Ron Little to leave utility district

February 16, 2010

By J.B. Wogan

Ron Little

When Ron Little retires, 29 years of history goes with him.

Little has been an employee of the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District since July 1981. He precedes the district’s current name, the formation of Sammamish as a city and the installation of the Bellevue-Issaquah water pipeline, the main source of the plateau’s water supply.

He wasn’t always headed for a life of water and sewer utilities. When Little first graduated from the University of Illinois with an engineering degree, he migrated to Los Angeles, hoping to work on race cars.“I wanted to be a racecar designer, but ended up being more of a racecar mechanic,” he said.

Little, a Sammamish resident since 1986, has three children. His youngest, Tian, 17, attends Eastlake High School. He and his wife Barbara have been married since 1977.

Today his passion for racecars is satisfied by watching Formula 1 racing with Tian.

His early work with racecars wasn’t paying well and wasn’t as glamorous as Little had hoped. After nine years, Little decided to make a career change and move to Washington where he had family in the area. Little took a job on Vashon Island that did maintenance and construction of septic systems and small public water systems.

Little joined the Sammamish district as an engineer and ascended to the position of general manager in six years. He has served as the district’s executive ever since.

The district’s commissioners met Feb. 1 to evaluate Little and rated him outstanding in every category.

“He’s going to be hard to replace,” said Mary Shustov, president of the district’s commission.

Shustov remembers a time seven years ago — before she joined the commission — when she called Little as a customer.

“He was helpful in explaining things and getting things done. He treats people so fairly. He has a nice way of taking a complicated issue and making it understandable,” she said. “He brings such an enthusiasm to whatever he’s explaining. It makes people value the subject.”

Shustov described Little as trusting and detail oriented. She said he has developed a familial atmosphere at the district, keeping the employee turnover rate low.

“He’s been a very effective manager for the district,” Commissioner Bob Brady said. “He is very sensitive to what the board asks of him. We hear from employees, too… They only have high praise for him.”

Brady has known Little for more than 20 years, though he only became a commissioner in 2007.

When Little started, Water District 82 — as it was called back then — had about 2,700 customers. Today the district has about 17,000.

“His management had to change to one of managing a whole big staff. That required a lot of change on his part,” Brady recalled.

Little counts several major events during his tenure at the district. Both Sammamish and Issaquah considered taking over their portions of the district, but opted against it. The district also changed its method for permitting so the water demand didn’t outstrip the supply. It also joined Cascade Water Alliance, giving the plateau access to a new supply of water from the Seattle area through the Bellevue-Issaquah water pipeline.

Little will serve as general manager through December. In the district’s 60-year history, Little is its third general manager.

As retirement approaches, Little said he has a few personal projects in mind. A few years ago, he bought a 1938 Ford Woodie station wagon he found sitting in a wheat field in East Wenatchee.

“I sort of envisioned that I would just restore it,” he said. “I’m a do-it-myself type of guy.”

After hiring professionals to do the bodywork, and a friend to repair its mechanics, Little is ready to apply his woodworking skills.

Little also has a cabin on Camano Island that he plans to remodel. He also sits on a water association board on the island where he gets to play a different role from general manager.

“Up there, I get to play policy maker,” he said.

Reporter J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. To comment on this story, visit www.issaquahpress.com.

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