Thriving on Challenges
By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist
For Marysville mayor Jon Nehring, the 1988 presidental campaign was significant. It is the year he admits he got “the bug.” The political bug, that is.
Then a high school junior, Jon credits his speech and contemporary world problems classes with helping to frame politics in a way that hit home for a person his age.
“I had two very good teachers who really inspired me in the work we did in those classes,” said Jon. “From then on, I had a deep passion for politics and government.”
By the time he graduated from Arlington Christian High School in 1989, Jon had worked out a deal with his parents: he would pay for his own college tuition in exchange for living at home and getting good grades.
“The reputation in our family for Everett Community College (EvCC) was very strong,” he remembered. “My grandfather worked at EvCC in the custodial department for a number of years and both my parents and grandparents were big fans of EvCC. When I was young, we lived near the campus and I often went to the gym there. EvCC was part of the culture of our family, which made it very comfortable for me.”
While attending EvCC, Jon lived at home and held down a job at Bickford Ford-Mercury—first, as a lot attendant and later, in the office. He didn't let that stop him from being involved in student activities, however.
“Honestly, I have so many great memories because I was really involved,” he reminisced. “A big part of my experience at EvCC was being in the student senate and on the student activities leadership team.”
Jon relished the many opportunities to interact with students from around the world, as well as the EvCC administrators.
“I was head of the student activities lecture department, essentially, and we brought many interesting lecturers on campus,” he recalled. “One of them was an aide to Hosni Mubarak [former president of Egypt], so those things just enhanced my interest in politics.”
His goal was to get into political work, but his second passion was business. He decided to listen to advisers who suggested he get a business degree while pursuing his political aspirations.
“I had so many great mentors at EvCC. Rich Haldi was just a great, great guy and Joann Ashlock was another person I really looked up to,” he said. “Bob Drewel was the president of EvCC when I was there and I had the opportunity to meet with him on budget issues for student activities and other things. He was just a great leader.”
Jon admits to closely watching Bob's career as president of EvCC and later, as Snohomish County Executive.
“He was just somebody with real integrity who got me thinking about devoting my life to serving my community,” Jon related. “Bob had a real impact on my life in those college years.”
After graduating EvCC in 1991 and with his goals firmly established, Jon moved on to pursue a business degree. He enrolled in Central Washington University's business program at Edmonds Community College, partly in an effort to keep his job and be able to afford college tuition.
“I ended up graduating from college debt free,” he explained. “I don't like debt, so it was a big thing for me.”
After obtaining his bachelor's degree in 1993, Jon directed his talents to a successful 17-year career in the business world. Starting as a sales representative and eventually working his way into frontline management for At-A-Glance, Jon was responsible for managing a third of the country for one of the divisions at the day planner company.
“I was responsible for a significant budget and traveled quite a bit during that time,” he recalled.
After 10 years, he moved into the advertising industry, working for a division of Verizon which later spun off to become Idearc Media. Over his business career, Jon acquired a wealth of knowledge and skills in executive-level management.
In 2001, he was elected to the Marysville city council, while he continued to work in the private sector.
“I was doing both, which I felt was really good training for the mayoral position. I got the government and policy side of things, but I also got the private sector experience managing people,” he said.
Jon's skill set enabled him to serve as Marysville's mayor pro tem for four years until he was elected mayor in 2010. His mayoral campaign focused on financial stability and the city's infrastructure.
“Before I was elected, I finished the term of a retired mayor. When I came in, like many other local governments, the city's reserves had been spent down to about 3% of the general fund, which is very low—only a few weeks' worth of cash flow,” he explained. “Those were tenuous times, so my first goal was financial stability; to get the reserve level back up to 10% and start re-building all the other reserve funds: fleet reserve, building maintenance funds, capital funds, all those. I'm happy to say we're there now; our reserve is over 10% and we're starting to rebuild all those funds. Financial stability was a big one I campaigned on and, this year after the campaign, we followed through on that. I feel our team has been very successful in that way,” he added.
Jon remains undaunted by the challenges in overseeing a staff of over 230 and reflects positively on the career he's pursued since his high school days.
“I love the job of mayor; it's challenging, no question about it, especially with the environment we're in,” he said.
What are the most challenging aspects to managing the city?
“Essentially, budgetary—trying to deliver all the core services of government that are expected by citizens: police, fire, maintaining of streets and roadways, a thriving court system, parks, all the things that come with local government—and to do it in what you'd call the 'new economic realities' of the day,” Jon said.
To illustrate the ongoing challenges, Jon points out that when he came to the city council in 2002, Marysville had a population of about 23,000.
“We're now over 60,000. In 10 years, we've almost tripled in size. That's all great news, but it's a challenge to manage that growth,” he admitted. “I love getting up for work every day because there are challenges. It would be boring if it was easy,” he smiled.
One aspect of the mayoral job to which this former business manager is especially attuned: interacting with constituents.
“You have to enjoy the interactions in this job because you're here to serve the citizens and, if you don't enjoy that, you're going to be miserable. I do enjoy it. And I have thick skin; I don't mind somebody coming up and telling me, 'I think you or the city ought to be doing this differently.' Sometimes I agree with them; sometimes I don't, but I sure like to hear the feedback.”
Looking back, Jon feels that his college experience was the perfect preparation for the large jump into the working world.
“On the student senate at EvCC, I learned about dealing with responsibility and budgets, as well as how to work with diverse groups of individuals—the same things I deal with in the working world on a daily basis,” he observed.
Above all, Jon considers determination, integrity, work ethic, and vision to be the keys to his success. He advises current EvCC students to choose something that they are passionate about, follow through, and get the degree.
“I see a lot of people struggle with the vision part,” he mused. “But you need to have a vision for where you want to go.”