David Franklin reflects on eight-year tenure managing Shelter Bay


January 5, 2022


There is much David Franklin will miss about Shelter Bay when the longtime manager of the local residential community exits Jan. 28 to write a new chapter in a career that has seen him hold positions between here and southwest Alaska.

In keeping with that literary theme, it is the characters that Franklin says he will miss most.

“Some I work with, some are in the community, all are interesting and unpredictable,” Franklin told the Weekly News. “I can see why Tom Robbins wrote his novels here. He didn’t have to make anything up.”

Franklin’s Shelter Bay story had its own twists and turns.

“When I arrived at Shelter Bay, the community hadn’t had a manager for six months,” he recalled. “The executive secretary competently held it together as interim manager during that time and handed me the keys on my first day and said, ‘good luck.’ Two days later I walked into my first lease negotiation meeting and then a month later, the J Dock fire occurred.

“It was literally a baptism by fire,” said Franklin.

The 2014 marina blaze, reminiscent of one that had occurred there in the summer of 1979, received widespread regional media attention and Franklin was the point person for multiple television, radio and newspaper interviews in its aftermath.

Franklin settled into the routine – yet frequently challenging – aspects of management, including interactions with Town of La Conner and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community leaders.

“Shelter Bay,” he said, “is more complex than any other organization I have managed before.

It has more than twice the population of La Conner and is more like a small town than a homeowner’s association.

Shelter Bay requires the daily oversight of a 300-slip marina, water and sewer utilities with a wastewater treatment plant, 130 acres of greenbelts, two swimming pools, an executive nine-hole golf course, a five-acre recreational vehicle storage lot, a very complex set of covenants and last but not least, an equally complex Master Lease and 870 associated subleases, none of which would be possible without the dedicated effort of 13 excellent staff members and some 30 community volunteers.

“The credit for any of my successes at Shelter Bay,” he stressed, “really belongs to all of them.”

Franklin said the greatest challenge has been managing the community within the context of COVID-19.

“But to date,” he pointed out, “no staff or volunteers have contracted COVID-19 as a result of activities related to Shelter Bay and operations were never negatively affected. Our COVID plan has been based on the Swinomish Senate’s Stay Home Orders and I believe Swinomish has provided excellent leadership during the pandemic.

“Through it all,” said Franklin, “Shelter Bay Community members have been patient, respectful and civil, no matter their political affiliation, so at least we didn’t have the challenges confronting front-line health care workers or airline flight attendants.”

Hailing from Middle America, Franklin envisioned himself residing one day in a place like Shelter Bay. Entering the community management field wasn’t on his early radar, however.

“I grew up in Chesterton, Indiana, which is flat as a pancake and as a kid I dreamt of mountains,” he said. “I wanted to go to the Outward Bound program in the North Cascades but didn’t have enough money to attend. I was working at a gas station in high school and I filled up the car of a family friend who worked on a crab boat in Alaska. He said he could get me a job on the boat once I was 18.

“I graduated on May 28, 1982 and was on a plane for Seattle six hours later,” he said. “The Bering Sea was my boot camp. Everything after that was easy.”

Franklin attended the University of Washington and was the sommelier at Ray’s Boathouse prior to its spectacular 1987 fire. Then Franklin lived in France as a self-described “wine bum.”

When he returned, he enrolled at Western Washington University and put himself through school as a sport fishing guide in Alaska. It was then, after completing undergraduate work in environmental science and economics, that Franklin was hired to oversee a resort lodge.

Managing Snowater Resort in Glacier for more than a decade followed.

“And then,” Franklin said, “I got married to my lovely wife, Kym, had two beautiful children and came to Shelter Bay.”

Franklin said his wasn’t so much a calculated decision to go into community management as it was simply following the direction the tides of his life took him.

His environmental science background served Franklin well when it came to assessing the impact on Swinomish Channel of fuel leakage linked to the J Dock fire. The economics angle has proved a daily asset.

“I believe every complex organization needs someone with a background in economics,” said Franklin. “I would highly recommend that Swinomish, Shelter Bay and the Town of La Conner retain an economist or economic development specialist when discussing future initiatives. Economists are just as important as attorneys, but unfortunately, are too often underrepresented at the table.”

While at Shelter Bay, Franklin has been assigned to tackle several key tasks.

“Capital projects easily come to mind as well as focused efforts on improving the financials,” he said, “but I think I have been most successful in building better relations with the Swinomish Administration and with the Town of La Conner. Hopefully that work pays dividends after I am gone.”

Franklin will soon be bound for his next adventure---a management gig with the Semiahmoo Residents Association in Blaine, in what he anticipates will be the last stop on his career journey.

He will be leaving behind a delicate juggling act.

“There are too many to mention them all,” said Franklin, alluding to important current issues facing Shelter Bay, “but the Master Lease, water system and the last phase of the marina renovation and dredging would be at the top of the list.

“Also,” he offered, “Shelter Bay needs a comprehensive community plan.”

As he departs for Whatcom County, Franklin also advocates for collaborative interlocal planning between Shelter Bay, the Town and Swinomish.

“I was in town buying gift certificates for our volunteers at local restaurants to show Shelter Bay’s support for both and I ran into the mayor,” Franklin said. “We covered a few obvious topics in our conversation but then ended discussing the mutual need for the leadership at Swinomish, Shelter Bay and La Conner to come together more often, in the same room and work on issues of mutual benefit and concern to those they represent.”

Franklin cited recent discussions regarding a potential regional wastewater treatment plant as a prime example.

“There will be challenges in the future that will test all three organizations,” he predicted, “and what affects one will ultimately affect the others, so if the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we are all better off when we look out for more than our own interests, work together and help one another.”


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