Greener pastures


The Mirror

Just a year after moving from the old City Hall building to the new one, city clerk Chris Green's office is again lined with moving boxes.

Green has worked almost 16 years as the keeper of Federal Way city government's entire official record, from the days just after incorporation, through several city councils, late meetings, zoning and comprehensive planning, acquisition of parks and community space, creation of a municipal court and police department, boom and bust budget years, litigation and community celebrations.

It's been in turns overwhelmingly busy, frustrating and exciting, she said, but now it's time for her to pass the reins along to someone else. On Sept. 2, Green retired to a farm in Eastern Washington to relax, spend sunny days with her husband and grow lavender.

City officials began advertising for the position last month and received several applications. Iwen Wang, the city's director of management services, will be responsible for hiring a new city clerk.

Seated at her desk last month, Green's plaques and certificates still hung on her walls, paperwork still covered her desk, and reference books still lined her bookshelves and the nooks of her computer area. She's been with the city a long time, she said, and it's going to be strange to leave.

She reflected on the job and the city, and decided whoever replaces her as Federal Way's city clerk must have "lots of patience and understanding," as well as the ability to work with different personalities — ordinary members of the public and grassroots activists, city staff and elected officials. "It's fun, because they're all very different," she said.

As the official record keeper of a city, the city clerk maintains all the actions of city government, including city council ordinances, resolutions, contracts and meeting minutes.

The city clerk prepares proclamations, posts public notices, files legal notices, coordinates board and commission interviews, prepares the packets for the city council before meetings, publishes meeting calendars, swears in elected officials and commissioned police officers, and coordinates hearings with the hearing examiner, among other things.

In addition, responding to public records requests are a "huge, huge part of the job," Green said.

The next clerk will have to be an adept multi-tasker, she said, and must be able to address something and then move on. "You don't dwell on a lot of things," she said. "You have to get things done and move on."

"They shouldn't save things like I do," she said, laughing and looking around her office. She thought a few more moments. "You have to want to really care about serving the public," she said. "It can be frustrating, but it's important."

She repeated a bit of advice she got from a colleague when she was first starting. "If you can't change it, let it go," she said. "I've learned that one over the years. You can't take things personally."

Before she was a city clerk, Green worked for 20 years as a paralegal for attorneys in private practice. She decided she'd had enough after she took a job with a personal injury firm. "I got through one trial and was getting started on another and decided to do something else," she said.

In Nov. 1989, Green sent her resumé to the brand new city of Federal Way. Voters had just approved a ballot measure to incorporate, but the city wouldn't become official until Feb. 28, 1990.

Green said she wasn't sure the new city's administration was even hiring. Still, interim city manager Al Locke encouraged her to attend a council meeting to see if she was really interested in working for a brand new city.

She went to the fire station on 28th Avenue Southwest, which was serving at the time as a makeshift City Hall. It was right around Thanksgiving, she said, and the meeting ran late — it went past 11 p.m. — cutting into holiday dinner plans. But she stayed.

"I thought it was exciting. They were establishing a new city," she said. "They were a fun group of people to work with. They had to get the city up and running fast."

Green took the job Dec. 5, 1989. Her first office was in the fire station's furnace room, behind the area the new City Council was using as its chambers.

As she was sorting through files last month, Green found an old photo of herself and two other city staff members seated at a table, smiling. Glasses and hair styles were different then, and Green said her colleagues used to joke they could sit behind her big hair during meetings and fall asleep without being seen.

Since those early days, Federal Way has grown in size and complexity.

Pressing issues today still tend to revolve around directing city growth —  how to encourage certain kinds of development downtown, how to best house city functions or how to offer city services to benefit the greatest number of people — but 15 years ago, the city was just beginning to grow under its own direction.

Green recalled there were several long meetings, during which the City Council heard testimony on the city's first zoning codes and comprehensive plan — the documents that would define what areas of the city would be considered residential, commercial or rural, what the vision was for the city's future, and how the city intended to grow over the next several decades.

"King County had everything zoned a certain way. The Council had to go in and pretty much look at individual areas and look at how they'd like each of those areas zoned," Green said. "Those were the days I figured out what swales and detention ponds are, all those planners terms," she added, laughing.

Because the Council was still meeting in the tiny fire station, the comprehensive plan meetings had to be held at Sacajawea Middle School (then junior high) and Decatur High School to accommodate the number of people attending.

"There were 100 to 200 people speaking," Green said. "There were four lines of people with forms who wanted to speak."

Prior to the meetings, Green and other city staff set up long tables and hauled in recording equipment to conduct the meetings. Those late meetings led into hours of transcription.

It was a tremendous amount of work. Still, it was an exciting time.

"When I stop to look at it now, life was pretty straight-forward and simple at the old fire station," she said. "The move to South 336th Street was a huge move for us. We could have staff then in one place. The City Hall on South 336th and First looked huge to us."

And now that city government, city police and the municipal court have all moved into the new City Hall facility on Eighth Avenue South — "it's amazing," she said.

But despite the growth and excitement over the past 16 years, Green is ready to bid the city farewell.

This year, she and her husband bought an 80-acre farm near a town called Wilbur, located 15 minutes from Lake Roosevelt in Eastern Washington.

Green and her husband have vacationed at the lake for years, and they knew the couple who owned the farm. Her husband and his hunting buddies used to stop in and say hello whenever they were there, so when the owner's wife died and he decided to sell, the Greens went ahead and bought it.

Buying the farm actually accelerated Green's departure from the city. She hadn't planned to retire until December, but when the house became available, they went to see it. They bought it that weekend.

"I have never made a decision that fast in my life," she said.

They initially planned for Green to stay in Federal Way until the end of her service, but it didn't make sense to pay for two homes when they could be using the money for some needed renovation on the house Green describes as the "little farm sitting in the middle of wheat fields."

Their closest neighbors are a mile away and friendly — they've already had Green's husband over for dinner and breakfast. When she was there visiting recently, they brought over a casserole. Green was charmed by the neighborly gesture. "Oh," she said, smiling. "People still do that."

There are only 900 people in Wilbur, a big change from Federal Way's bustling energy. There's one grocery store and one gas station. And, perhaps best of all, there's no traffic. "In fact, there's no stop light in Wilbur," she said.

For a self-described lifelong city girl, it'll be a big change. For a city employee who's been working in Federal Way for the entire life of the city, Green said it'll be weird to leave.

"It's been a huge chunk of my life, but it's been really fun," she said. "We've lived in our house 40 years. It's the only house we've ever owned."

She said she plans to keep in touch with the friends she's made over the years in Federal Way, and with friends she's met through a professional clerks association. And she is optimistic. "It's going to be an adventure," she said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565,

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