MERIDIAN — If you ask Tammy de Weerd to reflect on her 16 years as mayor of Meridian, she’ll shrug off the question. With fewer than 100 days left until her term is up on Jan. 7, De Weerd doesn’t have time to reminisce — that will have to wait until she’s out of office, she said.
“There’s a lot of tender moments,” she said. “I haven’t given myself time to think about those because I’m too busy running until the last day.”
In her time as mayor, De Weerd has led one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Meridian has more than doubled in size since she took office in 2004 — growing from 46,000 to an estimated 114,000 people.
When De Weerd took office, Meridian was a smaller, quieter city, City Council President Joe Borton said.
“The city then was ready for that next stage,” Borton said, and De Weerd was the “right person for the job” who had the right vision.
De Weerd announced in February that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term. Her four terms were historic in themselves — she was the city’s first female mayor — but she didn’t break the record for longest-serving Meridian mayor. That title goes to Don Storey, who served for 26 years, from 1953 to 1979.
Five candidates, including a city council member and the mayor’s chief of staff, are running for the seat on Nov. 5.
With elections for the next mayor and three city council seats just a month away, De Weerd said there isn’t any time to spare: loose ends need to be tied up.
“I will be working to my very last day,” she said. “I want to make sure things are in order for the next elected group coming in.”
On a highlighted, color-coordinated paper, De Weerd has written all of the projects that she won’t be able to finish before she leaves. Some of those projects are well underway, like Discovery Park, which opened its first phase to the public this summer.
Others are still conceptual ideas, like transportation plans specific to south and west Meridian. De Weerd also said she’ll miss the city’s future conversations about public space, density and open space. Those conversations will likely include figuring out what kind of open space the city would like to have.
“I don’t think that we can have those meaningful discussions before I leave office,” she said.
OVER THE NEXT 100 DAYS
But there are a couple of big goals De Weerd wants to accomplish before her last 100 days in office are up — a clock that started ticking Monday.
She hopes to see city council approve a new comprehensive plan. For more than a year, the city’s planning department has reached out to citizens to get feedback on the new plan, which guides how the city will grow over time. The current plan was adopted nine years ago when Meridian had roughly 20,000 fewer residents. The Planning and Zoning Commission will hear a draft of the updated plan on Oct. 17.
Once the plan is adopted, De Weerd said the “fun stuff really comes,” like “drilling down” into the city’s community design. She said the city’s comprehensive plan steering committee would like to look into creating specific districts throughout the city, “further personalizing” things mapped out in the comprehensive plan.
The city is considering creating more specific plans for areas of south Meridian and northwest Meridian, according to Caleb Hood, planning division manager. Those area designs could include specifics about the height of buildings or the kinds of material developers are allowed to use.
De Weerd was part of a complete redesign of the comprehensive plan when she started, Borton said.
“I think she has set the tone for what our community values should focus on,” he said. “Being a family-first community has been paramount to her from day one and has carried on to today.”
De Weerd would also like to finish the work she’s been doing on the city’s strategic plan, a document that outlines the city’s mission, vision and values. That will include “having policy-level discussions about why we provide the services we want to provide and are they accomplishing what we want them to accomplish,” she said.
One aspect of those conversations will be creating measures of performance for city departments, she said, noting that “the old adage of you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is true.
Those performance measures “will show us if where we’re putting our time and energy is moving the needle on improving services and maintaining services — doing the work of the people,” she said.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE CITY
Even with campaign signs for the next mayor dotting Meridian streets and yards, De Weerd is still doing listening tours with residents.
“I want to bring their voice back to departments to collect messages to the next mayor and city council members on what our residents have to say,” she said.
Even as the city has grown, De Weerd said it has kept its “small-town feel.”
“I think it is parks, it is the police that wave at you when you drive by them on the street,” she said. “(It is) a community that cares for each other. That is important to me in who our next leaders are, that they care.”
De Weerd said she would like to see the next mayor continue some of the initiatives she began, including keeping “a focus on our youth programs.”
De Weerd created the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council in her first year. The youth program gives high schoolers the opportunity to take on challenges and serve in leadership roles. Earlier this year, city council approved the group’s plan to install 13 recycling bins downtown.
