Mayor brings small-town flavor to big city

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Mayor Tammy de Weerd of Meridian describes herself modestly as a mother and grandmother, a wife and a former business person who has a passion for her city.

Meridian is not just any city. Nineteen years ago, it was a peaceful little town of less than 10,000 – not much different from any other rural town in Idaho. The population today is about 106,000, with no signs of slowing down. “Mayor Tammy,” as she prefers to be called, has lived in Meridian since 1992 and has been a key figure in the dramatic changes that have taken place.

She was the city’s first director of the Parks and Recreation Commission, served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, then was elected to the city council. She was elected mayor in 2003 and has easily won re-elections since then.

She has been the recipient of numerous awards over the years – including Woman of the Year by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Women Business Owners. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne recognized her as Idaho’s first individual “Brightest Star” for efforts to build a better community at Meridian.

That’s a nice list of accomplishments for a fourth-generation Idahoan who graduated from Moscow High School in 1977, with no inkling that she’d ever enter politics, let alone be mayor of the Gem State’s second largest city. Her greatest claim to fame up to that point was being the daughter of Dick Bartlett, who coached at several stops with Idaho coaching legend Ed Troxel.

“Moscow has a community and the university, but the community is not just the university. It’s a stand-alone community, and that’s what I like about it,” she said. “It was a great place to grow up. The rolling hills of the Palouse … we’d hike up the hills, ski down them, hike up again and ski down,” she said. “And we would go snowmobiling at Moscow Mountain. That’s where I think I developed a love for the great outdoors, and everything Idaho has to offer. It doesn’t matter where you live in Idaho, you have that great outdoor experience regardless.”

Meridian has plenty of challenges and problems that go with rapid growth – including traffic congestion, overcrowding of schools and increased stress on city services. But the city has managed to maintain some of its down-home feel. Various surveys have ranked Meridian as one of the best places to live – among the 100 best places for young people and among the 10 best cities for families.

As for the mayor, she can be seen around the city at almost anywhere and anytime. Her annual State of the City address is not delivered before a lot of people with suits and ties. It’s a community event aimed at celebrating the city’s accomplishments, which is a warmup for a “taste of Meridian,” where restaurants offer generous samples of delicious foods.

So, how did this “Mayor Tammy” thing get started?

“After I was first elected, I was sitting in an office trying to leave a voice mail,” she said. “I’d say, ‘Hello, you have reached Mayor Tammy,’ and then I’d start giggling. It took me an hour just to leave a phone message. So, I just left it as Mayor Tammy.”

Besides, it’s much easier to spell and pronounce than de Weerd (pronounced dee Veerd).

If there was a list of the most powerful women in Idaho Politics, Mayor Tammy’s name would have to be placed near the top. Don’t look for her to run for other offices.

“I love being mayor, and I can’t see myself being in any other place,” she said. “I enjoy being a part of government that is closest to the people. The decisions we make have impact on people’s lives, and we are held accountable – whether its at a grocery store, my church or in the playing fields.”

That form of “accountability” has been known to drive people away from politics over time. But for “Mayor Tammy,” whose friendly personality matches the feel-good name, it’s all part of doing business.

It’s no wonder why she keeps winning elections.

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