When Jeanne Burbidge decided to run for Federal Way City Council in 1998, she had no idea it would be the beginning of two decades of public service.
Now, Burbidge is retiring from city government after she decided not to run for a sixth four-year term. She looks back fondly on her service.
“It has been a joy to serve, and I loved the work,” said Burbidge, whose time on the council will come to an end on Dec. 31. “It was something I had not ever had as a long-term goal.”
Originally from Minnesota, Burbidge moved with her family to north Seattle when she was in third grade. After graduating from Seattle University with a bachelor’s degree and the University of Washington with a master’s degree in social work, Burbidge met her husband, Jim, who was a dentist in the Air Force. After Jim got out of the military, the couple settled in Federal Way.
“We have lived here a good part of our adult lives,” she said. “We both became involved in the community. We both are fairly social people, and we both like to be involved.”
Burbidge took an interest in the arts and got involved on the boards for the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Centerstage Theatre and the King County Arts Commission, which is now 4Culture.
“We observed what was happening in Federal Way and realized the community needed to form as a city to incorporate,” Burbidge said. “Counties are not structured, at least in Washington state, in a way that is workable for urban unincorporated areas. It is more of a rural structure.”
Burbidge and her husband were involved in several incorporation campaigns.
“The first couple of efforts did not pass,” she said. “Voters were very nervous about forming a city. They assumed taxes would be higher. Ironically, once we did succeed at incorporating, taxes in the city were kept at a lower level than outside in the unincorporated area because King County kept raising property taxes, and the city kept ours low.”
After incorporation in 1990, Burbidge served on the city’s first arts commission.
“During those years, I learned a great deal more about city government and the processes involved,” she said. “I found myself very interested. Sometimes we would have issues as (arts) commissioners on the agenda of the City Council. A few of us would go to the meeting. I would look at the agenda and my commissioner colleagues would be ready to leave. I would say ‘no, I am staying for this item and that item.’ ”
People, including Burbidge’s husband, encouraged her to run for City Council.
“My husband said, ‘you are doing the work anyhow. Why don’t you just run for council?’ ” she said. “And, I did, and I was elected. I enjoyed it, and I ran again and again and again and again.”
After five four-year terms, Burbidge is looking forward to having more flexibility in her schedule and spending more time with her husband.
During her council career, Burbidge was active regionally, serving on a variety of boards including the Regional Transit Committee for King County, the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board, the Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Policy Board, the South County Area Transportation Board and the Regional Law, Safety and Justice Committee for King County.
The Sound Cities Association, which is made up of 38 cities in King County, recently recognized Burbidge for her impact regionally by giving her member emeritus status.
When she first joined the council, Federal Way operated under a city council-city manager form of government, where the mayor was elected from among the council by his or her fellow council members.
Burbidge, who has the longest tenure as a council member in the city’s history, served as mayor the first two years of her second term on the council from 2002-03.
“I hadn’t been planning on it. It kind of happened,” she said of being appointed mayor. “One of the council members said, ‘Jeanne, we would like you to be mayor,’ and I said, ‘you do?’ Because this was only my second term, and the whole thing hadn’t been a long-term goal for me.”
Burbidge enjoyed being mayor and working closely with the city manager and other leaders in the region.
“It was kind of fun running the council meetings and dealing with citizen comment,” she said. “We had some controversial issues come up, too, where we would have suddenly a full chamber and people out in the hall wanting to give citizen comment. I learned how to use the gavel.”
In 2009, residents approved the switch to a mayor-council form government, where the mayor is elected by voters.
Burbidge has spent her last four years on the council as deputy mayor, serving two consecutive two-year terms in the post. The deputy mayor is selected by his or her fellow council members.
Burbidge is most proud of the city’s investment in parks and the arts, including the construction of the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center, which opened this year.
“Attending many of the events that have been held (at the PAEC) so far, people tend to come to those performances about a half hour early, so they gather in the lobby,” she said. “To see the interaction of the people and the opportunity for people to meet each other and socialize and have a cup of coffee and to go into a performance they enjoy, that has been very satisfying.”
After she leaves the council, Burbidge said she will miss the people – the residents, fellow council members, mayor and city staff.
“We have had the good fortune of having terrific staff,” she said. “They work kind of behind the scenes so, in many ways, in many situations, they don’t get a lot of glory, but they deserve a lot more glory than they get.”
The City Council honored Burbidge with a reception during its Dec. 5 meeting. Mayor Jim Ferrell will present Burbidge with a Key to the City at the Jan. 16 council meeting.
“Over the years I have really come to view Jeanne as one of the most valuable members the City Council has ever seen,” Ferrell said at the Dec. 5 meeting.
Hoang Tran, who won the November general election for Burbidge’s Position No. 4 seat on the council, will be sworn in at the Jan. 2 meeting.
Burbidge will continue to live in Federal Way and plans to stay active in the Rotary, the American Association of University Women, the Federal Way Performing Arts Foundation Board and volunteering as a legal guardian for severely disabled individuals, which she has done since 1989.
“I made a decision to take a six-month breather before taking on anything totally new,” she said.
Burbidge and her husband have three children – Margaret, Heidi and Scott – and one grandson.