Symmonds honored at City Hall

Assistant city manager positions — usually transparent gears in city business — aren’t likely candidates for accolades.

Not so, in the case of retiring Assistant City Manager Deb Symmonds. Scores of current and former Mercer Island staffers and administrators feted her at a March 5 reception, and the City Council issued a resolution of appreciation for her.

After 27 years of service, Symmonds has retired for health reasons. She was replaced by three people, said City Manager Rich Conrad. Kryss Segle now assumes the human resources and city clerk functions of the job. Pete Mayer, parks director, will cover capital improvement planning and development. Londi Lindell, the new deputy city manager, will handle major issues; and Bob Sterbank, from Olympia, will become the new city attorney, the position now held by Lindell.

Colleagues say along with Symmonds went 27 years of institutional knowledge, representation on regional boards, skills in labor relations, public relations, project management, capital improvements, technology, budgets, administration and more.

In the past 11 years, she helped hurdle I-90 issues, town planning, Luther Burbank master planning, community center financing, storm water and utility management, tree ordinances, leash laws and city interface with schools and public groups.

While the Council’s resolution said in jest that Deb rightly concluded that city business “all comes down to parking,” her colleagues say she made tough decisions on personnel issues, sometimes had to stick to unpopular principles, and managed complex affairs with utmost integrity. Many regarded her as “the glue that held us together with grace.”

“In my 20 years of working with Deb, I especially appreciated her forward-thinking to move Mercer Island into the cyber-world and use technology to make us the best city we could be,” said Peggy Morgan, former youth services director and now a Unitarian pastor.

“I worked with Deb on so many fronts,” added Jan Deveny, former director of police and fire operations. “She gave us guidance during law suits, labor relations, police and fire projects. I respected her willingness to make tough decisions and stick to them, despite pressure from unions, city council and others.”

Conrad of course, says he misses his right hand. He and Symmonds were both hired by then-finance director Jack Bonnell in 1979 and 1980, Deb as deputy city clerk and Rich as community block grant developer. They worked as a team from the get-go, said Conrad. When he was appointed city manager in 1996, he appointed her deputy city manager.

“We’ve more-or-less run the city together for the past decade,” he says, crediting her with the basic systems such as employment, compensation, capital improvements, communications and such.

Conrad, now the senior city administrator both in terms of age and length of service, finds himself in “a role that has reversed since I began as the youngest amid numerous veteran managers.”

At her final 571st Council meeting March 5, Symmonds also was presented with a Kusak crystal vase and a crystal pyramid of commemoration. She and her husband, Matt, plan to enjoy more “cabin time.”

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