Outgoing Public Works director reflects on service to Federal Way

The Federal Way City Council and staff presented Public Works Director Cary Roe with a Key to the City award on March 18. Roe is leaving the city in April to take over the city of Kennewick
The Federal Way City Council and staff presented Public Works Director Cary Roe with a Key to the City award on March 18. Roe is leaving the city in April to take over the city of Kennewick's Public Works Department.
— image credit: Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

Cary Roe has seen Federal Way through a lot in the last two-plus decades. From the formation of the city itself, to being tasked with implementing some of the largest infrastructure projects required for the city and all the headaches that entailed, to surfing through the last several years of budgetary issues, Roe has seen it all as Public Works director.

The next chapter in his life and career are set to begin, though, when he heads for Kennewick, Wash., to take over that city’s Public Works Department in April. Roe said he’s both excited and a bit bittersweet about leaving Federal Way.

“The city has grown a lot in the last 20 years, and I think it’s really grown up,” Roe said. “I know having been here from the very start, and to sit here today 23-plus years later … I think it’s acuity that’s recognized in the region, I think it has standing. I think the folks who had the vision of creating a city, I think I can look back 23 years later and say we accomplished that.”

Roe got his start with the city when he was hired as a surface water manager. That job had him creating the city’s facilities for surface water - something Roe said he still looks back on with pride. He recalled how various locations throughout the city would flood to the point of impassability, including 320th in front of The Commons Mall, Southwest Campus Drive, and Highway 99 and 324th, and that it was a major issue to get under control when Federal Way first incorporated.

“We built some significant projects … and the first challenge was getting that flooding under control,” he said, “and I’m proud to say we’ve done it. You generate great pride when you know (something) did this before, and now it doesn’t do that anymore, and it’s because of the efforts you put forth.”

In fact, one of those flood control projects netted the city a national award, an honor that Roe says he still has framed in his office to this day.

From surface water management, Roe was promoted to deputy Public Works director and then to department director. Roe has overseen approximately $226 million in infrastructure projects throughout the city in his time.

“It was very nice to get the second key to the city award, it meant a lot,” Roe said in reference to when the City Council awarded him the Key to the City on March 18. “On the plaque, it (indicated) my legacy is infrastructure in Public Works. And I agree with that.”

Among those infrastructure projects Roe has pride in include the improvements to Federal Way’s stretch of Pacific Highway, along with the well maintained city streets.

“I think our Council, and our community and the Public Works Department, take great pride in the condition of our streets,” he said. “It’s not by accident, it’s because the Council has elected to invest in them.”

Roe remembered how he made a presentation to the Council in the city’s early years regarding the city streets, and how the Council had the foresight to set aside a specific funding stream to maintain them throughout the years.

“One of my arguments, and I think they got this, and still get this, (is that roads are) the city’s most valuable asset,” he said.

In the time that the city’s parks have been within his purview, Roe said he felt his greatest contributions were in turning around the Federal Way Community Center and Dumas Bay Centre. Both were struggling financially when he inherited them, and Roe said he did what he always does when presented with a new challenge: roll up his sleeves and dig in.

“I went to work,” he said of the Federal Way Community Center. “I tried to understand the pro forma that was done, that I had kind of inherited. Why wasn’t it performing, where was it performing … I sat down with then-Finance Director Tho Krause. She didn’t give me more money, we simply reworked the pro forma and tried to figure out where we could perform, where we were performing, where we weren’t and why.”

A marketing study, along with increased oversight of the center, helped turn the facility around to the position it’s in today, Roe said.

“When the center is doing like it is today, it’s hitting it out of the park. For the first two months of 2014, our revenues are exceeding our expenditures,” he noted.

Roe also faced the same issues with Dumas Bay, and was able to right that ship by doing much of the same: giving those who run Dumas Bay a better picture of who their customers are and increased financial oversight.

“It was a lot of hard work, paying attention and holding everyone accountable,” he said.

Roe said his move to Kennewick has been done with a “measured approach.” Family, workload, and other considerations all played a big part, he said.

“I’ve got a little guy that’s four … I got a new chance with this little guy,” he said. “I’m big into sports, and got a big chunk of my college paid for with a football scholarship. I hope the pace slows down, and maybe I can coach little league football, or whatever it may be.”

As far as workload is concerned, Roe said the shift to Kennewick should slow down his hectic pace, having only to (hopefully) attend meetings on Tuesday nights. As it sits right now, his schedule is so busy he has an administrative assistant take care of it for the most part. Those meetings range from full City Council meetings to sub committee meetings, to internal meetings during any given workday.

“It’s a fast pace, I like the pace, don’t get me wrong, but it wears me down,” he said.

At Kennewick, the Public Works Department is significantly larger, Roe said, like taking Federal Way’s department and “plugging in Lakehaven Utility District into it.”

The budget for the Kennewick Public Works Department actually rivals Federal Way’s entire city budget, he noted.

“It’s not a step backwards, this is going to be a challenge, I look forward to that challenge,” he said. “I’m going to go over there and do the same thing I did here. Work hard and hopefully make a difference over there, and enjoy the ride there, as I have here.”


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