De Weerd has also been involved with community youth organizations. Before being elected mayor, she and other city leaders helped the Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County get established in Meridian. The city rented out the old police station to the nonprofit for $1 a month, and a group raised money to “turn the police station into a facility that was great for kids” in 2002, the club’s executive director, Colleen Braga, said. After a year in the facility, the nonprofit served roughly 300 members.
“It was her leadership and her determination to make sure the kids had something great,” Braga said.
The organization has since moved to a new location and serves 1,700 members. De Weed co-chaired the capital campaign for the center’s new gym and teen center, which opened in 2016.
De Weerd said she’d like the next mayor to continue some of the partnerships the city created with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Meridian Food Bank.
“I want a mayor that will care about this community and that it is not just a place to lay your head at night,” De Weerd said. “It needs to have full-service amenities that … make people proud to live here.”
De Weerd has endorsed her chief of staff, Robert Simison, for mayor. He is running against Meridian City Councilwoman Anne Little Roberts; state Rep. Joe Palmer; Western Ada Recreation District Chairman Shaun Wardle; and Gina Johnson, who is working toward earning a degree and is hoping to open a nonprofit.
Earlier this year city officials asked developers to submit plans to redevelop several pieces of publicly owned land in downtown Meridian, including the city’s community center, Centennial Park and a parking lot. While she won’t be in office to see it happen, De Weerd said she’s excited to see the city move forward on the project, referred to as the civic block project.
“Downtown is the heart and soul of our community,” she said, “and the roots of our downtown run very deep.”
De Weerd will still have a hand in the redevelopment of Meridian’s downtown even after she’s out of office. She is currently serving as a commissioner on the city’s urban renewal district board. Her term won’t be up for more than a year after she leaves office.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “I live here. This is my community. I have grandkids that live here. I still plan to be around.”
‘A LEARNING MODE’
De Weerd first got involved in the city because she wanted to see more parks. At the time, Meridian had only one park. De Weerd said she was driving her children back and forth to Boise, and she wanted to help Meridian become a community where you could “live, work and play.”
Over her time in office the city has evolved into a city where you can “live, work and play” all in one place, Borton said.
“It takes courage to stand up front and lead,” Borton said. “You take arrows, you take criticism. If you stay true to your values, the city comes out on top. She deserves a lot of credit.”
Meridian has over 46,000 jobs and a median household income of $64,375, according to the city’s 2018 annual report. The median household income in the city’s 2010-11 report was a bit higher, at $66,613. Mayor employers have relocated to the city in recent years, including Paylocity, AmeriBen, and Brighton Corporation.
The city government itself employs roughly 460 people, with 147 new hires in 2018. The city’s total budget for fiscal year 2020, which started Tuesday, is $120.5 million.
As the city has grown, De Weerd said staff have worked to keep up with its forecasts for revenue and future needs.
“You’re constantly in a learning mode,” she said, noting that she wants city employees to be watching what other cities do and learning from it. She has worked to create a culture that says “failure is OK as long as you learn from those, then you can sit down and understand why you failed.”
While it has been challenging to keep up with growth, De Weerd said it has given the city staff the opportunity to innovate and evolve.
“There’s definitely things you would do differently,” she said, noting that her list was too long to name any specifics. “We learn through every application, every process improvement, every failure.”
“It all comes down to hire people smarter than you are,” she said. “I have a great team that are really able to be forward-thinking.”
HARD MOMENTS, GREAT MOMENTS
De Weerd said there are things that make the job of mayor really difficult.
“I think the first time I had to deal with a personnel issue I broke out in boils,” she said. “It’s really stressful. It’s because you care for your people.”
But those are the hard moments.
“The great moments are being out in the community and the schools,” she said. “If you ever have a down day, go to an elementary school, because they just love that adults care about them.”
De Weerd said she’s wrapping up her service as mayor so she can spend more time with her family, which includes her four children and 10 grandchildren. She said she plans to spend some time traveling and working on herself.
“I’m moving to my next chapter, and I’m excited for the city to move to its next chapter, too,” she said.
While the feeling of leaving is “bittersweet,” De Weerd said she is excited for what’s next.
“I don’t know what it is,” she said. “I will be working with my husband and my family and my bucket list to figure all of that out. … I just want to give it some time and see what that next thing will be.”