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Gunshots in the woods and a knack with fiberglass led Le Rodenberg into politics

Le Rodenberg is seeking Council Position 6
Le Rodenberg is seeking Council Position 6

The distant sound of gunshots got Le Rodenberg involved in local politics.

“I know the sound of a shotgun when I hear it,” said Rodenberg, who is running for Gig Harbor City Council. So when he heard shots from the woods shortly after moving here in 1996, he decided to check them out.

The gunshots in the woods led Rodenberg to the Gig Harbor Sportsmen’s Club, a career as a competitive trap shooter, and ultimately his fifth 2-year term as the club’s president.

At first, he found himself leading a gun club at loggerheads with the City of Gig Harbor. The city’s suburbs had grown up around the club, and the new neighbors didn’t care for it. The city was planning a noise ordinance that seemed aimed right at the club.

“It was very adversarial,” he recalls. “I said, ‘If the gun club is going to be successful, this has to change.’”

Rodenberg began reaching out to the neighbors and the city. He got the club involved in the Waterfront Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, food drives and other civic affairs.

“Within two years, relations with the city were so good, they were having their annual Christmas party at our clubhouse,” he says.

When the city’s long-range traffic plan in 2008 showed a road through the middle of the club’s property, Rodenberg, club members were outraged, but Rodenberg saw an opportunity.

“I went to the council and said, ‘I’ll help you get from here to there,’ “ he said.

He drew a pencil sketch of a route he thought would work. The city hired a consultant for $100,000, he says, who came up with 11 different routes. In the end, the council threw them all out and came back to Rodenberg’s pencil sketch. The result was an extension of Harbor Hill Drive that winds past the club today.

What he learned from the experience, he said, both in dealing with the city and with his own angry club members, is that “It’s not about puffing out your chest and saying, ‘I’m right!’ “ It’s about finding ways to give everybody something, even if it’s not everything they want.”

Skill with fiberglass

A retired manufacturing executive, Rodenberg is 73. He’s a square-built, stocky guy with a craggy face that’s done some time under a hardhat. Arriving at Davenport Coffee, he walked with the aid of a cane, the result of a painful bone spur. It’s getting better, he said.

His first name, Le, is a truncation of LeRoy, he explains, a family name his mother disliked.

A native of Southern California, Rodenberg spent most of his life working with composites, which he said is “a fancy name for fiberglass.” He’s worked for Rockwell, for Owens-Corning for Fleetwood and several other companies, making parts for airplanes, missiles and motor homes.

“Working with fiberglass is dirty, smelly, itchy — and I liked it,” he said.

He got his start as a teenager, making fiberglass surfboards under a pier in Huntington Beach.

It was fiberglass, even before the gun club, that first got Rodenberg involved with government. As a member of a trade group representing the industry, he helped to write emission standards for the state of California, and later, the Environmental Protection Administration.

As a plant manager, he notes, he had to deal with owners, unions, boards of directors, and customers, all with their own agendas. “Merging all of those interests takes a special set of skills, which I think I have,” he said.

A town across the bridge

He was working in Colorado in 1996 when Ashland Chemical recruited him to the Northwest, giving him a week to find a new home. Frustrated after days of fruitless house-hunting in Seattle, he and his wife, Jeannie, decided to take a day off.

“I said, ‘I know a little town across the Narrows Bridge with some good restaurants. Let’s go there and have dinner.”

“We had a nice day in the harbor, and my wife looked around and said, ‘Why can’t we live here?’ Well, there was a Gateway in the newstands, so I bought one and looked at the house ads. I found one on Randall Drive, drove there and negotiated a lease and a purchase option right in the driveway.”

“We’ve lived there ever since.”

Jeanne Rodenberg volunteers at a local food bank. They have three grown children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“My wife thinks I will make a good council member because I’m an oddball,” he says with a laugh. “I have attention deficit disorder really bad. My mind is going a million miles an hour, and sometimes I change subjects in the middle of a sentence. I get ideas in my sleep sometimes.”

As a trap shooter, he’s a member of the National Rifle Association, although not a particularly militant one, he says. “ I don’t agree with every policy,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree that gun control is a slippery slope, for instance.”

During the construction of Harbor Hill Drive, Rodenberg met once a week for 18 months with the city’s attorneys, planners and construction contractors. The experience, he said, gave him an appreciation of the city’s expert staff. Which, he complains, the city council too often disregards.

“They have a wonderful staff, they give them good information, great details — and then the council will go in a different direction,” he said. “They’re the same way with the public. They ask for citizen input, then disregard it.”

He agrees that growth is the city’s single biggest challenge. But he says the way the present council tries to manage growth, by retroactively raising fees and trying to choke off projects already in the pipeline, is “totally against the law.”

It’s why, he said, the city is now tangled in a lawsuit with the developers of Heron’s Key, a project in the city’s growing north end.

“They raised the impact fees, and all of a sudden the whole project doesn’t pencil out,” he said.

Retirees “bought homes there in anticipation that there were going to be amenities. They wanted to see that Town & Country grocery store and other things they could walk to, and now they’re upset.”

He also feels the council needs to set a better example in debate.

“There is so much bickering on the council, in front of the public. They grandstand, they’re rude to one another, they attack one another. You can’t expect people to have confidence in government if it acts like that.”

Can Rodenberg change that?

“I’m not so full of myself that I think I can make an immediate difference,” he concedes. “You may see me sit there with my mouth shut for a couple of months. But over the long run, yes, I think I can make a difference.”

A profile of Mr. Rodenberg’s opponent, John Picinich, is here.

Contact Kerry Webster at editor@gateline.com

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