Dennis Higgins impressed fellow Kent City Council members not only with the work he did, but the way he did it.
“Your commitment to doing the right thing and your willingness to stand up to that commitment is second to none,” Mayor Dana Ralph said during a farewell tribute to Higgins at the Nov. 19 council meeting. “You never rush to judgment and there is a reason, you study and talk to people. You never waiver because you took the time to make the right decision.”
What began as a typical council meeting turned into a half-hour accolade for Higgins as his 10 years in office comes to an end next week. City staff composed a six-minute video with comments about Higgins from his wife and daughters, council members, Ralph and staff. Higgins, whose decade-long term ranks as the 12th longest since Kent became a city in 1890, sat and listened before he delivered a farewell message.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Higgins said after he watched the video. “It is hard for me to step away. But I worry about sticking around too long.”
The final day for Higgins is Nov. 26, when King County Elections certifies the result of the Nov. 5 ballot. Voters elected Zandria Michaud over Awale Farah to replace Higgins, who decided not to run.
Higgins, first elected by voters in 2009 when he defeated Ralph and reelected in 2013 when he ran unopposed, decided two years ago not to run for a third four-year term. But when voters elected then-Councilmember Ralph as mayor in 2017, the council appointed Higgins to fill out the rest of her term.
“My family is working on some other things that are a priority for us and that prevents me from being the best council member I can be,” said Higgins, who works for King County’s Geographic Information Systems. “I will continue to be active in the community and I’d like to potentially serve again someday once my batteries are recharged and if people decide I am worthy. But now is a good time to go.”
Higgins, who was council president in 2012 and 2013, talked about the accomplishments as a council member that makes him the most proud.
• 256th Street improvements
The $5.2 million project completed in 2015 included the widening of Southeast 256th Street between Kent Kangley Road and 116th Avenue Southeast with a new center turn lane as well as sidewalks and bicycle lanes on both sides of the heavily traveled east-west route.
“This much needed street and sidewalk project was nearly lost along with millions in state grants because out-of-town landlords were able to overturn the LID (local improvement district),” Higgins said. “We crafted a way to fund the project and pay back the B&O tax fund with transportation impact fees. Those same landlords turned around and spruced up their aging apartment complexes. You’re welcome.
“More importantly, hundreds of area residents have a safe street environment for walking to the stores and schools nearby. I am so proud of that project every time I go down that street.”
• B&O tax adoption
The council voted 6-1 in 2012 to adopt a business and occupation tax to raise funds to help with street repairs and revenue shortfalls. Les Thomas voted against the tax.
“This is a success,” said Higgins, who was council president at the time. “Never has a city deserved or needed to implement a B&O tax more than the city of Kent. I am very proud of that.”
• Bond rating improvement
The city received poor bond ratings in 2012 but rebuilt its credit by 2015.
“We got our bond rating back and saved millions of dollars for businesses and people by staying lean, paying down debt and implementing new revenues,” Higgins said.
• Green River levee projects
Higgins also named as an accomplishment the city’s aggressive approach to rebuild the Green River levees after Howard Hanson Dam developed a leak in 2009 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that stronger levees were needed in addition to the dam repair to help stop major flooding in the Kent Valley. Higgins credited the King County Flood Control District for its role to strengthen the levees.
Besides the accomplishments, Higgins named a few regrets he had on council.
• Pine Tree Park
The council voted unanimously to sell the 10 acre-park for $2 million to a housing developer in 2015 with little notice to the public. After residents protested the sale, the council in 2016 voted 5-2 to terminate the sale, but at a settlement price of $760,000 paid to the developer. Ralph and Thomas voted against ending the sale.
“We asked staff to look at downsizing the park system after voters turned down new revenues,” Higgins said. “We didn’t talk to residents, that was a big mistake.”
• Par 3 golf course
The council voted 5-2 in 2017 to sell the Riverbend Golf Complex par 3 course for $10 million to a developer who is building the Marquee on Meeker apartment complex. Higgins and Ralph voted against the sale.
“I wish Dana and I could have convinced land conservation groups to act more forcibly to preserve that green space,” Higgins said. “But I am truly excited about the vibrant neighborhood that is now developing on West Meeker Street. It is going to be a great project.”
Higgins, who thanked his wife Karyn and their three daughters for supporting him, also talked about the role of council members.
“It is a honor and a privilege to sit in one of these seats,” he said. “Seats that don’t belong to us as individuals. They are the people’s seats. If you sit in one of these seats, you have an obligation to your fellow citizens to listen, to be available even when people are upset with you, to explain why you think what you think and why you voted how you voted.”
Higgins shared a few thoughts about the city as a whole.
“We are all blessed to live here in Kent,” said Higgins, who was born and raised in Spokane, graduated from the University of Washington and moved to Kent in 1995. “It’s a great city with a proud history and a bright future. It’s full of real people. I am proud to be a part of it. My neighbors have given me the high honor of serving them. I will be forever grateful. Thank you for the opportunity.”
After Higgins finished speaking, the mayor, council and audience responded with a standing ovation.
When the applause ended and everyone sat back down, fellow council members described Higgins.
“Dennis was a mentor,” Councilmember Brenda Fincher said. “He’s always been a leader, he’s always been forthright. What he says you can take to the bank. He’s always been humble and generous with his praise, heart and time. He’s always been strong and determined, focused yet humane. Patient, kind and eloquent.
“We have someone who is going to come and fill that seat but they will not be able to do that the way he did. He is one of a kind. Dennis is the model of how a leader should be. He is the consummate council member and human being.”
Ralph addressed Karyn Higgins as she shared more thoughts.
“Without having a cheering section at home, this job would be impossible,” Ralph said. “Thank you for that, it’s extremely important.”
The mayor had a few final words for Dennis Higgins.
“You are going to be missed in a way that I don’t think any of us can put into words,” Ralph said.
Kent City Council longest terms
Rank/ Name/ Years Served
1: Judy Woods: (1983-2003) 19
1: Jon Johnson: (1978-1997) 19
3: Tim Clark: (1994-2009) 16
3: Les Thomas: (2004-2019) 16
5: Carl Pozzi (1956-1969) 14
5: Jeanne Masters (1968-1981) 14
5: Leona Orr (1990-2003) 14
8: Larry Woodworth (1958-1969) 12
8: Christi Houser (1986-1997) 12
8: Deborah Ranniger (2004-2015) 12
11: Ted Strain (1956-1967) 11
12: Bilie Johnson (1974-1983) 10
12: Jim White (1984-1993) 10
12: Dennis Higgins (2010-2019) 10
Notes: Thomas reelected in 2019 to four more years.
Source: City of Kent, 1890 to 2019