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Florida-Bound Councilwoman Kathy Keene Reflects On Her Time In Burien

by Ralph Nichols [1]

Burien City Council members accepted “very sadly,” in the words of Mayor Joan McGilton, the resignation of Councilwoman Kathy Keene during their Oct. 4 meeting.

But Keene, who resigned effective Dec. 31 to retire in Florida where she recently bought a home, isn’t looking at Burien in her rearview mirror quite yet.

In an interview with The B-Town Blog on a recent cloudy, drizzly morning, Keene observed, “This is one of the primary reasons I’m moving to Florida. This icky, icky gray weather. It’s driving me nuts!”

But, she continued, “I will miss Burien. I will miss all my friends here. I love this area. I’m sorry I’m having to leave but I need a new life. I need a change.

“It’s time to travel. It’s time to learn how to play. I’m going to ride my bike. I’m going to travel. I’m going to find my 42-year-old body. I want to lose a hundred pounds!”

Announcing her plans at the Sept. 27 city council meeting, Keene – who turned 60 this year – said, “I don’t want it written on my headstone, ‘She was going to retire in Florida but never did.’”

So, on a visit to Florida in early September, she “made an absolutely ridiculous offer on a house – and they accepted.”

Her new home is in central Florida, 85 miles north of Orlando and 45 miles south of Gainesville, in the Del Webb retirement community, which is “like living in a resort.” A girlfriend of almost 30 years lives in the area, Keene said.

Keene is also a long-time commissioner of Water District 20 and a member of the board of directors of the Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts, and a member of the Public Works Trust Fund board.

Asked about her proudest accomplishment as a city council member, Keene exclaimed:

“Annexation of North Burien! And I’m sorry that I won’t be here when we finish annexing the rest” of the North Highline unincorporated area.

As a water district commissioner: “That we have a pipe replacement program second to none, which I was very proud to continue during my time on the board.

With the Public Works Board: “Just serving on that board is such an honor, being on that board with some amazing people to make sure that vital projects for health and safety are carried out.

Kathy Keene served Strawberry Shortcake at the Wild Strawberry Festival.

“And for the Phoenix Award in 2009 for ‘unabashed advocacy’ for support of the PWTF program to the Legislature, even though they had used the funds to balance the general fund budget rather than for vital infrastructure projects throughout the state.

What, then, are her regrets?

As a city council member, “that we couldn’t annex all of North Highline in one ballot measure. But I understand why that couldn’t be done.”

Keene has no regrets as she leaves the Water District 20 board. With the Public Works Board, however, it’s “that we couldn’t convince the Legislature not to take the money, although it was understandable.

“Then there was no loan list for [local infrastructure] projects. But now there is a loan list for projects in 43 of the 47 legislative districts. It will be harder for them to take the money [from the fund] this time.”

And what direction would Keene like to see Burien move in after she’s playing in Florida sunshine?

First, she would like to see her successor come from North Burien “just because I have been their voice on the council to some degree.”

“I would like to see the council continuing to guarantee that Burien is sustainable and survivable 50 to 100 years from now. In my opinion, annexing the rest of North Highline is important.”

Noting this would give the city a second “downtown” core, a light industrial area and more land, Keene said “Burien needs to have empty land” available when people want to move out of the flood plain or congested communities, and businesses look for areas that are more business friendly.

“I know of three airplane-part manufacturers in Seattle that need more room and we don’t have the land for them.”

This potential for additional commercial as well as residential development is important, she added, because “my concern is that Burien is a city with a limited number of revenue sources.

After a banking and banking-related career, Keene made an abrupt switch, working two years as a long-haul truck-trailer driver before going to work for Boeing – the job that brought her to Burien.

She was then elected a Water District 20 commissioner – a position she has held ever since – and has continued her involvement in community life and government.

Kathy Keene shares a laugh with fellow Burien City Council Member Gordon Shaw.

Now, as she prepares to leave all this behind for a new life near Disney World, Keene asks a few parting questions:

“Does anybody want to buy a home? A nice home? With beautiful hardwood floors? And a big yard?”

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