When she turns her attention toward you as you speak, you know that Mayor Kelli Linville is listening. Not just putting on the appearance of listening, but taking in your words and considering them. Sometimes she responds right away, but typically she takes your words into consideration, thinks about them, and then meets with you at a later time to talk about your thoughts and concerns. This, right here, is what makes her unique as a public official. “I will meet with anyone,” she often says. And she does.
The key to her success as a public servant is her warmth, which is both personal and political. As a former speech pathologist, she has always kept social services high on her list of priorities. She cares deeply about the hardships and predicaments of the less fortunate, and acts on that empathy as an elected leader. She was the first legislator to act as prime sponsor of the Mental Health Parity Bill in Washington State. The bill, now an act, ensures that mental health patients get the same level of coverage as patients with physical ailments. As she is quick to tell anyone, she believes strongly in the “service” half of the phrase “public service.”
It hasn’t been an easy time to be mayor. Still suffering the consequences of the economic downturn, Bellingham’s budget has been hard-hit. Linville was known in Olympia as a numbers person, chairing the House Ways and Means committee during her time as a Representative. As mayor, Linville stepped up and took on big challenges like Lake Whatcom and the waterfront, and added accountability to city services. Mayor Linville has engendered good will with the County Executive and sought solutions to thorny problems like big box stores and the new challenges from marijuana legalization. And while each decision brings dissent, Linville’s support network is strong and deeply loyal, and it’s not hard to see why. It all begins with how well she listens.