Steve Taylor doesn’t drive down Sprague Avenue to work these days. Topics like corridor revitalization and contractual discussions with Spokane County have been replaced by issues like the purchase of a fire engine, the expansion of a jail and the municipal budget of a town just over 100 miles to the southwest of Spokane Valley.
One of the original members of Spokane Valley’s City Council, Taylor stepped down from his role in June 2009 to take over as city administrator in Connell, a rural community of around 3,200 that most folks recognize as a stopover between Spokane and the Tri-Cities. At 33, Taylor became one of the youngest city administrators in the state, although Connell Mayor Gary Walton said it was Taylor’s “experience and knowledge” that set him apart from 38 other candidates nearly two years ago.
“Steve had an impressive background,” said Walton, who has served as mayor since 1989. “When we had whittled down the candidates, we had a community forum where citizens asked questions and Steve did very well. He knows a lot of people throughout the state and was able to build a good rapport with citizens and staff.”
Taylor made the move from Spokane Valley at a time when the municipal terrain was beginning a major shift. While the majority of council members had been in place since incorporation in 2003, a group called “Positive Change” was challenging the status quo, announcing challengers to incumbents like Rich Munson, Diana Wilhite and Ian Robertson. The election in June of 2009 would bring four new representatives on the city’s governing board.
As Taylor observed the transition from his new vantage point in Connell, he said it was typical of how leadership rotates over time.
“Anyone who is a student of politics understands that there are always these cycles – and that’s what was happening in Spokane Valley,” Taylor said.
As for the contentious campaigning from both sides leading up to the general election, Taylor – who won two re-election bids after his first victory in 2002 – said he “would not have missed the controversy.”
“I was ready for a change,” he said.
Looking back, Taylor said he was proud to be part of a city council that established Spokane Valley “as one of the most financially healthy cities in Washington” while working together in a way that addressed debate in a congenial and constructive manner.
“I think the original City Council and city management had a very good run because of the cohesiveness of the council,” Taylor said. “We were all committed to the success of the city and we understood the need to listen and absorb information.”
As a field representative for 5th District Rep. George Nethercutt, Taylor brought some political savvy to his first campaign back in 2002. He knocked on over 11,000 doors while “trying to keep track of everyone who was running.” The primary ballot in September featured a total of 50 names for seven council seats. Taylor emerged victorious in both rounds, defeating Ed Mertens with a 57 percent margin in November.
“It was a good chance to serve the community and set the foundation for the city,” Taylor said of his first year as an elected official. “I just remember everyone on that first council making a real effort to work together.”
Taylor has kept tabs on his former city, receiving the “Notes and Comments” update distributed by Council Member Bill Gothmann after every meeting and chatting with old friends like Munson. When the ex-mayor passed away earlier this year. Taylor wrote a tribute to Munson that appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of the News Herald.
“Rich knew that anything worth accomplishing would take perseverance, hard work and time,” Taylor wrote. “He had a vision for what Spokane Valley – his home for over 30 years – could be and I believe that is what drove him during his years with the city.”
He called the dismantling of the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan by the new council “disappointing” and said he still misses Spokane Valley’s unique blend of “a small town and bustling, vibrant community.”
Things are generally a little quieter in Connell where a bowling alley, library and community center are the cultural hubs. When Taylor arrived at City Hall on July 1, 2009, there was no little time for bowling. There had been a lag since the last city administrator – the late Lewis Griffin, also former city administrator in Liberty Lake – had been in office and Taylor barely had time for introductions.
“I had to pitch in right away,” he said. “There was a lot of work to do.”
Walton, who serves as chief executive officer of Connell in the strong mayor form of government, said Taylor has been a catalyst in chipping away at a $400,000 budget deficit that is now down to around $60,000 through a mix of spending cuts, higher utility taxes and reserves. Meanwhile, the city has worked to purchase a new fire engine, expand the fire hall and set aside time to celebrate the city’s centennial in 2010.
“Steve’s knowledge has really made a difference,” Walton said. “He’s been good at working with the public and holding the staff accountable.”
Taylor said when it comes to his future in government, a career in administration is a more likely career path than running for office again. He is currently in the second year of a three-year contract with no immediate plans to leave anytime soon.
“This is a very stable community,” Taylor said. “People take the time to invest in it. As long as I’m moving forward and accomplishing good things, I’ve been happy to be here.”