Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 5, 2013

The new mayor

Team West Liberty approach unveiled by Mark Walter emphasizes positives

The Independent

ASHLAND — sing millions of dollars in property damage and permanently changing the city’s landscape.

 Rupe continued to serve as mayor for months after being slowed by a stroke, and in many ways, he became the face and voice of the town. Rupe recently resigned, and the West Liberty City Council last week appointed council member Walter, 57, who has lived in West Liberty for more than half a century, to serve as the head of city government until Dec. 31, 2014, when Rupe’s four-year term expires.

 Immediately after becoming mayor, Walter introduced his style of leadership to the city employees for whom he is now the boss. He called it “Team West Liberty.”

 “Something that I’m going to work on, and it’s an idea and I introduced to the employees I met with, 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.”

Regardless of what one may think of the new mayor, one thing is certain: Mark Walter did not take the job for the money. The mayor of West Liberty earns only $200 a month, a paltry sum for even a part-time job in a small town. So why did Walter take the job?  “Because I live here and because I believe in our little town,” he said. That’s reason enough in our book.

Walter graduated from Morgan County High School and attended the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University, earning a degree in nursing. He currently is a nurse at a juvenile detention camp at Woodbend.

 It’s the irons in many fires that weighed on Walter when the tornado hit. The camp where he works 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.

But the new mayor does not want to dwell on the negative. Instead he wants to emphasize the positives.

One positive is that the city’s largest employer — the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, located high on a hill overlooking the destructive path of the tornado — received only minor damage, preserving hundreds of good-paying jobs  in a community where there are few such jobs.

Looking ahead, Walter said he’s hoping for an infusion of young entrepreneurs to move into town to build businesses. A pipe dream? Not really. While numerous small businesses were heavily damaged by the tornado and forced to close, there are signs of the downtown slowly coming back to life. Small, locally owned businesses tend to do better in small towns than in larger cities simply because lack less competition from the big-box stores.  

Walter said the city government had been mayor-centered since the destructive tornado and he wants to move away from that. Before accepting the job, Walter made certain the other council members were convinced he could handle the task that lies ahead.

Walter said he wants to ne sure West Liberty remains what it has always 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.”

Yes, West Liberty has lost a lot, but the new mayor is convinced the people in the town have not lost their community pride and spirit. Jim Walter wants that spirit to be the driving force that rebuilds West Liberty.

As Walter admits, “Team West Liberty” may sound a little corny. However, there is nothing wrong with the mayor being the town’s biggest and loudest cheerleader. In fact, some would say that’s the mayor’s job. We also are cheering for West Liberty.