Sutton leaves a legacy of quiet civility

During Mayor Dwight Sutton’s four-year term, the city of Bainbridge Island – the all-island version – has reached what could be thought of as young adulthood.

That physical maturing is best exemplified by the new city hall. Opened in early 2000, the building houses most city employees, replacing the cramped quarters in what is now the police station. While there was some concern about the building’s cost, there was no question that the old quarters, which served a Winslow of 3,500 people, were wholly inadequate for an all-island city of over 20,000.

The past four years also saw major infrastructure upgrades in downtown Winslow, particularly the road improvements on lower Madison-Brien-Bjune, the reconstruction of Winslow Way east of the highway, the seemingly never-ending upgrade on Ferncliff and, finally, the roundabout at High School Road and Madison Avenue.

Those projects also caused their share of grumbling, in part from those who wondered why the city was spending its dollars on brick-and-mortar improvements when the populace wants parks and open space. The longer-range view, which thankfully prevailed, was that if Winslow is to absorb half of the island’s population growth – to become a small city – the support structure must be in place.

While heeding present needs, Sutton and the council promoted a necessary investment in the future, with an $8 million bond issue to buy land for open spaces, hoping to preserve some of the island’s semi-rural character in perpetuity.

For all of the tangible changes during the past four years, though, we think Sutton’s true legacy will be the intangible qualities he brought to city hall.

Sutton epitomized one of our favorite Bainbridge types – the “genius in jeans.” While he called himself a “pig farmer” and could look the part, Sutton in fact held two doctoral degrees and had a long, successful career as a research scientist.

Sutton also epitomizes the word “gentleman.” We never knew him to be anything but courteous and accommodating, even when we were tossing brickbats at his administration. He once said that a requirement for public service on Bainbridge Island is the ability to listen to criticism without being personally offended, and his own actions were as good as his words.

Another important aspect of Sutton’s legacy, we believe, will be the people he brought in. We would cite the community’s new confidence in the public works department, under the direction of Randy Witt. The department weathered intense criticism over the traffic roundabout, but saw that griping turn into admiration when the design worked beyond most anyone’s expectations. It set a standard for proactive problem-solving we hope others will match over the next four years.

But while Sutton took the job of being mayor seriously, he didn’t take himself seriously at all. Asked to evaluate his own performance, he mused: “Well, one fellow said recently that ‘at least you didn’t embarrass us.’”

You did better than that, Mr. Mayor.

By being what we would like to become – accomplished, civil and modest – you did us all proud.

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