WA: Charlie Bush, City of Issaquah, Deputy City Administrator

Posted on September 23, 2013

ELGL green icon

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


The Fifty Nifty returns to Washington state to visit with Charlie Bush, Issaquah Deputy City Administrator. In our previous visits to Washington state, we heard from Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City ManagerJulie Underwood, Shoreline City Manager and Jon Amundson, City of Richland, WA .

Today we hear from Charlie Bush who brings an unmatched energy to local government. Along with that energy, Charlie’s credentials are impeccable from his education at the University of Virginia and Syracuse University to his work in Prosser and Issaquah to his continuing leadership in the Washington City/County Management Association and Association of Washington Cities.

A Washington state influence has begun to take root in ELGL. #ELGL13 will have a solid contingent from Washington state with organizations represented such as the city of Bellevue and Association of Washington Cities. ELGL is committed to further expanding its Washington state representation through future initiatives that are being developed.

Before we learn about Charlie, we digress for our favorite part of the Fifty Nifty, learning about those strange, unique laws that are found in each state. Here are some of those that can be found in Washington cities.

  • 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.


Charlie Bush

Current Position: City of Issaquah, Deputy City Administrator

Education: University of Virginia – Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and Syracuse University – Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Published Works: Climbing the Mountain: Seeking and Succeeding in Your Next Position

Connect with Charlie: LinkedIn and Twitter

Background Check on Charlie

Charlie Bush has worked in municipal government for 14 years, most recently as the city administrator for the City of Prosser. Bush completed several capital projects in Prosser, and focused on building a high-performance organization at City Hall.

Bush’s public service reaches beyond his job. He serves on seven different boards for nonprofit organizations, including as the president of the Washington City/County Management Association.

Background Check on City of Issaquah



Connect with IssaquahFacebook, Twitter, World Wide Web, and YouTube

Issaquah is a city in King County, Washington. The population was 30,434 at the 2010 census. Forbes.com ranked Issaquah the 2nd fastest-growing suburb in the state, and the 89th in the nation. The neighboring highlands are called the Issaquah Alps and feature hiking trails and outdoor activity throughout the three mountains surrounding Issaquah: Tiger Mountain, Cougar Mountain, and Squak Mountain.

The Issaquah area was first called “Squak,” a Native American name that referred to the calls and squawks of the many water birds which frequented the boggy land, swamps, and creeks of the valley. Several years later, the citizens changed the town’s name to Gilman, after Daniel Gilman, who was responsible for bringing the railroad to the area. Gilman was incorporated in April 1892. In 1899, the city’s name became Issaquah.

Issaquah’s Notable Natives/Residents


  • Ray Allen, basketball player
  • Patrick Monahan (of Train)
  • Ichiro Suzuki, Japanese baseball player currently playing for the New York Yankees
  • Isaac Brock, lead singer, guitarist, banjoist and songwriter for Modest Mouse

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents.

  • Stay active,
  • Stay engaged, and
  • Work hard

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



  • Carbon Leaf,
  • Mumford and Sons, and
  • Dave Matthews Band

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……. Leave a lasting contribution to society that positively changes lives.

Three most influential books in your life. 

  • Good to Great,
  • the Bible, and
  • Tuesdays with Morrie

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

  • Abraham Lincoln,
  • Larry Bird,
  • Jim Collins,
  • George Washington, and
  • Martin Luther King Jr.

Describe the inside of your car: clean and organized

What’s the meaning of life? Creating a lasting legacy benefitting others.

Q & A with Charlie

Charlie is the Deputy City Administrator for the City of Issaquah. His position reports to the Mayor and the City Administrator, providing broad administrative support by overseeing and/or managing interdepartmental and public projects and communications.

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

  • Visionary
  • Complex and varied
  • Resource-challenged

We’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?

  • I wanted to be a pilot but my vision prevented me from going very far down path.
  • Management Intern with the City of Glendale, AZ was my first full-time position.
  • Economic Development Assistant with the City of Springfield, OH was my first internship.
  • I took an urban politics class as a sophomore in college that intrigued me but wanted to go to law school until the end of my junior year.  I had a moment of reflection and realization in the middle of the LSAT that law was not for me, got up, walked out, refocused on local government, and never looked back.

 Give us your top three career accomplishments.


  • Helping the City of Prosser, WA (population 5,000) become one of the smallest cities ever to be named one of the Top 100 Communities for Young People in the United States by America’s Promise Alliance, an award we won twice while I was City Administrator.  Many investments we made in youth, such as forming a Boys & Girls Club and creating an aquatic center, led us to that recognition.  Our City Council had a strategic goal of making greater investments in youth, partly as a gang prevention strategy, and we made that vision a reality.
  • Working with a small team at the City of Phoenix, AZ to help create 20,000 jobs over a 3-year period.
  • Being a tireless mentor to anyone who approaches me about our profession, including establishing a mentoring and scholarship program through the Washington City/County Management Association.  It feels great to know that I’ve had a positive impact on others’ careers, in addition to lives in my community.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

Trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right to you, be sure to double check your facts and sources.  Not trusting my gut burned me on several occasions.  The most memorable was an occasion where I received inaccurate information from a staff member in a department at the City of Phoenix and relayed that information to an economic development client.  The ensuing frustration and anger from the client led them to choose to locate in another community.  I learned after delivering the information, from a higher source in the same department that provided the information, that the information was incorrect.  I did take the time to apologize to the client and to provide the right information, which was akin to making the best of the situation.  Related to this story is another key learning – always be humble and apologize often.

Once your career gets rolling quickly, it is easy to take on too many things at once.  Be very careful, for your own health, to maintain work/life balance.  I was recently diagnosed with a chronic illness, partly as a result of pushing myself too hard professionally.  I’m rebalancing and I’m likely to recover mostly, if not fully.  I consider myself incredibly lucky to have learned a key lesson that didn’t fully cost me my career or my life.  Others are not so fortunate.  Don’t be one of them or even one of me in this regard.

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? How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

Indeed, my grandfather passed away telling people I was the Mayor of Phoenix.

ICMA is making some great strides with the Life Well Run campaign in this area.  I typically tell people curious about what I do that I oversee city operations and that I add value to key strategic projects for our community.  That seems to help, depending upon the audience.  I think local governments can always do more in the realm of communication.  To show the particular value of city management, I highly recommend some type of annual reporting to show a return on investment/performance outcomes to the taxpayers for the organizations that we guide.

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

Absolutely – what we do is incredibly rewarding and meaningful.

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

  • Do your research on my community and the position – ask good questions
  • Demonstrate that you have leadership skills, management skills, and team skills and that all would be a good fit in our culture
  • Show me that you are motivated/inspired by public service and a deeper commitment to the work that we do

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

Admin - Mitch

I’ve been fortunate to have 10-20 mentors so picking just three is tough but here are some of the biggest:

  • Marty Vanacour, retired City Manager, Glendale, AZ
  • Steve Sarkozy, former City Manager, Bellevue, WA

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………further resource challenged, increasingly collaborative, more automated, and faster-paced.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

These were great questions and I have nothing further.

Supplemental Reading

50 Nifty Tour Stops


Close window