December 29, 2007 in Voices

City means a lot to new leader

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

The Spokesman-Review Wendy Van Orman won the Nov. 6 mayoral election with more than 52 percent of the vote.
(Full-size photo)

If artist Norman Rockwell was with us today, he’d find Liberty Lake the sort place he’d want to paint, believes Liberty Lake Mayor-elect Wendy Van Orman.

She’ll be inaugurated Wednesday. Her mission, she said, will be to fortify the city’s enviable status and quality of life.

A Spokane County pocket of prosperity, Liberty Lake boasts above-average median home prices, pre-incorporation tax rates, stellar city services, abundant parks and good-paying jobs. To top it off, more than half its estimated 5,800 residents are college graduates, according to U.S. Census records.

Van Orman is proud to note she’s one of a handful of organizers who led Liberty Lake to cityhood in 2001. An inaugural member of the first City Council, she beat mayoral incumbent Steve Peterson by 61 votes Nov. 6 to take over the community’s top job.

“I think it was the longest election I’ve ever heard of,” she joked about the hotly-contested race whose results took more than two weeks to certify.

Longtime political allies, she and Peterson had toiled side by side to get the city going.

And the two remain friends, Van Orman said, adding she holds Peterson in high regard for the leadership he demonstrated at the helm.

But fresh from a victory in which she grabbed won 52 percent of the vote, Van Orman’s eager to take the reins.

In a recent interview, she discussed some of her priorities and management philosophies.

Like Peterson, she said she will take a prudent approach to finances but won’t skimp on services.

“I’ve always felt the city should be run like a business — very lean but without depriving residents of what they want from local government,” Van Orman said.

She feels Liberty Lake’s police department, public works division and all other local government services are top flight.

On the transportation front, she’s already talking with the Spokane Transit Authority about the possibility of beginning weekend bus service here. At an upcoming Business Summit, she’ll encourage corporate leaders to offer shift workers and other employees incentives to switch to public transportation.

Not only would it be better for the environment, she said, it could help eliminate end-of-day traffic jams at Interstate 90 interchanges.

Van Orman is particularly excited about plans to create a public arboretum on a swath of land immediately south of City Hall. And she’d like to see historical and aesthetic improvements to Founder’s Corner, a newly-landscaped city entrance at Liberty Lake Road and Appleway.

A key figure in the push to create a new community center and library near the farmers’ market, Van Orman favors improving the new Rocky Hill Park and adding year-round recreation programs for kids and adults.

On the subject of further commercial and residential development, Van Orman said there’s still room to grow.

“But I’m big on (ensuring) infrastructure is here first,’ she said, adding that city’s Comprehensive Plan will be her bible.

Van Orman also will strive to communicate more often with the council, city staff, citizens and neighboring entities, she said. And she’d love to be invited to talk with groups of residents over coffee in their homes.

“I’ll have an open door policy and I expect to be in City Hall at least three days a week,” she said.

Constituents should feel free to call or stop by to meet her, she said. “I have no hidden agenda. I’m down to earth. And you can talk to me in the grocery store,” she added with a smile.

“Liberty Lake means a lot to me. I’m here to make sure (our residents) quality of life” remains to their liking.

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