DieterSchugt steps down as mayor of Blaine

Published on Thu, Sep 30, 2004 by eg Olson

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Dieter Schugt steps down as mayor of Blaine

By Meg Olson

Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt is stepping down to devote all his energies to his personal struggle with cancer. When city council met September 27, mayor pro tem John Liebert took Schugt’s place on the dais and announced the mayor’s decision to leave his post effective October 11, saying Schugt’s deteriorating health made it impossible for him to announce his resignation in person. “I will try and represent him though I will fall far short of what Dieter has done for our community,” he said. “We are so indebted to him for all he has done.”
Schugt has struggled with acute leukemia for several years but said in a telephone interview that last week things took a turn for the worse and he felt he needed to move quickly. “The deterioration was very marked,” he said. “It became apparent to me we needed to put my resignation in motion so it gives people an opportunity to step forward. It seemed important to me to get somebody in place before the budget process. Blaine has very limited money and we need to do what’s best with it.” Council agreed to accept applications for Schugt’s vacant seat on council until October 8, interview candidates at a special meeting October 18 and appoint a new council member by October 25, in time to make the November budget meetings. The full council will also select a new mayor and mayor pro tem at that time. Applications for the vacant council position are available at city hall.

Schugt and his wife Barbara came to Blaine in 1986 to help in the establishment of the Sawan Kirpal Meditation Center in Birch Bay and developed an interest in how neighboring lands in Semiahmoo were being developed. This led to a spot on the planning commission in 1995 as his interest in the community grew, and he eventually became chairman of that group. “I’ve always been service oriented, putting my energies into the community, from school boards to the peace movement and civil rights,” he said.

A retired Safeway beverage plant manager, Schugt became involved with the Nature’s Path cereal company in Canada, which was looking for a U.S. location. “I said look at Blaine!” he said, which led to the company’s opening the doors to its Blaine production facility in 1999.
Schugt won a seat on city council in November 1999 and moved into the mayor’s chair in 2001. He said being part of the team that hired Gary Tomsic as city manager and the subsequent development of a strong team at city hall was one of his most significant accomplishments as mayor. “The selection of Gary Tomsic was a significant thing because out of it came a whole team building process that Gary believes in and I believe in,” he said. He also emphasized team spirit in his leadership of city council. “I always would strive for consensus,” he said. “We would struggle in the work sessions so we could achieve that consensus. I enjoyed the process and dealing with people – the willingness of people to set aside their own prejudices and look at a bigger picture.”

Two issues Schugt said he wished he could still work towards resolving are the city’s airport and contentious development on Semiahmoo spit. He said the community survey the city is planning will help guide any efforts to secure land on Semiahmoo spit for conservation and public use. “I’d really like to see what the sentiment of the whole community is,” he said, wondering whether opposition to Trillium plans for a new condo development reflected a loud minority or a majority. “Is the community really willing to step forward and pay to preserve this?” On the issue of the airport, Schugt was also concerned that a vocal minority might drive decision-making. “It’s an issue skewed towards the few and the majority doesn’t speak up,” he said. “I’d like to see some clarity about what the potential of the property really is. Should it expand or should the city take it over for business development? What would really produce more 20 years down the line?”

As mayor, Schugt followed the lead of his predecessor John Hobberlin in taking Blaine’s issues to as many state, federal and county agencies as would hear them. From lobbying trips to Olympia and Washington D.C. to monthly attendance at the Whatcom Council of Governments, city manager Gary Tomsic said Schugt had “kept Blaine in the middle of important issues.” At the September 27 meeting Tomsic asked for and got council approval to increase the mayor’s salary from $300 a month to $500 a month. “Dieter really wanted to make sure future mayors are not penalized for doing all of this,” he said. A survey of mayoral salaries showed the increased amount to be in line with similarly sized cities in Washington under the council/manager system. “The amount is trivial for the amount of work it takes,” said former mayor and council member Jan Hansen. Council member Mike Myers pointed out the amount translated roughly to a seven cents an hour raise for the new mayor – from 16 to 23 cents an hour.

Schugt said he was thankful for his time serving the Blaine community, and thankful for community members and other further afield in turn offering their prayers for him during his illness.
“I’ve been the lucky one,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to put my house in order, to let go. We’re all here for a twinkle of an eye. The question is, have we lived up to our ideals with honesty and integrity. For me it’s been a privilege to be of service.”