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Biography information for Executive Ron Sims

King County Executive Ron Sims is a bold and visionary leader who is nationally recognized for his work on transportation, climate, health care reform and urban development. Under his management, county departments are producing work that other governments use as models of excellence for governing in the 21st century. His leadership and record of accomplishments have prompted President Barack Obama to nominate him for Deputy Director of Housing and Urban Development. He awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

With the overall goals of keeping King County economically competitive and retain it’s quality of life during an age of global warming, a hallmark of the Sims Administration is the integration of environmental, social equity and public health policies that has produced groundbreaking work on climate change, health care reform, affordable housing, mass transit, environmental protection, land use, and equity and social justice.

As Executive for the nation’s 14th largest county, Sims manages a budget of $5 billion and a workforce of 14,000 employees that delivers services to 1.8 million people.. Home to an entrepreneurial spirit that spawned such world business leaders as Microsoft, The Boeing Company, Starbucks and Amazon, King County accounts for 20 percent of the population in Washington State and 40 percent of the jobs.

While Sims is progressive on issues of social justice, environmental stewardship and good government, his conservative fiscal policies earned and maintained the county’s first ever AAA bond rating from all three of the national rating agencies. Citing the county’s excellent management and methods used to balance the budget despite a major decline in revenues, the AAA rating was reaffirmed in January 2009.

Sims’ work to provide affordable housing for everyone who needs it dates back to the 1970s when he volunteered as a lay minister for Operation Nightwatch to work with Seattle area homeless. Sims is now board co-chair of the Committee to End Homelessness. His leadership in affordable housing and multiple community and housing partnerships have funded 5,632 units of housing during his 12 years as County Executive. In 2005 King County became the first county in the nation to earn the Robert L. Woodson Jr. Affordable Communities Award from HUD for work that included streamlining regulations, builder incentives and offering county-owned surplus property for affordable housing development.

Now in his third term, Executive Sims is a proponent for Smart Growth and preservation of green space before it is lost to development. The county’s land use policies have stopped costly sprawl and resulted in 96 percent of new construction being concentration in urban areas with only 4% in rural areas. In his quest to preserve residents’ quality of life for the future, he protected approximately 190,000 acres of green space in King County, including the development rights to the 46,000 acre Plum Creek Forest at no cost to taxpayers. He has increased the county’s trails to 175 miles and led the effort that resulted in public ownership of the abandoned 42-mile Burlington Northern Eastside Rail Corridor for eventual joint use for commuter rail and a recreational trail

His leadership in developing transportation solutions that better serve the mobility of people and businesses while the nation works to cap harmful carbon emissions has put him in the forefront of regional transportation decisions. As Chairman of the Sound Transit Board from 2002 through 2003, Sims is credited with bringing to construction the Seattle area’s first light rail transportation link that will carry its first passengers in 2009. Sims is an strong advocate for increased transit bus service to more efficiently transport passengers to the region’s light rail system and to reduce traffic congestion and move people and goods more effectively in the Seattle Metropolitan Area.

King County Metro Transit is one of the nation’s largest and greenest transit systems, with ridership growing an unprecedented 20 percent in the last three years. It was named the nation’s fastest growing large transit system in May 2008 by the Amalgamated Transit Association. Under Sims’ direction, Metro contracted with General Motors and New Flyer to pioneer use of articulated hybrid buses that are now used by transit agencies across the nation. His leadership helped the Washington State Department of Transportation win a $140 million federal Urban Partnership grant to help pay for replacement of the aging but vital Highway 520 floating bridge, through increased transit service and variable tolling.

In response to scientists’ predictions of more intense and frequent regional flooding due to climate change, Sims created the first ever countywide Flood Control District in 2007 to fund over $250 million in levee and flood protection upgrades. His Climate Plan for King County is considered to be among the most aggressive and responsive in the nation and the county is one of six model communities in a Rockefeller Foundation project to develop green economic development best practices for use by communities worldwide. In addition, his team and University of Washington climate scientists co-authored a guidebook on climate adaptation that has been used by cities and counties around the world.

Building off his leadership in a three-county effort to restore threatened chinook salmon, Sims is playing a key role in the governor’s Puget Sound Partnership to reduce pollution and the decline of species such as salmon and the endangered killer whales under the Endangered Species Act. He is chair of the Puget Sound Partnership’s 27 member Ecosystem Coordination Board.

Faced with a growing number of uninsured children in King County, Sims created a public private partnership that raised 2 million dollars in 2007 to provide medical and dental care for children who don’t have insurance coverage. He is currently leading a countywide community effort to end discrimination, injustice and institutional practices that have resulted in a person’s address being a reliable predictor of poverty, education, likelihood of incarceration, longevity and health risks.

His efforts to control escalating employee benefit costs led to formation of the Puget Sound Health Alliance, a regional public/private partnership that is accomplishing reforms not seen elsewhere in the nation that improve patient care while controlling costs. His King County Employee Health Initiative that ties participation in wellness activities to employee out-of-pocket health expenses has one of the highest participation rates of such programs nationally. It is designed to cut escalating health care costs by tens of millions of dollars within five years by reducing the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

An early user and advocate for the use of technology to improve transparency and accessibility to government, Sims has overseen major advancements in Web based applications that have streamlined county government and improved customer service as well as enhanced regional law enforcement and emergency preparedness. The County’s Web site is consistently placed in the top four government sites nationally. As a County Councilmember, Sims led the effort to begin use of the Automated Fingerprint System and DNA in law enforcement and negotiated inclusion of public-owned fiber optics in cable franchise agreements. This resulted in the County providing web accessibility to libraries, schools and cities throughout the county. The Executive’s 2008 venture into the use of new media and prolific use of Twitter to share news and ideas has generated national and international news coverage.

The accomplishments at home on behalf of King County residents have prompted national attention and awards. Harvard Kennedy School is writing case studies on the County’s climate change work as is the federal General Accounting Office; Sims was named Leader of the Year by American City and County Magazine in July 2008 and was named one of Governing Magazine’s Government Officials of the Year in 2007. Sims joined Senator Edward Kennedy and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as recipients of the 2008 Health Quality Award from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. He has been honored with national awards from the Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Born in Spokane, Washington in 1948, Ron marched alongside his politically active parents in the 1950’s and 1960’s during the civil rights movement led by Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. This life experience honed in him a passion for civil rights issues that has been a guidepost throughout his political career.
After graduating from Central Washington University, where he was elected student body president, Sims worked on consumer protection issues at the Washington State Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Recruited to run the City of Seattle's juvenile offender program, Ron remained head of the program until becoming a legislative aide in the Washington State Senate.

In 1985, Ron was first elected to the King County Council. While serving in that capacity, Sims developed a reputation as a tireless legislator, working on a diverse palette of issues that led to advances in the areas of the environment, education, county budgeting, public safety and the protection of workers' rights.
In 1996 Ron was appointed King County Executive after then-Executive Gary Locke was elected governor. Easily winning election the following year, Sims was reelected by wide margins in 2001 and 2005.

Sims is chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Ecosystem Board; founder and former chair of the Puget Sound Health Alliance; board member for Reconnecting America and ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability; board member for the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), advisory board member for the Brookings Center for Urban and Metropolitan Policy, board member and former chair of Sound Transit, Board of Trustees for Rainier Scholars.

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  Updated: Sept. 29, 2008