A Cup of Joe: First Lady of Liberty Lake
Civic involvement, aesthetics important to Charmaine Peterson
By Craig Howard
If you plan on attending a meeting of the Liberty Lake City Council in the near future, chances are Charmaine Peterson will be there to ensure your time is not wasted.
It is rare that the wife of Mayor Steve Peterson does not chime in at some point during a gathering at City Hall. Accompanied by her trusty Chihuahuas, Pecos and Rico, she is known to issue friendly reminders to the governing board that attendees in council chambers may not be able to decipher the ongoing discussion around the dais.
"I want to make sure people can hear and see what's going on," Charmaine Peterson said.
Her commentary on the audio/visual setup at City Hall included a recent recommendation that the audience might have trouble interpreting the small font used in PowerPoint presentations. That scenario has now changed to feature easy-to-read script.
A stickler for aesthetics, Peterson has been known to sweep out a gutter or two on city streets. She has offered suggestions on the interior of City Hall and is adamant about stowing away the salt bucket on municipal grounds when its contents are not being used to shore up slippery winter walkways.
The Petersons moved to pre-incorporated Liberty Lake in 1998, settling in a burgeoning MeadowWood Golf Course neighborhood. Their home overlooks the well-manicured course. If not for Charmaine's decision to pass on a chance to live near the lake - south of Sprague Avenue and outside future city limits - her husband would never have qualified to be mayor.
Charmaine and Steve Peterson wed in 1996, the second marriage for both. They met in Billings, Mont., when Steve was working as a pharmaceutical representative and Charmaine was helping at a family medical practice in preparation to attend physician's assistant school.
She left Billings in 1993 to live in Kansas and study at Wichita State University. She took two degrees from Montana State University with her to the Midwest - one in business administration and another in secondary education - earned while her two kids were in high school.
Born in Washington, D.C., Peterson grew up in an Air Force family - her dad served as a sergeant - and lived in New Mexico, Japan and briefly in Spokane growing up. She graduated 10th out of 1,000 students in her Albuquerque high school.
After earning her P.A. degree, marrying and moving to Spokane, Peterson worked in a family clinic and later for a dermatology practice. Charmaine and Steve lived on the South Hill before migrating east to Liberty Lake. The couple has three kids and two grandchildren in their blended family. Charmaine's son, Lee, is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and now works as a commercial pilot based in Tacoma. Her daughter, Nancy, lives in Montana and works as a school counselor. Steve's son, Steve Jr., lives in Seattle and works at a brewery.
The Splash caught up with the First Lady of Liberty Lake recently to chat about municipal aesthetics, citizen involvement and local canine representation at City Council meetings.
Q: You have been a regular at City Council meetings during the time Mayor Peterson has been in office. What do you remember about his first stint as mayor, and what was it like during the four years (2008-2011) when he was not leading the city?
A: I make it a point to attend the council meetings when possible to support the mayor. I am so very proud of his accomplishments. It is very satisfying for me to witness the work the staff and council do. The mayor's first two terms were filled with challenges, accomplishments and excitement. I should also add fear, as we were a new city. I did miss being part of city government when (Mayor Peterson) was not in office. However, looking back on those years, they were actually a welcomed reprieve.
Q: In addition to your stellar attendance at council meetings, we see you at a number of community events throughout the year, including the Friends of Pavillion Park Holiday Ball each December. What other civic happenings do you make it a point to attend?
A: I am a proud Liberty Lake Kiwanis member and enjoy being able to participate in a few of their fundraisers throughout the year. My favorite is helping in the Kiwanis trailer during the Pavillion Park events. I also look forward to helping with the Windermere Marathon and riding in the Rotary fundraiser, Rotary in Motion.
Q: You and Mayor Peterson became crepe specialists at the Liberty Lake Farmers Market for several years. What did you learn about the community from visiting with market-goers?
A: We had the Crepe Cafe at the Farmers Market for six years. Each Saturday, I would return home more proud of our citizens and city than the previous week. Our citizens would repeatedly remark how they loved Liberty Lake. And the frosting on the cake was that many customers we had from outside the city would make the same comments and return Saturday after Saturday. Since Mayor Peterson and I moved here in 1998, Liberty Lake has not only grown in numbers, but in city pride. The city is cleaner, public spaces are greener and the citizens have a community spirit to be admired.
Q: Your Chihuahua, Pecos, is recognized as the First Canine of Liberty Lake. Now, his brother, Rico, is also a fixture on the front row at council meetings. Do you think both dogs appreciate conversations surrounding topics like street repair, the utility tax and, most importantly, animal protection?
A: I know for certain that Pecos loves to attend the City Council meetings. Grant you, he might not hang on every word spoken and does squeeze in a nap for 99 percent of it, but he knows the people and wants to be with them. Rico, on the other hand, has yet to become as civically involved.
Q: Do you and the mayor ever have discussions about the direction of the city at home?
A: The mayor and I never disagree about the direction of the city. We do disagree on the prioritization of projects and on the speed of accomplishment. But I also recognize that I am on the outside looking in and do not fully appreciate the crippling steps that government must endure.
Q: You have had a number of comments over the years about general appearance of City Hall, from the paint in council chambers to the arrangement of the dais. How do you think municipal headquarters is looking these days?
A: City Hall is looking better today than it was two years ago. It is the people's house and should at all times hold a very high standard for our citizens. Preventative maintenance should not be a matter of discussion but a requirement that is expected to occur.
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Liberty Lake?
A: I most enjoy the sense of contentment. We are very happy, very content here. The city is clean, physically active and offers a comforting sense of community. I want people to drive into Liberty Lake and when they're sitting at the traffic light, say, ‘We're here.' People remember the food when they travel, and they remember how clean it is. You notice when things are nice. It may sound trivial, but aesthetics are what sell the city.