Eight years of growth

Government: Mayor begins his retirement today after overseeing several large projects

of the GatewayJanuary 1, 2014 

Chuck Hunter never got around to putting up a sign that said “mayor” during his eight years in office at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.

Hunter’s term as mayor came to an end on Tuesday. Jill Guernsey takes the reigns today.

Hunter speaks deliberately and uses his hands to illustrate his point. He chooses his words, and he often uses “we” instead of “I” to talk about the city.

“We pretty well got my list done,” Hunter said.

Businesses like Costco, Safeway and more exploded in Gig Harbor North in the past decade; a ribbon was cut to welcome St. Anthony Hospital; Eddon Boat Park opened; The YMCA opened; Donkey Creek opened; the Shoreline Master Plan was updated; a recession came and went; the wastewater treatment plant was updated.

“I had some goals that I thought the city could accomplish,” he said. “As it turned out, it was really a good fit for me. I got some things completed I think are worthwhile for the community.”

It was January 2005 when Hunter announced his campaign. He was ahead of schedule; filing didn’t end until July.

He wasn’t new to the city. Hunter served on the Design Review Board and worked as a local contractor for years.

City council members agreed that a contractor was the right fit for the job these past eight years.

Hunter ran on the promise he would make the job more than part-time. He works four days a week and takes Fridays off.

There’s no time clock to punch as mayor, but that was Hunter’s plan.

“The job is what you make it, it’s how you engage, and whether or not you can lay out the work,” Hunter said. “But you need to be around so you can meet with the staff and make sure they are going in the right direction.”

The city needed someone full-time for the past eight years, he said.

“It’s always nice to have a seasoned leader,” Lita Dawn Stanton said. “He really cared about balance and listened to council, his department heads, his staff. I think that’s what made it work so well.”

Hunter believes Guernsey will make the job her own and bring a strong work ethic to the seat.

“She’ll grab the reigns and make it go,” he said.

As Hunter steps away, here’s a look back at some big moments during his tenure:

2013: DONKEY CREEK

The new Donkey Creek Park had its grand opening on a foggy October day. Hunter was on hand with council members, former Congressman Norm Dicks and members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

Hunter called the project the “jewel” of the city’s parks. He hopes it will bring tourism and visitors to the Harbor History Museum. The project also helped local salmon, removing a barrier and allowing them to swim upstream to spawn.

“It’s really one of the best things for the city we’ve ever done,” Hunter said.

2009: EDDON BOAT

Sept. 30, 2009, marked the end of the five-year Eddon Boat preservation project. Hunter was on hand to open the new space. The property was acquired in 2004 — before Hunter’s time in office — but it was the $1 million grant during his time that got the job done.

Properties were owned by the city, but there was no financial mechanism in place to fund restoration. Hunter knew the key to projects like Eddon Boat is grants.

“We needed a method of financing that didn’t come out of the general fund,” he said of the city’s grant-writing efforts.

Beefing up the city’s parks presence was important to Hunter. The Maritime City needs public space, he said. He also oversaw the Wilkinson Farm and Barn and the Skansie Netshed projects.

“I’ve always believed that the parks are a great draw for Gig Harbor,” he said.

2011: WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT

A $16 million upgrade brought the city’s wastewater treatment plant into the 21st century. It was an example of Hunter using his experience to get the job done.

The plant was a challenging job, but with the right consultants and contractors, it was completed. In fact, it was on schedule and under budget, and that allowed for a fourth clarifier.

Construction was needed to bring the plant up to state standards.

2009: ST. ANTHONY HOSPITAL

Although he didn’t plant the seeds for a new hospital in Gig Harbor, Hunter worked to see the project through.

When Shelley Harris, director of the Franciscan Foundation, first saw Hunter, she thought he was a delivery man, she said in a farewell video. Now she knows he’s a “very special volunteer.”

After all, the hospital was a bit stuck when Hunter came on board.

“When I came on, it was kind of in a state of gridlock,” Hunter said. “It wasn’t going quite as well as it could have been.”

The hospital broke ground in April 2007, even though it had been in the works since 2004, when Gig Harbor earned a certificate of need from the state Department of Health. It officially opened in March 2009.

“I think it was a major victory for the city, the community,” Hunter said. “It just adds to the quality of life.”

The city grew exponentially in the past few years. Hunter attributes the success of projects and more to city staff members. He called the planning department “sophisticated.”

Largely made of volunteers, the planning department has been at the forefront of the city’s growth the past eight years.

“It’s been a great eight years for this city,” council member Steve Ekberg said of Hunter’s time.

What’s ahead for the city is traffic improvements. Right now, the council is working on traffic extensions on Harbor Hill to ease the bottleneck on Borgen Boulevard. Hunter would have liked to have seen construction there before he left office.

Another issue is linking the city across state Route 16. Hunter said the crossings can’t handle the traffic volume. The next project is to ease traffic there.

Hunter said he’s enjoyed his time as mayor. Being in charge is a unique experience, especially in this city, he said.

“Generally, I think it’s really fascinating and quite an experience to be mayor of a city,” he said. “(Gig Harbor) has a lot going for it.”

Retirement starts today, and Ekberg is sorry to see him go, but he knows it’s a positive change for Hunter.

“I think it’s great that he is now getting to really retire,” Ekberg said.

Dianne, Hunter’s wife of 53 years who diligently sat through numerous council meetings, is excited about it.

“She’s planning trips left and right,” Hunter said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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