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Powers ends long tenure of public service for Port Orchard
For the past 26 years, Carolyn Powers has been a fixture on the Port Orchard City Council.
Powers has been through six elections since being appointed to the council in 1987. But on Dec. 31, she will end her time on the council and retire.
Powers began her career with the city after being appointed to fill an expired term of late Councilman Bob Lloyd, who was terminally ill at the time.
She was appointed to the Public Property Committee to replace Lloyd.
“The one thing the committee did was plant grass and trees in the downtown parks,” said Powers, who chaired the committee until a few years ago. “I was always discouraged because there was never money to do things with the parks.”
She said the committee also worked with the local Rotary Club who wanted to establish the Etta Turner Park near Westbay Center.
New city hall
Powers and the Public Property Committee was responsible for getting the architect and contractors to build a new city hall.
“We needed more space and the America Legion has its meeting hall near where the old city hall was,” recalled Powers. “We came up with the idea of trading land with the American Legion group. The city had a public works building on Kendall Street where they store equipment and other things. We negotiated a swap for them to take the property on Kendall and we acquired the property where their building was. That gave us more room to build City Hall.”
Powers remembers the old City Hall, built in 1947, as a small deteriorating building that had rotting wood, open sewer pipes and over-burdened electrical circuits.
“In the basement there were odors and things like that,” Powers said. “We knew we needed a new city hall.”
The old City Hall failed a seismic study in 1990 and the city worked — from late 1994 to 1996 — on selecting an architect, designing the building and obtaining financing. The city selected Art Anderson Associates as the architectural engineering firm and the city obtained financing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Office.
“We had to have the architect go back and redesign some things because it was going to bring us over budget,” said Powers.
Yun's Company of Seattle was awarded the contract at $4.42 million and the 25,370-square-foot facility was finished in May 1999.
Also during her time on the council, she helped with building a new fire station for the city fire department.
Following in husband’s footsteps
Powers’ followed in the footsteps of her late husband, Paul D. Powers, who was also involved in city government. He served on the city council from June 1959 to December 1997 after he was appointed to fill a vacancy — just like his wife did years later.
Paul Powers, who died in 1992, served as mayor from 1972 to 1982.
“He ran for mayor after he found out the former mayor was not going to run,” said Powers. “He was involved in city government for 24 years and here I am in it for 26 years.”
Powers said while her husband served on the council and as mayor, she didn’t pay much attention to city business.
“I have was always done things out in the county and doing my own thing,” she explained. “I stayed away and didn’t get involved in city stuff. But I did go with him to functions and parades.”
Powers said she was appointed to the council after retiring as an administrative secretary at Marcus Whitman Junior High School in South Kitsap School District.
She applied for the council vacancy after reading an announcement in the Independent. Powers told her husband she was thinking about applying for the position.
“My husband was always supportive in whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “‘He said I was thinking about that for you.’ He knew how my mind worked. I’ve always been a person who is an activist and doer. “I have to have a mental challenge all the time.”
Powers said she called a councilmember about the process. She was told there would be a committee formed to conduct interviews.
After sending in her letter of interest, Powers went to City Hall and asked for all the minutes of the council and Planning Committee meetings for 1987.
“I read all those minutes because I didn’t know what question they would ask during an interview,” she said.
The Powers went to Seattle one weekend to visit their daughter. When they returned home, a councilmember called her to tell Powers she was selected to serve on the council.
“He told me to come to the Monday council meeting and I would be sworn in,” she said.
Councilman John Clauson was on the committee that selected Powers to fill the council vacancy. She became the fourth woman to serve on the city council since 1974.
During an interview Tuesday morning, Powers said she never through she would serve on the city council as long as she has.
“I went in there to fill an unexpired term. I can’t remember if anyone ran against me that first time,” she laughed.
Five years before joining the city council, Powers ran and won a seat serving the 26th District in the state House of Representatives.
“That was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced,” Powers said during a 1997 interview with the Independent. “It really is a tough job. You have half the world mad at you. You belong to the public, so you forfeit a lot of your personal life. But then, I think that’s true in anything like community service.
