November 2007 was a month of transition for the municipal government in Liberty Lake.
City Council Member Wendy Van Orman, one of the original representatives of the city’s governing board, narrowly defeated Steve Peterson in the race for mayor, marking the first change in the office since Liberty Lake incorporation in 2001. Van Orman earned the gavel by a thin margin of 61 votes.
A quintet of council members also won at the ballot that fall. Patrick Jenkins, Susan Schuler, Judi Owens, Neal Olander and David Crump all went unopposed in the general election.
Since that time, both Jenkins and Olander have been replaced at City Hall by Cris Kaminskas and Josh Beckett, respectively. Kaminskas was appointed to step in for Jenkins when he moved to Utah last January. Beckett earned his position at last November’s ballot after Olander – appointed in May 2007 to fulfill the remaining two years of Dennis Paul’s council tenure – announced he would not run for re-election.
While the applications for candidacy are still a ways off – current and prospective leaders have until June 10 to file with the Spokane County Elections Office – it appears the terrain of leadership in Liberty Lake will be shifting to a greater degree than it has in any autumn since the city originated.
To begin with, Van Orman has stated that she will not be on the campaign trail, passing up a bid for re-election “in order to spend more time with family.”
“It’s time for me to be a grandma,” she said.
Van Orman expressed optimism that city leaders could collaborate effectively in 2011 after a turbulent series of meetings in November and December. Discussions surrounding the general budget for the upcoming year included critical words from citizens regarding proposed cuts to the library and municipal golf course. Contention also was evident on the council itself. At one meeting Council Member Susan Schuler walked out in frustration.
The City Council has a retreat scheduled for February.
“I think we need to set our goals a little earlier,” Van Orman said. “We have a tremendous council that thinks through things and looks at different sides of issues. Anytime you have discourse like that, you’re going to learn from it. I think we can start working together with the best interest of the community in mind.”
By the time the budget for 2011 was finalized, the city had installed Liberty Lake’s first-ever utility tax – a 6-percent toll on electric, phone, cable and gas services – and increased the property tax from $1.55 to $1.72 per $1,000 of assessed value. Concessions were also made with the library and golf course, allotting more funding for each.
“It was a meeting of the minds,” Van Orman said of the road to the final budget. “With something like the library, I think most are ecstatic that we arrived at something that works.”
Owens, who along with Van Orman and Crump remains one of three original members of the inaugural City Council, has also announced she will not be on the ballot this November.
“I’m looking forward to the golden years of retirement,” said Owens, who turns 65 in September.
As for the tumult of the recent budget meetings, Owens said “it’s time to move on.”
“I try not to harbor any negative feelings,” she said. “I still think the city is on a good track. The key will be to stay focused.”
Since moving to Liberty Lake in 1991– when the area was still part of unincorporated Spokane County – Owens said she has enjoyed being part of the change. The city now boasts its own library, police force and golf course as well as a trail system considered one of the finest in the state.
“As I look at what we have here versus what it was 20 years ago, I really feel like a proud mom,” she said.
Owens said moving ahead with a long-discussed arboretum just to the east of City Hall remains her top goal for 2011. As the ballots go out later this year, Owens said “there will be a significant change, no matter who wins.”
Crump, who currently serves as mayor pro-tem, said last week that he has not made a decision on whether to run for another four years. Kaminskas has already indicated that she will make a bid for re-election.
Schuler, meanwhile, has stated she will “wait and see who steps up” before announcing any decision about returning to City Council. She said it would be important for the council to “have representation from the business community.”
As the campaign landscape materializes, the roll call for candidates could include Peterson – the city’s mayor from 2001 to 2008. He was a regular at City Council meetings during the budget talks, advocating for the golf course, bringing up recommendations and not mincing words about the direction of current leadership.
“I haven’t ruled it out,” said Peterson about the possibility of returning to office. “I enjoy being involved in government. The question in my mind is, ‘Where would be the best place to serve – on the council or as mayor?’”