Creating a sense of community
January 6, 2012
By Christina Lords
After 17 years, longtime Newcastle resident Sonny Putter steps down from City Council
As you flip through the pages of longtime Newcastle City Councilman Sonny Putter’s date book, you start to notice a trend.
For the month of October, nearly every date is bursting with small writing filling each box.
In November, appointments for various committees, councils and commissions overtake the page.
December is similarly booked.
January, however, tells a different story.
After 17 years on the council and subsequent service on various other local and regional committees, Putter is stepping down from the position.
“I made the decision that I could no longer be as affective as I had been in the past on the current City Council,” Putter said. “It’s unfortunate, and I don’t have any acrimony or animosity toward my other colleagues … but it was time to leave.”
What he will focus on now hasn’t been determined yet, he said.
“I’ve made it a point of basically keeping my options open about what I’m going to do in the future,” Putter said. “I have no firm plans. It’s possible but probably unlikely I’d run for another public office, but again I’m keeping my options open.”
Putter began public service work in the nonprofit sector more than 30 years ago for various charity boards and committees. He became involved with Newcastle after he moved here in 1991 and learned of efforts for incorporation for the town.
At the time, what is now the city was still considered unincorporated King County — a situation that had its limitations in the eyes of Putter and others vying for the formation of a city.
Simply, incorporation enabled residents to tell their friends where they lived, he said, but more importantly, it gave neighbors the ability to create a sense of community and allowed for measures of local control over land-use issues.
Mayor John Dulcich thanked Putter for his service and his efforts to incorporate the city.
“Lots of times, people use City Council positions to move on to take their political career to the next level, but with being here 17 years, I think Sonny’s mindset was to take the community to the next level,” he said. “While we don’t always agree on things, I admire and respect his effort and dedication to the city of Newcastle.”
In 1994, Putter was elected to a 20-month term on the interim City Council. He was re-elected for four more consecutive terms.
“Since I was one of the people who became heavily involved in persuading my neighbors to form the new city, I felt this sense of responsibility to actually make it work,” he said.
The formation and incorporation of Newcastle was not without its challenges, including how to make the city financially sustainable for the long term.
“The first challenge was, and it still is an ongoing issue for our city, that we had limited sources of revenue,” he said. “One of the fortunate outcomes, though, of incorporation was that in controlling local land use, we were able to help guide the development of the undeveloped portions of Newcastle.”
Development fees, sales tax on new construction and additional property taxes added by new construction were significant sources of revenue for the town in its fledgling stages.
“When we started out, we were a bunch of unrelated subdivisions in unincorporated King County,” he said. “Our challenge was to put into place the mechanisms where people would begin to feel part of a community and connect people with one another.”
Building institutions residents could rally around and connect with, such as supporting the school bond responsible for financing Newcastle Elementary School and encouraging the placement of a King County Library in town, gives neighbors reasons to build relationships and to get to know one another, he said.
As a member of the Newcastle City Council, Putter also had the opportunity to serve on several other local and regional committees, including the Suburban Cities Association’s Public Issues Committee and the Regional Transit Committee. Those kinds of positions allow for regional exposure for Newcastle’s issues, making the town’s needs — such as the $55 million overhaul of Coal Creek Parkway — visible and relevant to other local leaders and communities.
“It was very important to me to recognize that Newcastle alone did not have the resources to be able to do the kinds of things we needed to do,” he said. “The only way we could successfully achieve the outcomes we wanted to achieve … was by being engaged with other council people in bodies where people would learn of the need in Newcastle equivalent to the needs of other communities.”
In recognition of his regional and local service, King County Executive Dow Constantine proclaimed Dec. 1 Sonny Putter Day.
But despite the city’s growth and the council’s accomplishment in the past 17 years, Putter said he did have some disappointments.
Changes in the city’s plans for the development of a pedestrian-friendly, higher-density downtown that could create a financial stability for Newcastle through commerce and a strong customer base for businesses have been a letdown for the councilman, Putter said.
“My single major disappointment is that for the last four years, many of the plans that we put in place for Newcastle are being reversed,” he said.
More patience is needed to let established plans do their job for developers interested in starting businesses in Newcastle, he said.
He said he hopes residents and future leaders of Newcastle will continue to sustain the community in a fashion that preserves the quality of life established since incorporation.
“The key is I am grateful to have the opportunity to be of service,” Putter said. “The message I got from my service as a council member is that it isn’t what you get out of life that’s important, it’s what you put in.”