Open to ideas and caring about people
Powers said she would like to be remembered as a councilmember who was open to ideas and cared about people.
“I always treated people decently and I want to be remembered as ‘what kind of person am I?’’’ said Powers. “I always worked well with other people and listened to others.”
Powers said some citizens come to council meetings angry and tell the council they don’t listen.
“The one thing I’ve always kept in mind was that when we are looking at passing an ordinance or resolution, it’s not just for the people who come to the council meetings,” said Powers. “We have to remember there’s 12,000 people out there.”
Several individuals reflected about Powers’ service on the council.
Clauson said two things stick out about Powers.
“She always looks at what is best for the whole city and not just the few that are standing in front of us at the moment,” he said. “Many times over the years she has reminded me that we have been elected to represent all of the folks in the city and I really respect that of her.”
The other thing, Clauson said, is that she really wants to make sure she understands the issues in front of the council.
“She shows this by asking a lot of questions. She will often point out to everyone that she always has a lot of questions when we are discussing a topic,” said Clauson. “I know that this is one of the ways she makes sure she understands the issue thoroughly.”
A fellow councilwoman also commented about Powers’ service to Port Orchard.
“It’s been an honor to serve on the council with Carolyn,” said Councilwoman Cindy Lucarelli. “Her extensive historic knowledge and the retelling of her many experiences have kept us entertained while learning the how's and why's of city government.”
Lucarelli said she hopes to carry forward Powers’ passion for parks.
“I wish her a happy and restful retirement and hope she'll pop in on occasion to share more of her knowledge with us on the Public Property Committee,” she added.
Bek Ashby, who will fill Powers’ seat in January, said she admired the veteran councilwoman’s decision-making.
“She has the strength and understanding to make difficult choices based on what is right and in the best interest of Port Orchard,” said Ashby. “Port Orchard has been in good hands with Carolyn. She has been a shining example that I hope to emulate.”
On Tuesday, city staff held a retirement ceremony for Powers. Attending the one-hour ceremony — emceed by Councilman Fred Chang — were former Sixth District congressman Norm Dicks, former mayor Lary Coppola, former city clerk Patricia Parks, along with former councilmembers Robert Geiger, Don Morrison, Fred Olin and Jim Colebank. Lee Caldwell, who also served as mayor for one year, attended , as did family members and friends.
Letters from former councilmember Warren Van Zee, former public works director Larry Curles, former mayor Leslie Weatherill and County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido were read by some of the present councilmembers at the ceremony honoring Powers.
Carolyn Powers Profile
Family: Born in Fort Barrancas, Fla.; married Paul D. Powers (deceased) in 1946 in Mobile, Ala.; two daughter, Cathy Strombom and Deidra Larson
Education: Associate of Arts, Olympic College; personal management degree, University of Puget Sound; business adminstration, City University; education degree, Central Washington University; management skills for women degree, Northwest Employee Relations Associate Development Program
Career: Retired as an administrative secretary at Marcus Whitman Junior High School in South Kitsap School District; accountant with George Synder, L.P.A.
Public Office: Service the 26th District in the Washington State House of Representative 1983-1984; member of the Port Orchard City Council 1988 to 2013.
Community and Civic Involvement: Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, board and executive committee; Puget Sound Regional Council, executive board; Olympic College Board of Trustees, January 1977 to September 1989 (president for 4 years); founding member of the Olympic College Foundation (board member for 9 years, president 1 year); State Association of Community Colleges trustee, state president 1988-89; Kitsap Mental Health Services, corporate board of directors, 1985-2008, president twice; Advisory Council Area Agency on Aging, 1994-2002; Kiwanis Club, education committee and board of directors, Read to Kindergartners, Terrific Kids Program; Port Orchard Bay Street Association, member and volunteer; Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce, ambassador and volunteer; Kitsap Workforce, training council; League of Women Voters; Port Orchard Business and Professional Women; United Way campaign, co-chair; Washington State Women’s Political Caucus/National Women’s Political Caucus.