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Mukilteo city staff spotlight: City Administrator Steve Powers

MUKILTEO—As City Administrator for the City of Mukilteo, Steve Powers serves as Mayor Joe Marine’s second-in-command, overseeing the City’s daily operations, and implementing policy direction established by the Mayor and City Council.

Powers began his career in local government the October of 1990, working for the city of Pheonix, Arizona, in a variety of roles in both the Planning Department and Developmental Services Department.

Originally from Iowa, Powers was brought to Arizona to pursue his bachelor’s degree in urban planning, and subsequently a master’s degree in urban design, at Arizona State University. He landed a government job right out of college and remained there throughout the first eight years of his career.

In 1998 Powers and his family relocated to Oak Harbor, Washington, where he took the city’s first-ever Senior Planner position. He left Pheonix holding a middle management position called Planner 3 – which oversees a variety of responsibilities including zoning policies.

Powers held the role of Oak Harbor’s Senior Planner for three years until a new Mayor formed a Developmental Services Department, of which Powers was then selected to be this Department’s first ever Director.

Mukilteo Steve Powers
Mukilteo City Administrator Steve Powers (right) conferring with the City Attorney during a Mukilteo City Council meeting. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Coming from Pheonix, one of the country’s largest cities with a population of nearly 2 million, to Oak Harbor, a city with a population just shy of 25 thousand, there were definitely differences when it came to city operations, Powers said. When he left Pheonix in 98 the city had a staff of roughly 10 thousand employees, for example, which is just about half of the population of Oak Harbor’s total population. With that he said city employees rarely work directly with the city council and Mayor where in Oak Harbor, as well as Mukilteo, there’s a good chance he’ll work face-to-face with each city staff member on a daily or frequent basis.

“When you’re one of 10,000 employees you probably just see your immediate work group and that’s about it,” said Powers.

A benefit to having a larger staff, Powers continued, is you have more specialized individuals where smaller city staff members typically have to undertake many different roles. 

Powers served as Oak Harbor’s Developmental Services Director for 18 years until he was selected as Mukilteo’s City Administrator in April of 2020, just a few weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak was officially declared a pandemic.

There were some challenges involved in starting a new administrative position during the beginning of the pandemic, Powers noted, namely not being able to meet his fellow staff members or tour the various buildings. While admittedly daunting, he realized none of his other colleagues had experience navigating through a pandemic either, so it would be a challenge they would all learn how to overcome together. The biggest challenge, however, was trying to figure out how to maintain services to the community.

Mukilteo Steve Powers
Mukilteo City Administrator Steve Powers

“I’m pleased to say that I think we did an outstanding job but that wasn’t the result of my work, it was the hard work of the staff,” said Powers. “It was those lessons learned about how you can be resilient, how you can change a longstanding practice, those lessons learned will work for us in a variety of circumstances.”

Mukilteo is currently an exciting city to be a part of, Steve Powers said, with the Waterfront Redevelopment Project, preparing for growth under Washington’s Growth Management Act, which he said is both exciting and challenging work, and an annex from Snohomish County for the land east of Mukilteo Speedway by Tapped Mukilteo.

“Mukilteo is a great community,” said Powers. “It’s able to retain that small-scale and familiarity. We’re surrounding by larger communities, and you can start to lose that small-town feel when you’re living in a larger city but Mukilteo has been really successful in retaining that.”

When asked if he is at all concerned that Mukilteo’s growth will impact its “small-town feel” previously mentioned or cause a disconnect in the city’s close relationship with its community members, Powers said he wasn’t concerned in the slightest.

“I don’t see tackling challenging questions as something that leads to eroding that relationship because you’ve done the hard work to build that relationship already,” Powers told the Lynnwood Times.

In addition to his role as Mukilteo’s City Administrator, Powers was just appointed to the National League of Cities Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Affairs (FAIR) Committee in February, 2023, where he provides strategic direction and guidance for NLC’s federal advocacy agenda and policy priorities on financing, budget, census, federal guidance compliance issue and more. The appointment was announced by NLC President Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, Washington.

The FAIR Committee has met three times last year—once in March in Washington D.C. to meet with federal elected officials, once in Tacoma during the Summer, and again in Atlanta, Georgia. Topics of these meetings ranged from discussing what cities will do after their American Rescue Plan Act funds (ARPA) run out to banking policies.

During the meeting in D.C. last March, the FAIR Committee met with U.S. Senators to discuss the topic of federal grant accessibility. Just recently Powers was pleased to learn that, as a result of that conversation, the federal government will be introducing new legislation that will help in streamlining the process of applying for, and receiving, federal grant dollars.

As a member of NLC’s FAIR Committee, City Administrator Powers plays a key role in shaping NLC’s policy positions and advocate on behalf of America’s cities, towns, and villages before Congress, with the administration, and at home.

“It was very rewarding work. I was very pleased and surprised to be appointed. If I get reappointed the following year I’ll be more than happy to continue that work,” said Powers.

Going in to 2024, Powers said Mukilteo staff are holding capital projects—including pedestrian improvements and stormwater improvements—a priority, as well as annexation, continuing its partnership with the Port of Everett relating to waterfront redevelopment, cracking down on speeding motorists, and exploring ways to increase funding for the fire department, just to name a few.

“It’s all about the team. It starts with a Mayor and Council who are very supportive of staff and want us to do good work on behalf of the community, and then it’s the individual staff members – whether at Rosehill, or Finance, or our Fire Fighters, or Police, who actually do those things to help the community solve those problems,” said Powers. “It’s not about the City Administrator, it’s not about me, it’s about the folks who are really accomplishing that work on behalf of the community.”

Outside of his work for the city of Mukilteo and the National League of Cities, Powers enjoys spending time with family, bike riding, traveling, and playing golf when he gets the opportunity.

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