Kelso City Councilwoman Nancy Malone said she was “shocked” when three of her fellow council members elected her mayor in January.
“I knew I was going to be nominated, and that was fine with me, but in my heart I knew I was not going to win,” Malone said last week.
The council needed a change in direction and she was willing to lead, Malone said. But she didn’t think she would get the votes. She’d only been elected to the council two years earlier, and David Futcher had been mayor for a decade.
She told her husband before the meeting that Futcher would be elected once again. Instead, she was elected mayor, perhaps the first woman to hold the title in the city’s history.
“Then when (City Clerk Brian Butterfield) read the results and he was like, ‘Okay, congratulations Mayor Malone,’ I think my eyes got really big and my mouth dropped open,” said Malone, 65. “And then David (Futcher) got up and started moving his stuff from his mayor position over to my chair, and I’m thinking, ‘Are we doing this right now?’ ”
The council elects a new mayor from its own ranks every two years. At the first council meeting of the year, Malone received four votes from herself, Larry Alexander, Jim Hill and Jeff McAllister. The mayor is recognized as the head of the city but is primarily in charge of running council meetings, setting agendas and breaking tied votes. Malone will have a $900 stipend per month. Council members each get $400 per month.
Her new position was intimidating at first, but Malone said Futcher and City Manager Steve Taylor have helped her learn the ropes. And she is still familiar with city employees from her time as a city planning manager, she said.
However, she’s had a sometimes turbulent relationship with the city. Malone resigned in May 2014 and filed an age-discrimination claim against the city, Taylor and Community Development Director/City Engineer Mike Kardas. The city paid her $32,000 to settle the claim without admitting wrongdoing.
She then ran for City Council a year later and defeated incumbent Gary Schimmel.
Despite whispers running through local government circles that she plans to use her new position to fire Taylor, Malone says she is not vindictive. She has no plans to fire anyone, she said.
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“I don’t have my sights set on anyone. Bygones are bygones. It’s water under the bridge,” Malone said. “(Taylor and I) are not going to go out to dinner or anything, but it’s good.”
Instead, she wants to focus on creating a closer working relationship between Kelso and the county, other cities and agencies such the Cowlitz Economic Development Council.
“We don’t need to go to Olympia to interact with each other. We can do it right here,” she said. “Let’s work together. Let’s communicate better. Let’s know what each other is doing so that we can be supportive.”
Homelessness and drug addiction are the major challenges she believes Kelso will face over the next two years. But the new methadone clinic that opened earlier this month next door to City Hall might be a positive step, she said.
“It’s my understanding that the clinic has been open for a week or two, and I have not seen any group of people hanging around that area,” Malone said. “But we have to hold (Acadia Healthcare) accountable. If we see loitering or crime or what-have-you, we need to hold their feet to the fire and say ... ‘You need to follow through.’ ”
Malone added that the city also has a lot of backlogged road and sewer work, but she wasn’t sure where the city will find the money to pay for repairs.
She added that the city needs to spend more time educating the public on government processes when it comes to permits or taxes. One solution would be to put a flyer in city bills each month that lets people know how their money is used, she said.
“I just want to make sure I’m being included in all the information that is being submitted to the city, whether it’s from the council of governments or the county or from a private citizen,” she said. “Otherwise I can’t do anything about it. Maybe I can’t anyway, but at least if I know what’s going on, I can ask the questions and hopefully get to the bottom of whatever it is.”
Malone said she was proud that she and Kimberly Lefebvre, the only two women on the council, were elected as mayor and deputy mayor. She would like to see even more women involved in politics because women are good at multitasking and seeing the big picture, she said.
“There’s a lot of females out there that probably don’t think that they can do this, but I’m here to tell them that they can,” she said. “You have a family, you have a husband, you have kids and you have a full time job but you can still get involved and do what you can to help.”