WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty's new mayor said Thursday it sounds dorky, but he wants people working in city government to think “Team West Liberty.”
The West Liberty city council Monday unanimously elected Mark Walter as the new mayor after Jim Rupe, who oversaw the city’s reaction to the damage caused by the March 2, 2012 EF-3 tornado, resigned the after a months-long recovery from a stroke.
Walter, 57, who was a member of the city council, will finish out the current term that ends December 31, 2014.
“Something that I’m going to work on, and it’s an idea and I introduced to the employees I met with yesterday, that I want the concept of ‘Team West Liberty’ put into their minds,” said Walter. “It’s not my show. We’re going to work forward as a team abreast.”
Walter said he took on the job at Monday’s city council meeting, but it hasn’t yet sunk in for him and his wife of 38 years, Kathy. The city government had been mayor-centered since the destructive tornado and after only two days on the job, he isn’t sure of any of the numbers or names. He also made sure the other council members were certain he could handle the task that lies ahead.
And, he had to be sure of himself taking a job that pays only $200 per month. “Why? Why, because I live here and because I believe in our little town.”
Walter moved to West Liberty with his family when he was 6 years old. He graduated from Morgan County High School and then attended the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University with a nursing degree. He currently works as a nurse at a juvenile detention camp at Woodbend, operated by the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.
It’s the irons in many fires that weighed on Walter when the tornado hit. The camp and relatives living in the city took a direct hit, the landmark Methodist Church, where he’s chairman of the board, had been destroyed, and County Judge-Executive Tim Conley made repeated radio calls to the fire department -where Walter is a member- to help with search and rescue.
Looking ahead, Walter said he’s hoping for an infusion of young entrepreneurs to move into town to build businesses. Even though a $30 million relief package of federal and state agencies was announced in February, the outflow of people and businesses because of the tornado will impact tax revenues.
But, Walter said he wants to make West Liberty what it always had been: a clean city and a family city.
“Our goal is to make this a town environment where people want to come,” he said. “We've got to. We lost a lot”
JOHN FLAVELL is on faculty with Morehead State's Convergent Media Program and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.