Tom Brubaker responded with praise to others when Mayor Dana Ralph proclaimed Feb. 2 as Tom Brubaker Day to honor the retiring city attorney after his 28 years in Kent.
“I want to say thank you to my staff – to the extent you guys think I’ve done anything good – it’s most likely they made me look good,” Brubaker said after Ralph read the proclamation at the Jan. 16 City Council meeting.
Brubaker’s final day on the job is Friday, Feb. 2. He started with the city in 1990 and has been the city attorney since 2002. Ralph recently promoted Deputy City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick to replace Brubaker.
“It’s been a pleasure working in Kent,” Brubaker said. “It’s a great organization. The people here, the employees – support each other, care for each other and are concerned for each other and it makes for a wonderful working environment.”
Brubaker sits in at all City Council meetings and also represents the mayor. Any legal issues before the city are handled by the City Attorney’s Office. He oversees lawyers and support staff in the city’s civil and criminal divisions. City prosecutors handle the misdemeanor cases at Kent Municipal Court.
After graduation from the then-University of Puget Sound Law School (now part of Seattle University) in 1989, Brubaker worked one year in private practice where he met attorney Roger Lubovich. Shortly after Kent hired Lubovich as city attorney, Lubovich hired Brubaker as an assistant city attorney. When Lubovich left to become the Bremerton city attorney, then-Kent Mayor Jim White appointed Brubaker as city attorney.
“I never dreamed when I started that I would stay for 28 years,” Brubaker said. “But it’s been a wonderful and meaningful experience to work for the council, mayor and elected officials to work with my staff and fellow staff members in all of the departments to try to make a difference and help this community.
“Thank you very much for all you have done for me. I will miss working here.”
Council President Bill Boyce deflected Brubaker’s attempt to heap praise on others while not taking any credit himself.
“You said thank us, we should be thanking you,” Boyce said. “You have been an outstanding attorney – keeping us in line and keeping us honest. I’ve called you numerous times and you always answer the phone or if not, you always call back. I want to say on behalf of the council that we are going to miss you and wish you nothing but the best. You have put your time in and done your service.”
Brubaker served as interim chief administrative officer in 2013 and 2014, the same time that Ralph served as council president. He then returned to his city attorney duties when then-Mayor Suzette Cooke named Derek Matheson as CAO.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the guidance and help you provided,” Ralph said at the council meeting. “I trust you to know that you are always going to do the right thing. You have done amazing things for this city and it’s one of those things that goes underappreciated. Keeping all of us out of trouble is a really big job to make sure we are doing the right thing.”
Brubaker last fall received a lifetime achievement award from the Washington Association of Municipal Attorneys. The award is the highest honor given by the group. Brubaker received the recognition for his 27 years of experience as a municipal attorney, presenting at least 16 subjects at state conferences, his service as immediate past president of the association, working on legislative matters that benefit all Washington cities and teaching municipal law at Seattle University School of Law.
After retirement, Brubaker said he plans to join Seattle’s Lighthouse Law Group, a small law firm that specializes on land use, employment, labor relations, real estate, eminent domain and other municipal matters.
“I’ll take on work as it comes, if it comes,” he said in an email.
Brubaker wants to travel with his wife, Sheri Bernstein. They were married in 2016. But another project looms high on his list. Brubaker said he has lived in the same “little old home” (1,450 square feet) in Bellevue since his divorce in 1998 and plans to rebuild it.
“We want to tear down my existing house and rebuild on site, so that may interfere with our travel dreams,” he said.
Brubaker grew up in Litchfield, Ill., a small farming town, and graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in acting and directing. Brubaker worked as a theater director and stage manager across the nation for about a dozen years before he decided to go to law school. He shared in an earlier interview with the Kent Reporter the reasons he changed careers.
“I felt theater had lost its charm and I wanted to do something more conventional,” said Brubaker, who worked as a stage manager at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. “With a degree in acting and directing, there was not much I could do after theater, so I went back to college for an advance degree and picked law.”