In 2009, I was hired as an engineer in the Lewis County Public Works Department. The Great Recession was in full swing, the housing bubble had burst and communities here had, in the span of less than 14 months, experienced two of the greatest floods on the historical record.
Flood cleanup was still underway. Horrendous stories of fighting the flood and the aftermath were fresh and raw in my new coworkers’ minds. I saw local people, including county employees, as extraordinary in the arduous, sometimes tedious flood recovery work. They had a determination and grit that was inspiring. During the flood, suddenly everyone was connected. County employees in dump trucks rescued flood victims through six feet of rising waters on state Route 6 in Adna. Folks with little to no experience helped man the Emergency Operations Center for days on end. In many cases, the people on both ends of the phone would never meet but were helping each other like neighbors. First responders risked life and limb to save family pets. Homes filled with mud and had to be restored one shovelful at a time with homeowners, volunteers and public employees working side by side helping one another.
The flood cleanup work seemed endless, yet everyone just kept at it until it was done. Lewis County people — including their local governments — refused to give in despite the devastation, and they persevered.
In time, my county responsibilities grew, and since 2018 I’ve served as your county manager, a position I am now leaving for another professional opportunity. In my years here, my appreciation for this community has only grown. I’ve interacted with a group of community leaders who deeply care about the culture, the economy, the natural environment, the history, the rural character, and most of all the people of this place they call home. They come from all walks of life and they include local officials, civic leaders, business people, farmers, teachers, church parishioners, nonprofit directors, nurses, school district officials, first responders and so many others. I have seen more community care shown by people in Lewis County than anyplace I have seen before.
The COVID-19 pandemic was another gut punch to Lewis County. Despite much uncertainty, unrest and political divide, the leadership, including commissioners of the Lewis County government, decided that we would focus on coming out of this trying time stronger than ever. We helped small businesses here with some financial assistance but mostly by the citizens choosing to buy local. Many businesses survived because of that community support. We walked the fine line between strict state and federal mandated lockdowns, the safety of the public and allowing the personal freedoms that are central to our area’s culture. At times, we as a community didn’t agree. At times, those who had been chosen to govern didn’t agree. But, most times, even passionate argument was also matched with listening and then understanding. And that understanding came because we all wanted the same things: health, freedom and happiness.
The last year has seen great progress within Lewis County government. A coordinated effort is bringing broadband service to many underserved areas of Lewis County with some of the largest grants in the State of Washington. We’re addressing public safety with funding increases and we have made huge investments in emergency 911 radio infrastructure to aid our first responders. We’ve renovated buildings to create a localized County Services Campus in downtown Chehalis to provide more efficiency in public service and revitalize the aging downtown.
We are maintaining county roads at a higher level than they have been in 20-plus years and we are making numerous other infrastructure improvements every year. Our permit center is more efficient and doing more business than ever. The county, teamed with partner cities, has launched a focused effort to understand the housing crisis and find creative solutions at all levels of the marketplace. We plan to open a new and innovative “enhanced” night-by-night shelter for persons experiencing homelessness. We are also well on our way to opening a modern animal shelter in Chehalis funded almost entirely through the generous donations of our animal-loving community members. And we are making progress toward a meaningful damage reduction solution to catastrophic flooding in the Chehalis Basin by continuing to pursue a water retention facility on the mainstem of the Chehalis River along with other flood risk reduction projects.
Like every human organization, county government will never be perfect and county government is only one part of many that will determine the future for this area. However, in order for a community to grow and thrive, for jobs and businesses to be created here, and for the community’s children to want to live and work here as adults, the foundation of local government must be solid. The people of Lewis County have that solid foundation rooted in essential functions of government services and a focus on building and maintaining public infrastructure through sound, conservative fiscal responsibility.
Be proud of where you live, where you are from. Be proud of your history and heritage. Be proud that you elect good, honest, hardworking people to represent you. Be proud of your resilience. Be proud of how hard you work to make this a better place. Be proud of your schools. Be proud of your public spaces and businesses. Be proud…you have good reason to be.
Yes, Lewis County’s future is bright.
And finally, on a personal note, I just want to say a heartfelt thank you. The people here have given me and my family so much opportunity, love, and support, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Anytime anyone has ever asked me how I like working for Lewis County, my response has always been, “best job I’ve ever had,” and I don’t think that response will ever change.