Politics have been part of Pam Haley’s life ever since she was a kid.
She grew up on the South Hill near arguably the most famous and influential politician Spokane’s ever had – former Speaker of the House Tom Foley – and even played a small role in his campaigns as a third- or fourth-grader.
“I would go downtown with him with my sister,” Haley said. “We wore little Tom Foley hats and we would pass out pamphlets.”
It’d be decades before Haley launched a political career of her own, but spending time with Foley, having a politically active mom and volunteering on campaigns more seriously from the time she was 18 all had an impact on her. She planned on running for office eventually.
“It’s something that I always wanted to do,” she said. “But when you’re building businesses, you don’t have the time.”
Now Haley is the face of Spokane Valley government. City Council chose her as mayor earlier this month.
Haley, a conservative, has served on City Council since she was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2016. Voters elected her in 2017 and she won re-election in a landslide this November, topping challenger Wayne Fenton by 34 percentage points.
Outside of City Hall, Haley has spent most of her adult life owning and operating day care centers. She first got into the day care business more than 30 years ago.
Haley used to pick up her 2½-year-old niece from day care, and she wasn’t thrilled with how the place was run. When Haley arrived, she’d find her niece spinning around on the carpet, watching TV.
“I thought, ‘I can do this better,’ ” she said.
So Haley talked with the day care’s owner and asked her how to get started in the business. The owner offered to sell her the day care center and Haley accepted.
“I always say I bought a day care for my niece,” she said.
Other than a few brief detours, Haley has been owning and operating local day care centers ever since. She realized other jobs weren’t as fun.
“I love kids, I think they’re amazing,” Haley said. “Kids have never frustrated me, even when they’re doing crazy things.”
Running day care centers during the pandemic has been “awful,” Haley said, due to shifting rules and hiring challenges. But in general, she said it’s not that hard to keep day cares fun for kids. They’re like ready-made parties because the kids are simply hanging out with their best friends all the time, Haley said.
The most important lesson kids can learn in day care isn’t academic, it’s social, Haley said.
“It’s more important how you get along with other people when you’re little than it is that you know your ABCs,” she said. “We still teach those, but honestly the people who are successful are the people who get along with other people.”
When Haley first got onto City Council in 2016, she was worried about how quickly the Valley was changing.
“For those of us who have been here for a long time, it’s kind of hard to see it change,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure that with the changes, we kept some of the culture of the Valley.”
Preserving the Valley’s spirit is still one of Haley’s goals. She said she has a few areas of focus right now on City Council.
The city needs to come up with a plan for long-term road maintenance, for one. And Haley said she thinks the city needs to send more money to Valley Partners to help the nonprofit deal with an increase in demand for food and social services.
But first and foremost, Haley said she wants to improve public safety as the Valley’s population grows.
“As more and more people move into an area, there is more crime,” she said.
Spokane Valley also needs to focus on adding more affordable housing, Haley said. She emphasized that she’d like the city to consider using some of the $16 million it received in American Rescue Plan funding to create public-private partnerships for housing development. Something similar to Kendall Yards in Spokane would be great, Haley said.
The city needs a mix of both owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing, Haley said. She emphasized that record-high housing costs and record-low housing availability have dramatically increased the need for more affordable properties.
“Buying a starter home used to be possible for a young family,” Haley said. “I’m not sure that’s true now.”
Looking back at her six years at City Hall so far, Haley said she’s most proud of City Council’s decisions to prioritize fiscal responsibility. Spokane Valley has opted against borrowing money for several projects, Haley said, and the city’s better off for it.
“I’m not risk-averse,” Haley said, “but I am really risk-averse when it comes to other peoples’ money.”
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