Manager is working on a variety of other initiatives and ideas such as on-going labor negotiations with the police department and individual employees; trying to be more energy efficient within City operations (such as public works); as well as considering a contract agreement with Bainbridge Disposal (the city’s never had one). Perhaps, King’s biggest challenge going forward is in land use, particularly the Winslow sub-area plan. “It hasn’t been updated in 15 years,” he says with a surprised look on his face. “It’s the Mother ship of our land-use planning.”

Affordable housing is another tough issue that King and the City Council are taxed with. Of this initiative he says honestly, “We have to prioritize what we can do…and get to the finish line.”

In case you were wondering, King, for one, doesn’t see the City selling off the current Police Station – at the corner of Winslow Way and Highway 305 – any time soon, or the Suzuki property off of New Brooklyn. The latter piece was being considered as a prime spot for affordable housing by previous administrations. He sees both of them as “assets” for the time being that the City Council will likely have to deal with in the future.

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