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Picking up the pieces in Pacific
Newly minted Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier found the atmosphere at last weekend's annual Pacific Days celebration fantastic, hard to believe, unreal.
Riding with councilmembers atop a Valley Regional Fire Authority fire truck during the Pacific Days Parade, with just two days under her belt as the City's chief administrator, Guier said, the reality of her new position set in.
"That was a good feeling, it was a surreal feeling," said Guier, whom the City Council appointed as mayor on July 11 after former Mayor Cy Sun's ouster in the recall election became official. "That's probably a moment I'll never forget my whole life. It just felt good."
Now the hard work begins for Guier, 52 — and for the community of Pacific.
For 18 months, the City struggled under Sun, whom voters overwhelmingly chose to oust in a special recall election June 25.
The obstacles facing the City as it tries to recover are legion. Pacific has vacancies at several key positions, including city clerk/personnel director and public works/community development director.
In her first act as mayor, Guier directed Pacific Public Safety Director John Calkins to fill two police department vacancies immediately.
With the City's year end accounting for 2012 long overdue, the financial bookkeeping also needs tending.
Most important for the community, perhaps, is healing the rift that split the city during Sun's shortened term as mayor.
To facilitate that healing, the city looks to Guier. The longtime community activist says community service is her lifeblood.
"It's a passion I didn't know I had, it was just uncovered," Guier said. "I was never a history or politics buff when I was in school. That stuff didn't matter or appeal to me. I was not the most scholarly-type student. I had a bit of a shady background, I would say. I hung out on the wrong side of the tracks."
For Guier, who graduated from Spokane's North Central High School in 1979, those forays to the wrong side of the tracks eventually led to a drinking problem.
In 1985 she lost her mother, Carol Ann, to fatty liver disease caused by alcohol abuse. At the time, Guier was 30-days clean and sober.
"That was my first attempt at sobriety," she said. "And I lasted for about four years, then went back out for another four years."
It took the threat of losing custody of her only child, daughter Cariane, now 24, for sobriety to stick.
"That was my bottom, that's what got me thinking about doing things right," Guier said. "About a year before I moved over here, I went to rehab and became clean and sober. It will be 19 years this October."
In 1995, Guier moved to Western Washington, taking up residence first in Renton then moving into the Cobble Court Apartments in Pacific.
"I really liked the area, the accessibility to Seattle, to Tacoma and to my work," she said.
Eventually, after making the switch from retail management to a career as a pipe-fitter, maintaining, assembling, planning and repairing mechanical piping systems, Guier bought a house in Pacific.
She soon found herself involved with local organizations, beginning with her daughter's Girl Scout troop.
"That's how I started getting involved in the community," Guier said.
Then came volunteering gigs with the local Lions Club and Pacific Partnerships. Soon, former Mayor Richard Hildreth tapped her to serve on the planning commission.
"He came to my door and said there was an opening on the planning commission, and 'I think you would be good at that.'"
After four years on the commission, one of them as chair, Guier was appointed to the City Council in 2009, replacing Nicole Hagestad, who had resigned.
Guier said things went well her first couple of years on the council. Then, in 2011, Sun, a write-in candidate, was chosen as mayor, unseating Hildreth and defeating City Councilmember John Jones.
"I was concerned in the beginning because I'd only seen him at one council meeting," she said. "So I wasn't sure how experienced or how much knowledge he had about it. But the citizens elected him, so, as council president, it was my job to work with him."
Guier said issues between City staff, including former City Clerk Jane Montgomery, and Sun began right away.
"She (Montgomery) would come to my house and say, 'You're not going to believe what is going on.'"
Despite stories of Sun's questionable decisions regarding city staff, Guier said, she was helpless to do anything at the time.
"I'm a council person; I just set policy," she said.
Then, in July 2012, letters warning of the potential loss of the City's liability insurance began to arrive.
"There were so many things that we would try to tell him, to help him," Guier said. "The perception in the beginning was that we were against the mayor, and that's not true. There were only a couple members that were verbally and vocally against the mayor. There were four of us that were on his side. We would meet with him and tell him how to do things, how to go about getting things done. And we'd think he'd have it, and it wouldn't happen that way, and he would do the opposite. Or do something that would just get us in trouble. We would set policy, but it didn't matter. We could put all the policies in place, but it didn't matter because they needed to be adhered to, and weren't."
Guier said that just getting through the past 18 months was tough.
"To be totally powerless was hard," she said. "We all got on the council to make a difference and help. We didn't get into it for the money, and there is absolutely no power, there is no prestige. We do it because we care and want to make a difference in our community. To sit there powerless and watch these things go on and on, it was tough to hang in there thinking we were going to see the other side of it. I wonder how many councilmembers would still be there if we hadn't passed the recall?"
Now, with Sun's time as mayor over, Guier said, it's all about moving forward.
"We have a strong council, and we all have the same goals and interest to move the city forward and get everything back on track," she said. "The next two years we'll get everything back on track. There were a lot of projects we were planning, and I'd like to see us try to get back in the swing of planning those projects."
Ironically, one of the projects that Guier said she hoped would come to fruition is the development of Centennial Park – adjacent to the City Hall complex – which was one of Sun's pet projects.
Guier said she planned to push for improvement of the park, including possibly adding a handicap accessible playground similar to the one featured at Auburn's Les Gove Park and a skatepark.
Guier said she hopes as well to reopen cooperation with Sumner on developing the manufacturing and industrial center on the south side of town.
"I'd really like to breathe life back into that," she said.
Regardless of the direction the City takes from here, Guier said, she just hopes she'll be able to provide guidance for healing and continue to serve the community.
"The key to my sobriety today is that I give to others, I help others," she said. "And I know when things get really tough, it's time to get out of myself and give to others."