By Polly Keary, Editor
To provide the maximum amount of services for the minimum amount of resources.
That is the role of government, according to Ken Walker, new city administrator of Sultan.
Friday, the Louisiana native talked about how a city goes about achieving that goal and how he can help; as well as a little bit about his unique personal history of world travel and pursuing a doctorate in accounting, and what he likes so far about Sultan.
Walker, 54, grew up in an area quite a bit similar to Sultan. His father was a physician, but the family owned a farm, which his mother ran.
“We raised pigs, chickens, cows and all the vegetables we ate,” said Walker in his soft-spoken Mississippi River regional accent. “I grew up driving tractor, picking up hay.”
As a young man, he said, he couldn’t wait to get off the farm. But as an adult, the attraction of rural life is very strong, he said.
“It’s what I grew up with, the simple things,” he said. “You know your neighbors well.”
Shortly after he arrived in his new home, Walker found out that Sultan is widely known for its community, he said.
Walker, a Quaker, attended a church meeting in Seattle and introduced himself, telling the other Friends that he was working for the city of Sultan.
“I was greeted by a nurse who told me about that trouble the town went to to save the health clinic years ago and how they were so impressed with Sultan,” said Walker.
“Sultan has made an impression on a lot of people, and this was all the way in south Seattle.”
Before making his way back to rural life, though, Walker lived in Jackson, Miss., while working toward his degrees, then to New Orleans, where he worked in the private sector for several years.
His job as an international manager for FedEx took him to some very out-of-the-way spots, including Bolivia and the remote Caribbean port town of Bluefields on the coast of Nicaragua.
His travels brought him some perspective, he said.
“We take for granted what most people find unattainable,” he said. “We are very blessed to live in the country we do, to have the freedoms we do and the opportunities. We may have problems but the problems are very minor compared to the rest of the world.”
Walker eventually left FedEx and went to work as a government auditor in Natchez, Miss., then took a job as the city manager and controller of the small city of Vidalia, Louis.
It wasn’t the career he’d had in mind when he first went to college. He’d meant to be a physician like his father. But he discovered he really enjoyed accounting, and went on to get an all-but-dissertation doctorate in that field of study. That has helped him a great deal in public service, he said.
“Accounting is the language of business, because what is the goal of business? It is to make a profit,” he said. “The goal of government is to provide the maximum service for the available resources. Accounting is the principal tool of business or government to make decisions, and a strong understanding of accounting allows me to identify facts that are relevant to decision-making.”
Safety, utilities, infrastructure, education and protections from things like floods and unsafe foods are the top priorities, he said. After that, people can ask themselves what else they might like to do.
“Beyond the basics, what are the services we want?” he said. “A library? Access to information? Ball fields? Soccer fields for our children for recreation? Access to public transportation? Those are choices that people make and as public servants it is our job to marshal the resources in the way to provide those services.”
After working in Vidalia and spending six years caring for his father, Walker decided it was time to explore the possibility of living in the Pacific Northwest, a place he’d liked after visiting the area on fishing trips with a relative.
So when the position of city administrator became available, he applied, and after winning the position, started the job Oct. 1.
Sultan so far has been wonderful, he said.
“My first day at work I got to see salmon spawning. That was the first time in my life,” he said. “It’s so spectacular for someone who is not from the area. The rivers are beautiful. It’s hard to describe them in words. It was just awe-inspiring.”
He is also impressed by the city government, said Walker, who grows impassioned on the importance of working across political, religious and other divides.
“I want to be able to work on all sides, with everyone, to make the city of Sultan the great city of Sultan that it’s known for,” he said. “That greatness comes from its people, comes from its residents. I think everyone, all the elected officials and the community leaders I have met, are dedicated to making Sultan the best place it can be and I want to join them and do everything I can to help them.”