by Ralph Nichols

Call her a Founding Mother. In fact, she was present before the “creation.”

Sally Nelson, a leader in the community effort that saw Burien finally become an incorporated city in 1993, is retiring from the city council after 16 years.

Nelson is the last “charter member” of the council still in office.

Although her term officially ends on Dec. 31, Nelson’s final regular meeting was Dec. 14.

“I wish you well,” she said in a parting comment to fellow council members and city residents prior to adjournment.

Now Nelson looks forward to a new year in which meetings are replaced with travel – trips to Mexico, Turkey, New York and Hawaii are on her itinerary – and volunteering at the Frye Art Museum on Seattle’s First Hill, where she can pursue her “passion for art” and teaching.

But while she no longer must devote large blocks of time to budgets, planning and zoning, downtown development, and other matters of local and regional policy – she has been Burien’s representative on the Suburban Cities Association and actively involved with the Puget Sound Regional Council – Nelson still will have a strong interest in city council actions.

“I hope they will approve and move forward on the [multiplex] movie theater” that has been proposed for Town Square,” she recently told The B-Town Blog. “I hope we can support the cinema … we have an entertainment gap in Burien.”

And, Nelson continued, “I’m hoping the council focuses on the redevelopment of [Southwest] 153rd St.” That project, she said, “should not be a cookie-cutter copy of 152nd, but should reflect “the diversity, the international nature” of businesses along this street.

Sally Nelson at her final council meeting, Dec. 14th.

Another concern she has for Burien’s future is the rising cost of police services. Burien is one of 12 cities that contract for police services with the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is not an issue of whether the sheriff’s office is doing a good job,” Nelson said. “I think King County is doing an excellent job.” Instead, it’s a matter of whether the guild that represents sheriff’s deputies is willing to rein in salary and benefit increases in its current contract.

She said a 5 percent-plus increase through 2012 is “not sustainable,” and if changes aren’t made, Burien will “have to look at alternatives.”

Nelson worked as a teacher and counselor in Kansas City and Alaska before moving to the Seattle area, where she “jumped from psychology to real estate. The many hats I wore became a good beginning for me to be what I consider to be an excellent council member, and a good negotiator….

“It is very helpful to have a broad range of experience” for someone when they begin serving on a city council,” she added. “

After serving a year as an interim member of the new Burien City Council, Nelson was elected to her first regular term in 1994. During her tenure, she was mayor from 2000 to 2002, and twice served as deputy mayor.

She initially ran “because it was a time of change for Burien, and I understood that reasons for incorporation were solid, valid reasons for change.

“King County wanted to continue to inundate Burien with high-density, low-income housing … essentially we had no control over our community.”

Nelson said she wanted be part of the new city council “to help shape the future of Burien. The future of Burien – that, to me, became the rallying cry.”

Looking back, her major regret as a council member is that “in these tough economic times, we couldn’t go forward with a bond issue to build a new community center.” Plans for that facility are on hold until the economy improves. But, this “is not due to the council’s lack of vision or commitment.”

On the other hand, she is “very proud of my two years as mayor when I led the effort to change 152nd from a four-lane to a two-lane, pedestrian-friendly street…. Town Center would not have happened without that project.”

Nelson also led the effort to get Skateboard Park located at SW 146th St. and 4th Ave. S. “The day of the ribbon cutting was a very proud day for me. It’s a good place for young people and teens.”

And she feels “good” about the $200 million in noise mitigation for Highline schools that Burien helped get from the Port of Seattle through the city’s involvement in the Airport Communities Coalition to secure concessions prior to construction of the third runway.

Beyond Burien, Nelson has been “a regional player” with the Suburban Cities Association, and a leader on the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Steering Committee of the National League of Cities, which is a “most coveted position….

“I hope someone on the council will take my place in doing that, in doing all those things that make a difference.”

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

4 replies on “Sally Nelson, One Of Burien’s Founders, Retiring After 16 Years”

  1. Sally has been the historian and voice of calm on the council for a number of years and will be missed. Her work at the National Level for the league of Cities has been good for Burien.

    Sally will be missed.

  2. Thank you so much for your strong and foresightful leadership for Burien and the region. Your years of service since Burien’s inception have been an inspiration to us all, and your shoes in Position #7 are going to be difficult to fill. I hope you will continue to be as involved as possible in Burien and the region as we move forward.


  3. As someone who has decided to make Burien my home in the past couple years I am very greatful for your service to this area. I love what B-town has become.

  4. Sally has been a hard worker on the council and a strong advocate for the arts. Without her Burien would not be what it is today, and would not have a bright future ahead of it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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