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Women of the Year: Liberty Lake administrator Katy Allen navigates growth, pandemic challenges

Liberty Lake City Administrator Katy Allen is seen March 8 at Liberty Lake City Hall. “I like finding innovative solutions that are affordable,” she says.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Tyler Wilson For The Spokesman-Review

As a surveyor, city engineer, public works manager and city administrator, Katy Allen’s extensive career in public service is built on a reputation of getting things done.

Currently serving as the city administrator for the community of Liberty Lake, Allen tackles challenges both expected (population growth) and unpredictable (the COVID-19 pandemic) with equal parts nuance and decisiveness.

“I love working with people, I love solving problems, and I like finding innovative solutions that are affordable,” Allen said.

Her professional career began as the survey chief for the city of Spokane Water Department, and she went on to become the city’s director of public works.

“Whatever I assigned to her, she didn’t balk,” said George Miller, the former chief engineer for the Spokane water department who managed Allen at the start of her career. “She never walked away from a challenge. Decision-making was one of the things I really appreciated.”

That experience led her to the position of director of public works and city engineer for the city of San Jose, California. She oversaw bond-funded projects, an airport renovation, the construction of a new city hall and numerous capital improvement projects.

She spent nine years working in San Jose, but never officially moved there. Instead, she remained an Eastern Washington resident and “commuted” to work.

“We kept our house, and I flew back and forth,” Allen said. “The commute was very manageable because of technology, and I feel like I was spending less time commuting than many people in the Bay Area.”

As the capital program in San Jose neared its end, Allen began a push to work in her hometown. In 2012, she became city administrator for Liberty Lake. Though a different community compared with San Jose, Allen made it her focus to understand the specific needs of Liberty Lake and the demands of its citizens.

“Every city has its own personality, and policies that work in one city will not work in another city, and as public servants, we have to understand the values of our city and our city’s story,” Allen said. “(Liberty Lake) is a community very committed to a healthy lifestyle. … It’s very accessible. Our transportation, our parks and trail system, and our access to cable and underground utilities are part of our story. Many cities would die to have the infrastructure we have, so we don’t have a lot of deferred maintenance, and we are not having to fix a lot of things that are broken.”

With three golf courses, convenient access to Interstate 90 and short commute times to Spokane and North Idaho, growth management has been a key challenge for Liberty Lake.

“She’s been a great asset for that area, helping the city grow and doing things the right way,” said Barry Baker, president and chief executive officer of Baker Construction. “We’ve done a lot of land development in Liberty Lake, and Katy is always the voice of reason, as in, ‘How do we get this through and how do we get this right?’

“If a developer can work in concert with the city, it turns into a win-win situation, rather than what we’ve seen in so many other communities, where developers can get into a fight with municipalities,” Baker continued. “I could not speak more highly of her and her approach in how she views development.”

Allen said growth management is about striking a balance for the city’s residents.

“There are people who don’t like the growth, and there are people who are here because we planned for the growth with schools, the golf courses and lots of outdoor space,” Allen said.

Allen’s steady hand in Liberty Lake has influence in more than just city-specific projects. Part of her responsibilities include partnerships with the community’s other public service entities, including the Central Valley School District and its development of new schools in Liberty Lake in recent years.

“Katy brings people together to accomplish tasks that would not have been accomplished alone,” said Ben Small, superintendent of the CVSD. “She leads with a common sense, steady and calm demeanor. It is this leadership style, along with a deep commitment to the community she loves, that has allowed the city of Liberty Lake to navigate these uncertain times.”

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an entire set of new challenges in Liberty Lake.

“We had to shift gears … we had to adapt and we chose to focus on what was most important, and not chase foul balls,” Allen said. “We needed to provide for the safety of our citizens and businesses.”

Efforts have included providing personal protective equipment and protocols for reopening local businesses, as well as recurring mask distribution for Liberty Lake residents.

“I like simple and fast, so instead of filling out applications for things, if you have a business license you can come to city hall and pick up PPE,” Allen said. “For distribution of masks, if you have Liberty Lake listed on your driver’s license, come to city hall and pick up your masks.”

Summer in Liberty Lake is typically filled with events and movies in public spaces such as Pavillion Park, and residents always look forward to the city’s dedicated weed management team of goats. Last December, the Winter Glow holiday light show was installed at the city’s new Orchard Park. Winter Glow is expected to return this year, and Allen said the canceled or postponed events of 2020 will return post-COVID-19 in large part because of dedicated community organizations and support.

“The bucket of volunteers we have … I’ve never seen in my life,” Allen said. “This community is the community it is because of our volunteers.”

Allen and her husband Randy have been married for 46 years. They have two sons, Paul and Jeff, and four grandchildren.