Along with the usual duties associated with working for a municipal government, employees with the city of Liberty Lake have been known to volunteer for an ad hoc litter- maintenance department.
Community Development Director Doug Smith gathers debris daily as he walks to City Hall from his home several blocks away. Former City Clerk and Finance Director Arlene Fisher would clean the sidewalks of garbage on her lunch break, and former Mayor Steve Peterson would take time during City Council meetings to talk about the value of citizens taking enough stock in their town to dispose of a displaced wrapper.
Liberty Lake leaders from the past and present were in attendance at last Saturday’s celebration observing a decade of incorporation. The ceremony took place before the annual Lud Kramer Memorial Concert at Pavillion Park featuring the Spokane Symphony and included a presentation to Kramer’s wife, Patricia, on behalf of the couple’s work in the early years of the city.
Pictured above from left to right: Mayor Wendy Van Orman, Deputy Mayor Dave Crump, former City Clerk/Finance Director Arlene Fisher, Community Development Director Doug Smith, Council Member Judi Owens, Police Chief Brian Asmus and Council Member Cris Kaminskas.
Photo by: Craig Howard
Fisher, who now works for the city of Cheney as the city administrator, said the sense of responsibility and civic pride began with the first group of leaders in Spokane County’s easternmost jurisdiction.
“You had a group of individuals who pretty much had the same goals for the community,” she said. “Everyone was moving forward in a unified direction. We wanted to do things right and we wanted to be successful.”
Last Saturday, Fisher joined city leaders past and present in Pavillion Park for a celebration observing Liberty Lake’s 10th anniversary of incorporation. The ceremony took place before the annual Lud Kramer Memorial Concert featuring the Spokane Symphony.
Attendees were asked to provide “wishes for Liberty Lake” that will be included in a time capsule celebrating the decade anniversary. A bronze plaque will also be placed in Pavillion Park to commemorate the occasion.
Mayor Wendy Van Orman provided a brief history of the area going back to the days of its first inhabitants, members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. After being known as Lake Grier by early pioneers, the community was later named in honor of Etienne Eduard Laliberte, a homesteader from Canada.
The modern-day timeline of Liberty Lake began in the late 1990s when a group called Liberty Lake 2000 began gathering support for municipal incorporation. After some debate over the boundaries of the prospective city (the area south of Sprague Avenue around the actual lake was eventually left out) the vote for cityhood was included as part of the November 2000 general election.
By the time all the ballots had been counted, incorporation had passed with a flourish, 64.7 to 25.3 percent. After citizens voted in the inaugural City Council and a rudimentary staff was compiled, incorporation became official on Aug. 31, 2001.
Over the past decade, city leaders and residents have held true to the early vision emphasized by the incorporation campaign. In a meeting a few months before the deciding vote, representatives of Liberty Lake 2000 met with Boundary Review Board officials at the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water building to discuss the priorities of the potential city. Topics on the agenda echo many of the trademarks of Liberty Lake today, including pedestrian-friendly amenities, restrictions on billboards and excessive signage and wise use of tax dollars.
“People really worked together to make this happen,” said Peterson, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2007 before being narrowly defeated by Van Orman. “The framework was there and people had the same vision for a clean, green, safe and welcoming community.”
Peterson and the first City Council were responsible for a series of initiatives that formed the city into what it is today. The city purchased and renovated a golf course that became Trailhead at Liberty Lake, moved forward with the construction of a pedestrian bridge across Interstate 90 that connected to the Centennial Trail and purchased Pavillion Park from Spokane County for the grand total of $5.
“It was a group of leaders that really cared,” said Fisher. “There were debates, but at the end of the day everyone was about moving forward.”
The city was not without its detractors in the early years, however. A City Council plan to increase greens fees at local golf courses went over like a botched tee shot in 2003 and a subsequent movement to assume control over the well-established sewer and water district was met with opposition by utility officials and many residents.
Smith recalls the city’s first year as “a challenging, but exciting time” characterized by a shoestring budget and a hodgepodge of facilities and equipment. The original staff and City Council donated their own computer gear and furniture while meeting in a space donated by local businessman Bernard Daines.
Once, when Police Chief Brian Asmus requested help with a maintenance issue, he arrived at work the next day to find a tool kit on his desk, placed there by City Administrator Lewis Griffin.
“We didn’t have a public works department, so the message was ‘fix it yourself,’” Asmus said.
Asmus, who arrived in Liberty Lake in late 2001 after serving as the police chief in Yelm, near Olympia, said Griffin – who passed away in 2009 – set an early standard for civic unity through his “great attitude about serving the community.”
“If someone called City Hall with a complaint, Grif would go out and make sure it was fixed as soon as possible,” Asmus said.
Over the years, the city has added parks, expanded its award-winning trail system and become an official “Tree City” as recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation. Meanwhile, entities like the municipal library – launched after the city broke away from the Spokane County Library District in 2003 and the police department – are now housed in a renovated 27,000-square-foot warehouse. After two annexations, the population now hovers around 7,500.
Smith said the city’s success can be attributed to a number of reasons, including a prime location between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, a host of recreational opportunities, a housing market keyed by local developer Greenstone Homes and the town’s people-friendly design. Even the loss of business pillars like Agilent and Itronics has not seemed to slow the city’s momentum.
“The sense of community is probably the No. 1 thing here,” said Asmus. “People really work together.”