Fircrest councilwoman undaunted as youngest council member in Pierce County

Shannon Reynolds celebrated her 21st birthday differently than most of her college-age peers would.

Instead of going out to dinner and ordering a beverage to mark the milestone of turning the legal drinking age, she was up front in the Fircrest City Council chambers learning about the city’s 2015 preliminary budget.

Reynolds is the youngest person currently serving on a city council in Pierce County. She was elected at 20 years old and is nearing the end of her first year in office. It is her first time in an elected position.

“Everybody thought I’d go in and say ‘It’s so much harder than I thought.’ But it’s not,” Reynolds said recently from a table at T.W.O Coffeshop in Fircrest.

The college student exudes the same enthusiasm for Fircrest that she carried shortly after being elected last November when she ousted the incumbent.

But don’t let the animated personality fool you. Behind the pleasantries and polite demeanor is a woman driven to succeed.

Reynolds graduated from Stadium High School in 2011 and enrolled at Pacific Lutheran University at 17. She attends the Parkland school full time and commutes from Fircrest, where she’s lived with her mother for about five years. They relocated from Honolulu.

Initially interested in pre-med, Reynolds consulted with an adviser about a double major in economics and biology.

Although the adviser told her the course requirements for both majors would make it close to impossible to graduate in four years, Reynolds took the challenge. She is set to graduate on time this spring with a bachelor of arts in economics and a bachelor of science in biology.

“She’s always reached goals that she’s wanted to reach,” said mother Karen Reynolds, who attends nearly every council meeting to support her daughter. “What she has done, that’s all her.”

Reynolds didn’t know what to expect when taking office at the start of the year. She approached the position much like she has college course work. She spends most of her time researching and reaching out to counterparts in cities of similar size to better equip herself to make decisions for Fircrest’s 6,500 residents.

“I didn’t think that we’d take on so many controversial things so early,” Reynolds said, noting the vote the council took over the summer on whether to stop adding fluoride to the city water supply.

“It’s been trial by fire and I hope I don’t offend anybody,” she said.

She also noted the ongoing discussion about whether to remove Fircrest’s dry status so all applicable businesses have the option to serve liquor by the glass. When the city held its first public hearing on the issue last spring, Reynolds remarked on her age, saying she wasn’t yet old enough to buy a drink.

Beyond tackling the learning curve, Reynolds has also dealt with the attention to her age and full-time college load.

“They worry a lot more about my time than I do,” she said of her council colleagues.

Reynolds is also learning to navigate the dynamics of an at-times divided council. For the first time in memory, the Fircrest City Council had more newcomers than longtime members.

In addition to Reynolds’ defeat of 12-year incumbent Chris Gruver, Fircrest native Jason Medley beat 20-year councilwoman Kathy McVay. The shakeup came on the heels of the appointment of David Goodsell, who took office a year ago to serve the remainder of the term of 16-year councilman Robert Thaden who died July 2013.

The veterans are Mayor David Viafore, who has served more than 20 years, and councilman Matthew Jolibois, who has served 13 years.

It’s not uncommon to see Reynolds vote in the minority, often alongside her friends Jolibois and Medley. But Reynolds says she’s her own person.

“I’m going to make my own decisions at the end of the day,” she said. That was exemplified on the fluoride vote when she sided with the majority to keep fluoridating the water, while Jolibois and Medley voted with the minority.

Councilman Denny Waltier said from his perspective Reynolds has been accepted by the council. Having her at City Hall offers a generational viewpoint most council members can’t offer, he said.

“She usually hits the nail on the head when she comments on things,” Waltier said. She still has a lot to learn, but that’s normal for newcomers, he said.

With PLU graduation on her mind, Reynolds continues to balance academics with city business. In one breath she talks about how much she wants to be accepted into the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, and with the next she’s detailing priorities as a council member.

“If I’m committed to it, it will get done,” she said.