After guiding his city as it tripled in size over 29 years of public service to its citizens, Mayor Pete Kmet has decided to retire next December.
He announced his decision at the annual State of the City presentation to the Tumwater Area Chamber of Commerce yesterday.
Kmet retired a previous time – from his position as an environmental engineer at the Washington State Department of Ecology – four years ago. At that time he’d been serving as mayor part-time for almost eight years and decided he could "do the job better" if he had more time.
Tumwater’s government is of the “strong-mayor” form, in which the mayor is the city’s executive and the seven-member council is its legislature. On paper, all of these are part-time jobs.
Mayor Kmet grew up in New Hampshire, lived a few years in Wisconsin and moved to this area with his wife, Nancy, in 1984 to take a position with Ecology. They've lived in the same house on Tumwater Hill that they purchased in 1985 – and which lead to his interest in city politics. “A lot of development was happening” there, he explained, and he wanted to help shape policies about growth.
Less than seven years after moving to Tumwater he successfully ran for Position No. 2 on the city council. By the time he was re-elected as mayor in 2018, it was the eighth time Tumwater voters chose him to serve. The first five elections, starting in 1992, put him onto the city council, on which he served for 18 years. Of those years, the most recent 14 were as Deputy Mayor, serving with Mayor Ralph Osgood.
When asked today what his fondest accomplishments have been as mayor, he betrayed his bent toward “planning for growth and development” and talked about adding “miles of sidewalks and, now, trails and stormwater drainage systems.” He’s also particularly proud of having initiated Tumwater FRESH (Farm Rooted Education for Sustainability & Health), a youth farming program operated by Tumwater School District and Garden-Raised Bounty, or GRuB. This program provides alternative education and employment for selected high school students at a city-owned farm inside of Isabella Bush Park.
He gets a little more animated when talking about how advanced planning has minimized disruption to city operations or challenges to city hall. For example, the city held hearings to annex the area southeast of the airport. By that time, for several years the city had provided fire department services to the 3,500 people living in the area. “A lot of times, annexations are controversial, but we had only about six people show up at the hearing and no one testified against it, Kmet told The JOLT.
Another example of his leadership came last year when the COVID-19 pandemic ran roughshod over many local governments. Through a combination of deferring some planned purchases, closing some facilities and just a few layoffs, the city stabilized its budget.
His major goal for the remainder of his term is to complete the design process and secure funding for a new campus at the 22-acre Trails End Arena property the city purchased in 2014. The plan is to devote about half for a new neighborhood park and the balance to house an expanded city department of public works.
The mayor wouldn’t get specific about his plans for when he resumes life as a private citizen, starting in January next year. “We’ll still be here,” he said, adding that “Nancy and I will do some traveling, and I’ll look for volunteer opportunities in the area.”