QUINCY — There probably aren’t many politicians who will say the best thing that ever happened to them was losing an election.
Tim Snead, however, is one of them.
“Hey, he did me a favor,” Snead said of current Grant County Commissioner Richard Stevens, who defeated him in 2004. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“I like Tim. I liked him when I ran against him,” said Stevens, who has held the seat since then. “I felt a little bad about running against him. He’s a good guy.”
The defeat in 2004 — Snead had served on the county commission since 1992 — made it possible for Snead to accept his next job, as the administrator of what was then the sleepy little farm town of Quincy.
And that’s the job he retired from on Friday after 14 years that have seen the town virtually remade.
“When I first started here, there wasn’t a lot going on. It was pretty stagnant,” Snead said. “One of the requirements was that I live in the city, which I agreed with. But there were three homes to pick from, and that was it.”
So something needed to be done, Snead said, to shake things up and get a little business going.
Within a few months of taking the job, Snead said, came a slew of announcements from Microsoft, Yahoo! and Intuit that Quincy would become home to a number of gigantic data centers, the actual physical location of “the cloud” where so much information is kept.
“And then things just took off,” Snead said. “When I started, the assessed value of Quincy was $265 million. It’s over $3 billion now.”
Snead sees managing that change, dealing with the rewards and challenges, as the most important thing he’s done in Quincy over the last 14 years.
The rewards have been clear, Snead said, pointing to a new library, police station, city hall, firehouse in the north of town, remodeled senior center and a police force that has more than tripled in size since 2004.
“This has all been for the benefit of the community,” he said. “I think what we’ve managed to do is enhance the lives of the Quincy community.”
The biggest challenge has been making sure there is enough water for the city’s growing data centers and its food processors, Snead said. Toward that end, Quincy is building a sprawling system that will treat and re-use industrial wastewater. His time on the Grant County Commission as the county dealt with regulations imposed by the Growth Management Act (GMA), which beginning in the 1990s and forced local governments in the 18 fastest growing counties in Washington to “fully plan” for future growth, helped prepare him for handling Quincy’s rapid growth, Snead explained.
Snead said the process of implementing the GMA in Grant County was extremely difficult, but the good working relationship he had with county planning officials made dealing with Quincy’s growth a lot smoother than it could have been.
“It could have been difficult,” Snead said. “I think it went more smoothly because I was a county commissioner and did know people over there.”
“It kind of helps when you’ve appointed most of the planning commission and hired the planners,” he added.
“It really impressed me when Tim got the job in Quincy,” said Bill Hinkle, a former 13th District representative who, prior to that, also served several terms as a Kittitas County Commissioner.
Hinkle, who served for a time as the minority whip for the state House Republicans, said he didn’t learn until a year into their working relationship as commissioners from adjacent counties that Snead was a Democrat.
“It really goes to show that county business is really non-partisan, because we’re just trying to do the work of the people,” Hinkle said. “It’s just not a partisan gig, and Tim personified that, I think.”
The 66-year-old Snead said he never intended to go into politics. He got a business degree, and wanted to continue in the family business, Snead Tractor and Implements. But the poor farm economy of the 1980s forced the family to sell out, and Snead said he worked at a string of agribusiness-related jobs after that.
And to be fair, politics is also a family business too. Snead’s father, Harry Everett “Mode” Snead, served four terms on the Grant County Commission in the 1960s and 1970s, and helped Snead win his own race in 1992.
“I won as a Democrat,” he said, adding that he was the last Democrat to be elected to a major office in Grant County.
At a retirement party in Quincy’s brand new city hall last Friday, Mayor Paul Worley looks at two tropical beach-themed cakes sitting on a table in the city council chamber. Snead isn’t the only person retiring this day. Dave Reynolds, the city’s maintenance supervisor, is also leaving after 41 years with the city of Quincy.
“I’m losing all my good help,” Worley said. “I guess we’ll have to start over.”
Snead believes the City of Quincy is in good hands. The city hired former Port of Douglas County Executive Director Pat Haley as assistant city administrator several months ago, and he begins work as the new administrator today.
“I feel I’m leaving the city in great financial shape. There are great people here,” Snead said.
Snead is finishing up a move to Coulee City, about as far north as you can go and still live in Grant County. He’s said he’s looking forward to relaxing, to spending more time with his grandchildren, and hopping on his Victory Vision motorcycle and touring the country a bit, maybe getting as far as Maine and the Florida Keys. And he’s looking forward to the fact that for the first time in nearly three decades, he’s not responsible for making sure roads somewhere are kept clear as passable in winter.
“I did not like winter because of the snow,” he said. “Now that I will not be a public servant, I probably will like to look at the snow.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.