Longtime Poulsbo councilmembers bid farewell

While Poulsbo will see a few new faces join the City Council in January, two familiar faces will be bidding farewell to council seats they’ve held for a long time.

Jeff McGinty, who has served a record 32 years on council, and Connie Lord, who served 24 years, did not seek re-election as both decided this was a good time to call it quits.

“As a family, we decided it was time to move on and do other things,” McGinty said.

Lord said: “24 years is kind of mind-boggling when you look at it yourself. It has been such a big part of my life. I’ve been honored to do it. I brought a lot of experience to the job and gained a lot of experience and understanding of how municipal government really works.”

How they got here

McGinty initially decided to run in 1988 after talking with a councilmember who worked at the Keyport naval base with him at the time. McGinty was an electrical engineer there.

He lost his first race to Sherry Appleton, who later became a longtime state representative, and died in October. That loss didn’t deter McGinty as he was later appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, where he learned about city government and got to know staff better.

That experience served him well as he ran for council in 1991 and ended up winning, a seat he has retained ever since. Over the years, he has had some competition but has also won uncontested races.

Lord’s path began with the city of Winslow on Bainbridge Island where she was hired for a land use administrative role. “That’s where I cut my teeth on municipal government,” she said. “We handled everything having to do with land use. Everything from sign permits to building permits.”

After eight years she was promoted to city clerk, where she began to be more involved with the City Council and mayor. “I got very involved in how the structure of a city works.”

Lord then moved to Poulsbo where she met her husband and got married. They bought one of the oldest houses in Poulsbo, built in 1901. “I got really intrigued with the history of Poulsbo and kind of immersed myself in it. I’m an artist as well so I started getting back to creating some artwork.”

She eventually opened an art gallery downtown for about five years and was part of the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association. Lord decided to run for council in 1998 and won.

“I thought, ‘I know as much or maybe more than some of these city councilmembers do’ with my background and the research I had done. I could see that not all of them were really digging into every topic the way I thought they should.”

After her first term, Lord was stunned in 2002 when she ran again but lost to Kathryn Quade. “I was too confident. That was a big eye-opener. I never took it for granted again. I had to lick my wounds for a little while.”

But like McGinty she wasn’t phased by the loss and ended up running for another council seat two years later, beating the incumbent. She has retained it ever since.

In 2008, Lord wanted to take her public office career a step further and ran for the state senate. “I thought that would be a logical place to help at that higher end and work with other senators to not have cities fall through the cracks,” she said.

Lord initially thought incumbent Phil Rockefeller was not going to run since he suffered an injury. But he ended up filing about an hour before the deadline. “His name was well-known,” Lord said. “I had to debate him, and I did really well because I did all my homework and research. It didn’t seem to matter as he beat me out.

“I wasn’t terribly surprised. It was a fabulous experience to campaign at that level and really understand state issues better. I’m glad I did it. I didn’t have to give up the council seat.”

Looking back

McGinty said Poulsbo has obviously changed a great deal since he was first elected.

“When I came over from Seattle I was used to having 7/11’s and those kind of stores,” he said. “Over in Poulsbo, they had like one grocery store and a few other things and by 6 p.m. 90% of the stores were closed. In a way, it was almost a culture shock. But you can see where we are today and how much we’ve grown.”

One of his first major tasks on council was the Comprehensive Plan, which was a new tool at the time being developed to manage that growth, in accordance with the state Growth Management Act of 1990.

“We had about 30 people on the commission when I was on it, which was a group of citizens throughout the community,” McGinty said. “I think it turned out to be very good. We’ve been able to support it for the last 30 years. There were a lot of different ideas and concerns for density, traffic and what kind of businesses.”

He also mentioned the Olhava project years ago when big businesses like Walmart and Home Depot were added. “That was one of the more controversial things I was involved with. We had a lot of public opinion on that one. Sometimes we’d meet four times a week listening to citizens and community groups.”

Lord pointed out that the biggest difference in the city from when she started as a councilmember is the population growth, going from 4,700 to nearly 13,000. During her tenure, many parks have been added throughout Poulsbo, along with public art additions to the city.

“We really have accomplished a lot that has kept the city stable. We’ve added infrastructure as we’ve needed to. We’ve been really proactive about being conservative with our budget.”

She’s proud of how the city held up financially during the Great Recession in 2008 and bouncing back from the COVID pandemic. “We’ve weathered those two downturns because we kept our budget stable. We’ve just had a great team of professional staff and caring councilmembers.”

Above all, Lord is pleased with how professional and friendly councilmembers and staff have been even though they might not always agree on topics.

State of city

While McGinty thinks Poulsbo is in an “excellent state” and in “good financial shape,” he said one of the challenges going forward is the Growth Management Act, since the state is pressing the city for more density. “The more people like Poulsbo, the more people want to move here, and it’s a challenge to keep it the way people like it,” he said. “Parking is going to continue to be a challenge in the downtown core area.”

Lord said a recurring issue over the years has been the lack of citizens stepping up to run for public office. She said there are too many races that go uncontested. “You can make a difference being on the council,” she said. “It’s not a daunting task. It’s doable. The learning curve isn’t as steep as one might think, especially if there are experienced people on the (council) already.

“We got thousands of new people who have moved to Poulsbo who need to understand that we need their voice on the council. I can’t stand it when there’s an incumbent councilmember who doesn’t get challenged, including myself.”

McGinty mentioned how starting out on the parks commission really helped him. “Some of the challenges while you’re on council is public criticism, controversies over your decision,” he said. “My advice for that is do the best you can, be as informed as you can, and do what you think is right. Try to listen.”

Looking ahead, McGinty is looking forward to traveling and already has a couple trips planned abroad.

On the other hand, Lord is ready to get back into artwork. She is also the president of the board of directors for the Bremerton WestSound Symphony. “That takes up a lot of my time. I love music,” she said. “We celebrated our 80th year last year.”