In the early days of Liberty Lake, representatives of the City Council earned the humble wage of $75 a month for their contributions to municipal government.
Following a vote of confidence for incorporation – nearly 65 percent of residents cast a ballot for the new city in November 2000 – the inaugural governing board was elected in April 2001 with the first official council meeting taking place on May 8. Dave Crump, one of the original seven to gather at the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water building that spring, recalls financial compensation being an ancillary part of the work.
“We certainly weren’t in it for the money,” Crump said. “It was about the opportunity to start a new city.”
Over a decade after that first meeting, Crump (now mayor pro-tem), Council Member Judi Owens and Mayor Wendy Van Orman are the only carryovers from the first group to convene around the dais. All three will attend their final City Council meeting later this month.
Council agendas these days seem placid when compared to the city’s first year when nearly 170 ordinances were presented, debated and ratified.
While four-hour meetings were the norm, Owens remembers that grumbling and nitpicking were not.
“The thing I remember about that first council was the dedication,” Owens said. “We were always pulling together. There wasn’t a lot of whining.”
Van Orman, who helped establish the Liberty Lake branch of the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort, and Crump both donated time to a group called “Liberty Lake 2000” that researched municipal issues and priorities leading up to the November 2001 vote. Crump served on a committee that studied parks and open space, themes that have remained central in the city’s development over the past decade.
“As the city has grown, we’ve kept that sense of community,” Crump said. “We’ve always had that emphasis on trails, parks and greenspace.”
Increased law enforcement, snow removal on city streets and a municipal library were key rallying points of incorporation. Owens recalls the landscape of the Liberty Lake area in the late 1990s (far fewer homes and trees) creating a terrain where snowdrifts piled high on residential streets.
While residents with shovels may have outnumbered snow plows, Van Orman said the clearing process each winter “created a sense of community.”
“It was a great time for sharing stories,” she said.
Owens, Crump and Van Orman each acknowledged the contributions of the late Lud Kramer, who served as Washington secretary of state from 1965 to 1975 before retiring to the Liberty Lake area. Kramer was integral in the early development of the fledgling city, helping to form transitional committees after incorporation. Until his death in 2004, Kramer was a fixture at council meetings, always accompanied by his portable oxygen tank.
Van Orman served on the committee that evaluated the future of city/county services in areas such as law enforcement, library, parks and roads. After talks soured with the Spokane County Library District, the city formed its own library, spurred by donations of thousands of books from residents.
“I remember being so proud – we had our own library,” Owens said.
Van Orman recalls the hiring of Police Chief Brian Asmus as one of the critical decisions in the history of the city. Asmus still oversees the force today, now at nine full-time officers.
Crump said the “dedication and work of the police force” ranks among the city achievements he is the most proud of over the past decade.
Later, when Van Orman was mayor, the city moved ahead with the purchase of a 27,000-square-foot industrial building for just under $2 million. After $675,000 in renovation costs, the site was transformed into the new home of the municipal library and police precinct.
“Taking a building that was nothing and turning it into what it is now was monumental,” Van Orman said.
Van Orman, Owens and Crump all say they will likely take a sojourn from City Hall after stepping down from the council later this month. Owens said she has noticed a change in the level of commitment on the governing board since she first joined and expressed hope that the latest council incarnation “would be more invested in the community.”
“I don’t feel like everyone’s pulling together,” Owens said.
Van Orman has emphasized research and education among council members through groups like the Association of Washington Cities. As far as what she will miss the most about serving with the city, Van Orman pointed to the full-time municipal employees, describing them as “unsung heroes with an incredible work ethic.”
Crump said his tenure on City Council taught him “to be a better listener.”
“I learned to trust the process of government more,” he said.
As for the successors at City Hall, Crump said the latest rendition of the City Council “has more experience and a better foundation than we had.”
“I have great hope and faith in the future of this city,” Crump said. “I’ll miss the dynamics, but for now I see myself taking a break and letting the new City Council develop their own identity. After a awhile, I might come back and listen.”