Councilman Bill Erxleben retires
January 2, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Councilman Bill Erxleben’s time on the Newcastle City Council officially came to an end at the council’s Dec. 17 meeting.
His colleagues said goodbye with a cake and a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion.
Just before he rode off into the sunset of retirement, again, Erxleben answered a few Newcastle News questions.
Q: How was this second term different from the first?
A: The difference between night and day. My first term was not particularly rewarding. I spent most of my time trying to convince a majority of the council that they were taking unwarranted risks with the finances of the city, particularly in assuming full responsibility for construction cost overruns and the future maintenance of Coal Creek Parkway. Spending on staff and consultants for a variety of development proposals was far beyond what was reasonable for a small city with a limited tax base. Additionally, I was very disappointed to learn that the council had previously awarded itself full health benefits in secret without a vote in public. I retired in frustration.
After two years, I was urged to run again with a slate of reform candidates to reset the city’s priorities. Newcastle voters overwhelmingly agreed. With a new council majority, the city manager was quickly replaced, staffing and consultants were reduced, key new staff hires were made and the budget has been balanced without deficits — with only one minor tax increase — over the past four years. Attention has also been shifted from new projects to infrastructure management: Surface water and pavement maintenance have dramatically improved, and sidewalk construction and our parks and trails have received greater attention. Volunteerism has also been strongly encouraged. In 2013, Newcastle was ranked by Money Magazine as one of the best small towns in America.
Council members bid farewell to Erxleben
All six of the Newcastle City Council members used their comment period to bid farewell to their retiring colleague at the Dec. 17 meeting. Here’s a sampling of some of their comments.
“My only item tonight is to commend council member Erxleben for his service to the community. It probably goes without saying Bill and I don’t see eye to eye, especially on national politics, but he’s a very smart guy and I think a very effective council member.”
“Now I’ll have to look for another person to second my motion. Thank you, Bill. I really appreciate it and you know, time does march on and eventually we have to leave.”
“It’s always been a delight to see you and hear your opinion, and I especially appreciate you’ve had the time for me when I wanted to bounce my ideas around with you.”
“A few years ago, in ’09, Bill got off the couch, came out of retirement and won a race and helped make a significant change in leadership for the city, which I think really ensured the city to continue.”
“I wish you the best and thank you for coming out of retirement when we needed you back on the council.”
“You’re a smart guy, there’s no doubt about it, and we all understand that, we all appreciate that, and even though we don’t all necessarily agree with the points, you make good logic, you make sense and it gives us more data to work with.”
Q: Why is now the time to step away?
A: I feel I have accomplished all the campaign objectives that I ran on. City priorities have been reset and budget discipline is restored. But it is also time to leave. When I was younger, I was profoundly influenced by John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause and a former head of the Carnegie Foundation. Two of his books, “Excellence” and “Self-Renewal,” have had a defining impact on my professional career. His notion of “repotting” yourself every 10 years as a process of self-renewal became a life guide for me. After nine years on the City Council and one year as chairman of the Planning Commission, my alarm has gone off. It is time for someone else to take over.
Q: What were some of your proudest accomplishments on the council?
A: I must immodestly admit I am pleasantly surprised at how much I have accomplished. While it takes four votes to enact an ordinance or to create a policy on the council, the following list represents some areas that I had the leadership role and am the most proud of.
- Establishment of the annual town hall meeting
- Insistence on fiscal budget discipline
- Focus on infrastructure maintenance and long-term financial planning
- Establishment of a permanent Economic Development Committee
- Improving school and pedestrian safety by the construction of over one mile of sidewalks on Newcastle Way and 116th Avenue Southeast
- Securing more than $300,000 in state grants for new playground equipment in Lake Boren Park
- Elimination of street name confusion by naming Newcastle Way, Newcastle Golf Club Road and Southeast May Creek Drive
- Reduction in council benefits to match similar cities
- Ban on the private display of fireworks in favor of a public display
- Ban on smoking in public parks
- Being the first city on the Eastside to offer domestic partner benefits to city staff
- Creation of a public arts fund
Q: What are some things you wish you could have accomplished during your term?
A: I wish I could have changed the direction of the council during my first term.
Q: What advice do you have for incoming Councilman John Drescher?
A: Listen well, “young grasshopper.”
- Set an example for personal integrity.
- Spend the public’s money with the same care as if it were your own.
- Budget for infrastructure first.
- Fiscal discipline is really only common sense.
- Long-term financial planning isn’t an idle exercise.
- Raise taxes only when really necessary.
- Be fully transparent with residents about future financial challenges.
- In good years, save some money for a rainy day.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously — this isn’t the U.S. Congress.
Q: You’ve retired once before. Will this one stick? Any chance you’ll run for public office (in Newcastle or elsewhere) again?
A: As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Foolish consistencies are the hobgoblins of small minds.” I have no plans to run for public office again, but never say never.
Q: Any specific plans for retirement?
A: My wife Gayle and I do have some specific travel plans in the coming months. First, to our vacation home in the Methow Valley to do some cross country skiing, then to Mexico in search of sun and to practice our Spanish, and lastly, off to the coast of Croatia, for a bicycle tour in the Dalmatian Islands. Retired life is good!
Q: Any last words for your Newcastle constituents?
A: Pay attention to city affairs. Read the Newcastle News. Volunteer in community activities if you have time. Run for public office. Donate a memorial gift for city parks, the Historical Society or for public arts. City government is only as good as the support and attention that you give to it.