Frank Kuntz deserves great credit for leadership and contributions as mayor
Frank Kuntz has built a well-deserved reputation for getting things done at the City of Wenatchee. Given his accomplishments, he will be remembered as one of the most consequential mayors in the city’s history and how he got things done serves as a master class in the art of civic leadership.
The city was in dire financial straits when Kuntz first took office, thanks to the lingering impact of the 2008 recession, declining sales tax revenues and the financial implosion of the Town Toyota Center.
Kuntz has a rare combination of skills. He’s a visionary thinker who looks for creative solutions to challenges, a pragmatist with an extensive knowledge of financial matters, and a leader who seeks out the advice of others to get things done. To his credit, he keeps an open mind on issues and doesn’t assume he knows everything.
When he took office, Kuntz’s first order of business was to figure out a fix for the impending default on $42 million in bond anticipation notes issued for the construction of the Town Toyota Center. The solution, which included the politically thorny matter of asking voters in several cities to impose a short-term sales tax to pay off the debt, solved the crisis and set up the Public Facilities District for long-term financial success. The PFD is now one of the strongest in the state, thanks to the solution Kuntz facilitated.
Solving that challenge was a huge win for the region. Had we not cured the default, our region would have suffered the wrath of Wall Street in significantly higher interest rates for public projects.
To put the city on a more sustainable financial footing, Kuntz deputized a group of civic leaders to suggest changes. One critical recommendation was annexing Olds Station into the city to increase city revenues. Kuntz led the successful effort to convince Olds Station businesses to approve that annexation.
That additional revenue made it possible for the city to hire additional police officers, put more funds into roads, as well as other civic projects like rebuilding Kiwanis Methow Park and Lincoln Park, as well as helping fund other projects to enhance community value. Looking back, Kuntz thinks that annexation is his greatest legacy.
The sustainability committee also recommended consolidating the Wenatchee and Chelan County fire departments. At the time, having a stand-alone fire department made no financial sense. That successful move was followed up a few years ago with the further consolidation into Wenatchee Valley Fire Department.
Another significant achievement during his tenure was the Confluence Parkway project. The collaborative effort will enhance transportation flow on both sides of the river. More challenges remain.
Kuntz said we can expect there will be cost overruns on the Confluence Parkway project, which is something his successor, Mike Poirier, and the council will have to navigate.
Plugging any gaps will require Poirier to pay close attention to what happens in the Olympia as legislators wrangle over how to spend resources, he said.
Our valley will also continue to wrestle with the challenge of homelessness. Kuntz was proactive in helping make progress on this difficult issue. To encourage people to not park on city streets, Kuntz took the lead in developing two Safe Parks, which made a tangible difference. But he said that court rulings limiting what cities can do makes this an unsolvable challenge. Kuntz said the frustration that came with being unable to solve that issue helped convince him to not run for re-election.
Kuntz said we’ll also have to face the need for developing a new regional jail. There are times when the regional justice facility cannot accept people who have been accused of crimes and should be off the street. Public safety will become an even bigger community issue.
Kuntz leaves a legacy of getting things done by working together, focusing on the big picture, and making sure the city is financially sustainable.
Frank Kuntz has demonstrated a constructive way of getting things done and we would be smart to mimic his constructive community leadership approach in meeting the challenges to come.