Henry reflects on his long career in city service

Poulsbo City Council member is retiring, but will stay on as city’s liaison to the Suquamish Tribe

POULSBO —“My health is failing, and in September I’ll be 80 years old,” retiring Poulsbo City Council member Jim Henry said as he reflected on his 24-plus years of city service.

Henry’s time in office, as a council member and planning commissioner, was never about his own efforts or personal political victory. Henry discussed his work in the Navy as an example.

“You’re used to working as a team,” Henry said. “You have parts to do and you have to learn other’s parts, too.” Henry said public office works the same way.

From the mid-1950s to the late-1980s, Henry served on various ships and submarines in the Navy, where he became a warrant officer and met his future wife in Scotland while on duty there.

Retiring from the Navy in 1986, Henry settled in Poulsbo, where he found his calling after then-Mayor Richard “Mitch” Mitchusson asked him to become a planning commissioner. Eventually, Henry was elected to the City Council.

Henry is proud to have been a commissioner and council member, and is proud of the city’s accomplishments, including its survival through the recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s.

“All the other cities were just falling through the roof [economically],” Henry said. “Not that we were rich, but we managed to keep our heads above water. When things started to get right again, we took off from there, whereas everyone else had to get even again.”

Henry said one of the most important things to do in office is to maintain good relations with the Tribes, Poulsbo residents, and with fellow council members. Henry recounted the years he spent working as a greeter at Walmart. Customers came up to him regularly to engage in conversation. Henry worried that his manager would feel he was distracting customers, so he told him he would stop. But his boss told Henry that when people came up to see him, they would always end up buying something afterward.

Henry is proud of the city’s relationship with the Suquamish Tribe, describing their friendship as “fantastic.” Henry is the council’s liaison to the Tribe and is an active member of the Suquamish Warriors veterans group. He meets regularly with Suquamish officials to discuss issues of mutual interest. Henry said the city is open-minded to input from the Tribe; Poulsbo is within the historic territory of the Suquamish Tribe, which has treaty-reserved rights in its usual and accustomed areas.

Henry worked on several projects during his council career. One of his favorite projects was also one of the most controversial: his support for a magnetic levitation, or maglev, railway from Poulsbo to Bainbridge Island to reduce traffic on Highway 305.

As explained on Wikipedia, maglev is a method “by which an object is suspended with no support other than magnetic fields.” Magnetic force provides “an upward force sufficient to counteract gravity; and stability, ensuring that the system does not spontaneously slide or flip into a configuration where the lift is neutralized.” Maglev trains are known to move at speeds of more than 300 mph.

Henry worked with Jerry Lamb, CEO of Magna Force Technology, Inc. to promote the company’s “LevX” transportation system locally.

“[Maglev] was going to run 24 hours a day and take about four-fifths of the traffic on 305,” Henry said.

But the project never materialized. Henry said he remembered the State of Washington finding the project unconstitutional under Section 16 of the state Constitution, which deals with eminent domain and the acquisition of public right-of-way.

“The state came back and said we couldn’t do it because we had to use public right-of-way,” he said. “I thought everything was going to go smoothly, but I forgot about the lawyers.”

Mayor Becky Erickson and a LevX representative remember that the project didn’t go forward because of the expense. In addition, Erickson said some of the components of the project comprised of “unproven technology.”

“Come in and be yourself”

Henry is one of the few African-Americans in public office in Kitsap County, but he doesn’t see a cultural imbalance in local government or in the city. He said his experience living more than 30 years in Poulsbo is far different from when he grew up in Chicago.

Imbalance “is not the first thing that comes [to residents’] minds,” Henry said. “The first thing that comes to [residents’] minds is, ‘Can you do your job?’ This city is almost unique in that regard.”

Henry said that because of his age, and in order to let someone younger take up the responsibility of public office, he will retire from the council when his term ends this year. But he’ll still be a presence at City Hall. Erickson said she and the council plan to name him “council member emeritus,” giving him the same City Hall access he enjoys now. He’ll continue as the city’s liaison to the Suquamish Tribe.

When asked what advice he has for anyone coming into public office, Henry said: “There is no advice. You come on and you do things your way. Come in and be yourself, don’t argue about everything, and listen.”

— Ian Snively is an intern with Kitsap News Group. Contact him at isnively@soundpublishing.com.