November 20, 1997

West Plains Residents Vote In New City Leaders Popular Incumbents Hold Onto Their Council Positions In/Around: Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Cheney Mayor-elect Amy Jo Sooy said voters were looking for a new approach to government when they chose her over former Mayor Tom Trulove this month.

“I think they are looking for some different type of leadership,” Sooy said. “I think they are looking for some change.”

Sooy isn’t the only new face taking office on the West Plains.

Airway Heights Mayor Don Harmon was defeated by Councilman Brian Grady. Incumbent Mayor Sharie Stearns in Medical Lake also lost, in a close race, to challenger Jim Hill. Incumbent Cheney council member Marliss Gregerson was turned out of office by schoolteacher Mike McKeehan, and incumbent Medical Lake Councilman Art Kulibert lost to health educator Laura Parsons.

But the message from voters was not consistent. Several council members were re-elected in the three cities.

“In small towns like this, a lot of it depends on personalities, who knows whom,” said McKeehan.

McKeehan won in a close race after he and Gregerson campaigned throughout in Cheney.

McKeehan, who has taught elementary school in Cheney throughout his career, said his success may be due to the fact he’s well known by so many families.

“Several people said I had the best-looking signs,” McKeehan joked.

Even so, Sooy said the voters believe new leadership can make government more responsive.

“We’ve pretty much had the same mayor and city administration for the past 10 years,” she said.

She said Trulove, who served as mayor in the 1980s, may have been tied in people’s minds to the status quo.

Sooy, director of the Cheney Chamber of Commerce, said she wants to search for city budget cuts and bring new energy to downtown revitalization.

She plans to leave her job with the chamber when she becomes mayor.

Annette Hendricks, who narrowly lost to incumbent Cheney Councilman Bill Shaw, said she heard a lot of voter frustration.

“I know a lot of citizens who feel the mayor and City Council are out of touch,” she said.

Hendricks led in the election night count, but Shaw took the lead when late ballots were tabulated last week.

In Airway Heights, Mayor-elect Grady said he believes voters in his city were asking for change when they swept him into office in a landslide over Harmon.

Grady said his victory was the largest margin in a mayor’s race in Airway Heights in 25 years.

What the voters want, he said, is a mayor who listens and is open-minded about decisions.

“I think basically people wanted a change in leadership,” he said.

It may have been the same mood that led to the election of John Talbott as mayor of Spokane over incumbent Jack Geraghty, Grady and others said.

But some incumbents fared well. Airway Heights voters re-elected popular Councilman Claude Hicks.

In Medical Lake, former councilwoman Lahnie Henderson won, and in Cheney, incumbent Councilman Curt Huff was re-elected.

Medical Lake newcomer Parsons said she defeated incumbent Kulibert probably because she is well known through community activities like youth sports and Scouts.

“I’m here to represent the citizens and what’s best for the community,” she said.

“I want to stay grounded and not let it get to my head.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

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