WA: Tracy Burrows, MRSC Executive Director

Posted on August 13, 2014

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Fifty Nifty Takeaways

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from other’s mistakes than yours.

Our Take on Washington State


Say WA! ELGL has landed in Washington. In our previous 50 Nifty profiles in Washington, we’ve interviewed  Julie Underwood, former Shoreline city manager, Charlie Bush, Issaquah, Deputy City Administrator, Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City Manager, and Jon Amundson, Richland Assistant City Manager. You can catch up with all the 50 Nifty profiles by reviewing the archives.

Before we shine the spotlight on Tracy Burrows, Municipal Research and Services Center, Executive Director. Here’s a Cliff Notes version of all things Washington.

images (1)When we think about Washington, we immediately think of grunge rock, casinos, Microsoft, Mt. St. Helen’s and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. When we actually take an educated look at Washington state, we find a number of surprising facts.

  • Approximately 60 percent of Washington’s residents live in the Seattle metropolitan area. Spokane and Tacoma are the next two largest cities.
  • Washington is a leading lumber producer.
  • Sir Mix-a-Lot and Presidents of the United States are from Washington state.
  • Although the proper vernacular should be “The State of Washington,” it is often reversed and referred to as “Washington State” to distinguish it from Washington, D.C., also named for George Washington.
  • Washington has over 1,000 dams, including the Grand Coulee Dam.
  • Residents are still angry the Sonics left.
  • Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind only California.

Washington is not immune to its share of strange, interesting laws.download (3)

  • Everett: It is illegal to display a hypnotized or allegedly hypnotized person in a store window.
  • Lynden: Dancing and drinking may not occur at the same establishment.
  • Spokane:  TV’s may not be bought on Sundays.
  • Seattle: No one may set fire to another person’s property without prior permission.
  • Waldron Island: No structure shall contain more than two toilets that use potable water for flushing.

Background Check on Tracy

Tracy_BurrowsTracy joined MRSC as the Executive Director in September 2011. She has over 20 years of local government and non-profit experience, specializing in growth management, transportation, and general city management issues. Most recently, she was the legislative liaison for the Seattle Department of Transportation where she led the Department’s efforts to develop a transportation funding ballot measure and advocated on behalf of the city on state and federal transportation policy transportation issues. She has also served as the City of Kirkland’s intergovernmental relations manager, where she was instrumental in successful efforts to regionalize fire and police dispatch services and to secure state annexation funding. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Florida.

Background Check on MRSC


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The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) is a private, non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington. Our mission is supporting effective local government in Washington through trusted consultation, research, training, and collaboration.

MRSC’s vision statement from our Strategic Plan 2013-2018 is excellence in local government fostering great communities.

MRSC’s information and research services are available free of charge to elected officials and staff of Washington city and county governments as well as to officials and staff of Special Purpose Districts that are members of Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts (AWPHD), Washington Association of Sewer & Water Districts (WASWD) or the Enduris Insurance Pool.

MRSC serves Washington local governments by providing: (1) dependable advice from a multidisciplinary team of professional consultants; (2) a comprehensive website; (3) access to thousands of sample documents; (4) timely print and electronic newsletters; (5) informative publications; and (6) access to the largest local government library collection in the Northwest.

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents.

My mom was too busy raising 6 kids by herself to dispense much advice, but she did something so much more valuable than that. She let me be myself and she’s always supported me just the way I am.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?



Parliament Funkadelic and Frank Sinatra, in that order. Frank would only start singing after we’d crashed from partying too hard with George Clinton.

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…

….give back all the love I have received.

Three most influential books in your life.

A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan; Secrets, Daniel Ellsberg; Moby Dick, Herman Melville

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?download (4)

  • Charles Barkley
  • Pema Chodron
  • Cornell West
  • Gore Vidal
  • Virginia Woolf

Describe the inside of your car.  

I don’t have my own car, but my bike is clutter-free.

What’s the meaning of life?

To paraphrase the Lazy Yogi, Life means nothing when you don’t know who and what you really are. Go inward and discover who and what you really are beneath this life situation. You will find that the real joy comes from existence rather than seeking it through temporary distractions like money, sex, career, travel.

Q & A


Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

  • Innovative – always seeking ways to improve
  • Scrappy – doing more with limited resources
  • Open – committed to engaging citizens in important issues

iy6867We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?

At 12, I wanted to be a marine biologist. After college, I was working at an internship at an art museum and my boss took me out to lunch. I told him how much I loved cities and architecture and he suggested I get a degree in city planning. The rest is history. Internships are awesome. My first local government job was as an intern with the City of Gainesville, Florida working on affordable housing issues.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

Well, I believe in the power of teams because anything that I have accomplished has been as part of a strong team. Accomplishments include:

  • Developing and adopting MRSC’s first strategic plan and making sure we had the right staff in place to carry it out;
  • Helping secure $40 million in federal funding for a major transportation project in Seattle; and
  • Coordinating the creation of a new regional public safety communications center.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.  You-Can-Do-It-Rob-Schneider-Gif-In-Th-Water-Boy

I’ve made plenty of mistakes. One mistake that I think is more common amongst women is to be risk averse in terms of career moves. Do not underestimate your leadership skills. Go for it.

Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?

My experience is that people don’t understand the distinctions between the city, the county, the bus transit agency, the rail transit agency, the state, etc. in terms of the services each provides.   When one screws up, we all screw up from the public’s point of view.

download (2)How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

People connect with local government through public spaces – parks and transportation rights-of-way – and through interactions with police officers. If you make those three aspects of your community humane, people-friendly, and responsive to community needs then you’ve hit a home run.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Yes, if they have a thick skin and a commitment to problem-solving.

Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.

  • Look me in the eye
  • Have a firm handshake
  • Show your passion for the position

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.Grace-Crunican-Headshot-Approved-2013

Dave Ramsay, retired Kirkland City Manager,

Grace Crunican, now General Manager of BART, and

Linda Cox, now Executive Director of the Bronx River Alliance.

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be….

….. showing State and Federal government how to get things done.

Supplemental Reading

50 Nifty Profiles

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