John Caulfield explains the appeal of becoming Lakewood’s city manager by recalling his days as an Army Ranger. He would go to Tillicum to get a haircut or take his uniform to a seamstress.
“I remember how well I was treated when I was at Fort Lewis,” Caulfield said. “That has always resonated with me.”
Nearly 30 years later, Caulfield leads daily operations for Pierce County’s second-largest city, which includes Tillicum.
He was sworn in Tuesday as the third city manager of Lakewood since it became a city in 1996.
“There’s not a lot of communities I would like to be city manager at,” said Caulfield, 48. “Lakewood is one of them. … I view this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
His local ties include nine years working for the City of University Place.
Caulfield brings a passion for economic development and finance from Mountlake Terrace, where he was city manager for nearly eight years. That city in Snohomish County is about one-third the size of Lakewood, which has a population of 58,310.
Caulfield cites the vision for a city center in Lakewood and opportunities for economic development in Woodbrook, Tillicum and along Pacific Highway Southwest.
“That’s something the council really wants to focus on,” he said.
Fostering economic development is a step toward implementing the city’s comprehensive plan and creating “an unsurpassed quality of life.” Among the benefits is providing tax revenue to invest in parks and public safety.
At his first City Council meeting Tuesday, the council relaxed zoning to loosen restrictions on drive-through businesses. That’s one example of a change that encourages economic development, he said.
That same night, the council approved a contract to provide Municipal Court services for the Town of Steilacoom, which will generate revenue for Lakewood.
Caulfield said those types of partnerships to regionalize services are beneficial for everyone involved.
Caulfield inherited those policy issues, as well a big challenge that Lakewood has taken to Pierce County Superior Court. The city sued the state in March to stop the Point Defiance Bypass – a proposed rerouting of Amtrak passenger trains through the heart of Lakewood.
The city has long maintained that more is needed to safeguard the public from trains traveling up to 79 miles per hour. Ideas generated from public meetings include better safety at crossings, sound walls and an Amtrak stop in Lakewood, Caulfield said.
By seeking residents’ ideas, the city is pursuing “a parallel track so we’re not unprepared,” Caulfield said. “We do recognize this is an uphill battle from a legal standpoint.”
Mayor Don Anderson praised Caulfield for his energy and background in finance and redevelopment.
The mayor of Mountlake Terrace and two other council members from that city attended Caulfield’s swearing-in Tuesday.
“They offered us the Nordstrom return policy, if we ever want to send him back,” Anderson said.
Caulfield’s military background – three years as an Army Ranger – is another plus.
“He knows what the other side of the fence is like,” Anderson said.
When it comes to the military, Caulfield said, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the city need to support one another.
Caulfield was the last person standing after a recruitment process that drew more than 30 people and extended interview requests to six finalists. Three finalists withdrew before the interviews, and the council narrowed the pool to two after the interviews. The withdrawal by Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps left just Caulfield.
The new job netted a pay increase for Caulfield, who earned $151,200 in Mountlake Terrace. His annual salary in Lakewood is $165,000.
Former City Manager Andrew Neiditz earned $156,124 when he resigned in February to become executive director of South Sound 911.
Caulfield has a wealth of experience in municipal government, especially with new cities.
He started as an accounting technician in Federal Way in 1991 after it incorporated. He was a senior financial analyst by the time he left Federal Way in 1997 to become finance director for University Place. He rose to deputy city manager in University Place by the time he moved to Mountlake Terrace in January 2006 to become city manager.
He already has met one requirement of his new job – relocating to Lakewood. Caulfield, who is single, said he’s renting an apartment while he looks for a house to buy.steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com @TNTstevemaynard