Election elevates younger members to City Council

November 17, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

The makeup of the City Council will undergo a demographic shift when the next council meets for the first time in early January: Members will be younger, newer to Issaquah and include more parents of school-aged and young children.

Tola Marts

Tola Marts

The addition of newcomers Tola Marts and Mark Mullet will lower the average age of council members by about a decade, from 50something to early 40s. For the first time in several years, the council will include two members under 40: Mullet, 37, and incumbent Councilman Joshua Schaer, 31. Marts, 40, will succeed longtime Councilman David Kappler, a man two decades his senior.

Council President Maureen McCarry said the shift would make for a council more representative of a broader swath of Issaquah residents. The newcomers will help the council reach new populations, such as school groups, and neighborhoods. Mullet is the first Issaquah Highlands resident elected to the council.

“I think it’s really, really smart to bring young people in,” McCarry said.

McCarry also lauded established council members for forging bonds with regional groups and local service organizations. She said the existing council made for a good balance of community interests, and she said she imagined the next council would do the same.

Marts said new Issaquah residents take a different view on the longstanding dispute about economic development versus environmental protection. Because new residents do not recall the “B.C.” — “before Costco” — era, they are more willing to accept growth and do not yearn for the way Issaquah used to be, Marts said. He moved to Squak Mountain about three years ago, and the Marts family lived in Klahanie for three years before the move into Issaquah.

Marts said the perspective enabled him to see the need for greater density in parts of Issaquah, and how increased density could lure residents and help create jobs. He said the process should be handled to protect the character of the city.

“Nobody wants to see another Factoria,” he said.

But he described the choice between growth and environmental protection as a “false dichotomy.”

Mark Mullet

Mark Mullet

Mullet used similar language to describe the way he approaches the debate.

“After the four years, if I feel I can’t represent both sides with equal passion, then I’ve failed at my job,” Mullet said.

Marts — part of Generation X — said he and his contemporaries bring a pragmatic approach to public service, more focused on quality of life issues than sweeping social change.

Mullet said his experience as a father, business owner and highlands resident shaped his approach to serving on the council. Mullet, who moved to Issaquah in June 2006, operates Zeeks Pizza in the highlands.

“You can understand firsthand a lot of the challenges people have,” he said.

Mullet said he also hopes to use his council role to reach out to other highlands residents who — although active in neighborhood matters — have not engaged in citywide issues.

“There’s not a shortage of people who are involved,” Mullet said. “They’re just not involved at the city level.”

As the father of three young daughters — ages 6, 4 and 1, with another baby due in April — Mullet said he was apt to notice details, like how the restrooms at Central Park are closed during winter months, and raise questions on behalf of Issaquah parents.

Marts, whose children are 8 and 11, first became involved in community issues at Issaquah Valley Elementary School, where he served on the PTA and the IVE Site Council. He said good schools helped draw the Marts family to Issaquah.

“Nobody comes here for the weather,” he quipped.

Joshua Schaer

Joshua Schaer

McCarry, whose daughter is 11, served on the council in the late 1990s, and returned to the council as a parent in 2006. She said the experience helped her connect to another part of the community.

McCarry and Schaer said the newcomers would learn how to balance the demands of the new council role with personal obligations.

Schaer will still be the youngest council member when the next council convenes. He said his new colleagues would learn to juggle the demands of careers, fatherhood and serving on the council.

“It is really a balancing act,” he said. “Finding the time is very important.”

Schaer, who has a 16-month-old daughter, said being a parent influenced his decisions more than age. He cited his legislation to require eco-friendly food packaging as an example of leaving a legacy for future generations.

“The age factor,” Schaer said. “I don’t know if that’s ever really come into play for me.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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