A Cup of Joe: Ready to serve
By Craig Howard
As a landscape architecture student at Washington State University, Hugh Severs developed a plan for the arboretum near Liberty Lake City Hall.
While another WSU student's design was ultimately selected as the template for the project, Severs garnered valuable experience that would serve him well as his career progressed.
Years later, the Central Valley High School graduate (class of 2004) would emerge as a victor in a different kind of competition - this one a race to join the governing board that represents Liberty Lake, making decisions on how to fund municipal properties like the arboretum.
Severs earned more than 56 percent of the vote in the Nov. 5 general election, pulling away from Jeff Sitton in the bid to replace Josh Beckett for City Council Position 2. Beckett announced earlier this year he would not run for re-election.
"I think there's a strong need for our council to be unified," Severs said after the win. "I didn't think the council was meshing as well as it could have."
Born in Mississippi, Severs' family moved frequently as his father, Jeff, served in the Air Force.
"Home was always considered the South because both my parents are from Georgia," Severs said.
After stops in California, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Florida, the Severs family arrived in the Inland Northwest in 2001. Jeff Severs took over as president and CEO of SprayCool Inc. (now Parker Aerospace), eventually moving the company from Clarkston to Liberty Lake.
Hugh spent his junior and senior years at Central Valley High School, where he played varsity tennis and was involved in student leadership, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA).
While attending WSU, Severs began working for Mead-based Copper Creek Landscaping. He rose to the rank of senior designer, overseeing project management before leaving to forge his way in another field three years ago. Severs now works as a financial advisor, running a financial services business with Northwestern Mutual.
Severs and his wife, Jolene, have lived in Liberty Lake for five years. They are parents to two sons and enjoy boating, fishing and hiking as a family.
The Splash caught up with Severs recently to talk about his election victory, municipal issues and other topics as he prepares to take his place around the dais in January.
Q: You actually arrived in this area the same year (2001) that Liberty Lake incorporated as a city. Tell us a little bit about your interest in local politics from that time to the present.
A: I've always cared, but I didn't know enough. I definitely didn't take enough of a part in local government. I was aware that Liberty Lake had incorporated. Actually, one of the projects I got to work on at WSU through landscape architecture was the arboretum out here. So, there was quite a bit of research that went into the city at that time. My class from WSU, we all got to do some conceptual design work for that project. I remember thinking it was really great that the city wanted to develop parks and open space. That to me was pretty impressive.
Q: At what point did you think you might want to run for City Council?
A: It was probably about a year ago. As we watch our kids grow up, I've started to think we want to set down roots and think about what sort of legacy we're going to leave for our kids. I have that conversation a lot in my work right now. What is a legacy? I just felt like I need to serve a little more. There's quote after quote describing how we all owe our part to society. If we all don't do our part, things like our freedom can go away. I never served in the military like most of my family. So, when I started to consider City Council, I thought it was a great way I could serve my community.
Q: Did you know when you decided to run that Josh Beckett had decided against re-election?
A: I'd actually heard both, that he was going to run for re-election and that he was not. So I really had no idea until the day we put our names in the hat. Jeff Sitton put his name in, then around an hour later I put my name in. Then, it was just kind of wait and see if Josh would too, to see if there was going to be a primary.
Q: So it ended up being you and Jeff on the general election ballot. How much did you get to know your opponent?
A: Just having the opportunity to meet Jeff through that process was really neat. The more I got to know about him, the more I thought, "If either of us wins, it will be great." He's a very good guy. He earned a lot of my respect. I didn't know this before, but we actually go to the same church.
Q: You've been a regular at City Council meetings since announcing your candidacy. Why has it been important for you to be there even though it's not mandatory?
A: I think I've only missed two council meetings in that time. That was part of it, just listening, figuring out how a council is run and learning the issues. I scheduled meetings with a few different council members and Mayor (Steve) Peterson and just said, "I'd like to hear what's going on, hear your opinion." I talked to a couple of community leaders before I decided to run to get their opinion to see if I could make a difference and help out. I learned a lot going to those meetings. I think one of my strengths is having foresight and looking at issues at different angles. I realized we have some really smart people on the council and realized that I have a lot of respect for them. I started listening to how difficult some of those issues are. With every issue, I put myself in the shoes of a council member. I read the council packet before the meetings. It was neat to go back and ask some of those council members about their decisions and the issues they raised.
Q: After your candidacy was official, what was your campaign strategy? Were you on the doorbelling trail?
A: We did some doorbelling, probably not enough. I tried to get out and meet people as much as I could and just went to events and council meetings. We had some brochures and signs. Sometimes it was just text messaging 30 people at a time. I really don't like self-promotion. Even just since winning the election, a lot of people come up and say, "Congrats" to me, but that's not what it's about. I love meeting people, but this is not about me. I want to hear what other people think, what concerns I can take back to the city.
Q: Now that you're going to be the newest face on the governing board, how do you plan to integrate with the existing council? Will you sit back and be more of a listener at first or will you be voicing your opinion right away?
A: For starters, I have a tremendous amount of respect for everyone on council. There's a great opportunity to learn from all of them, from Odin Langford and Cris Kaminskas, the two most senior people on council, and the others, there's going to be a lot to learn from these folks. I think, as much as anything, I'm real enthused about the opportunity to learn. Getting to tap into some of that knowledge will be neat. As I get to know everyone more, I hope to be a part of that team as much as anything. I don't think it's wise having not sat in a council seat before to go in with any major objectives without really knowing how things are going to work. On the other hand, now being elected, I think it's very important to speak up when you need to speak up. I think asking the right questions can lead anyone down logical paths. That's what I'll be doing more up front.
Q: In five years as a citizen of Liberty Lake, have there been certain municipal topics that you've had more of an opinion on than others? What about the utility tax, for example?
A: With the utility tax, in general, my perception of government is that they are very inefficient with our money, with our tax dollars. For that reason, as a citizen, with the utility tax, I'm wondering why are we taxing businesses in particular. But the more I learned, the more I listened, I realized that's a pretty valuable asset to the city, and it's going to be very difficult to get rid of. I'm typically very anti-tax and staunchly for the efficient and strategic use of dollars, especially by the government, but it was a good learning experience for me. I think it was a great idea to dedicate those funds to roads, especially considering that's an uphill battle that if you don't stay ahead of it, there are going to be problems. We don't end up like the city of Spokane. I think it's extremely important to stay up on the roads.
Q: What's your take on Townsquare Park finally becoming a reality?
A: A town square or city center is really going to start bringing some brand image to Liberty Lake, and it's going to bring in more opportunities for retail, which is going to make the city more self-sufficient. I'm supportive of something along those lines. Whether it's a version of Riverstone (in Coeur d'Alene) or something else like Mill Creek that have put in a concept like Complete Streets where you have pedestrians and bikes and cars, but cars are kind of secondary.
Q: How do you think your background is going to lend itself to your new role on City Council, whether it's the time you spent in landscape architecture or what you are doing now in the financial arena?
A: On the landscape side, it was much about running a small business as anything else and working with homeowners on a daily basis. That was a nice start in the professional world. Just the study of landscape architecture is probably going to help me more on the City Council side because you study urban design and planning, running a city government. A lot of it is about community development, economic development. You have to go in and figure out what does parks and open space really do, what does mixed use development really do. A lot of times, they're growing your tax base without increasing taxes. You're generating revenue for a city. In my current role, I sit down with families, business owners and we talk about their finances, life goals, their struggles. I think you learn more from other people than you can ever experience yourself. To me, that's an incredible opportunity and, again, I think it just prepares me to ask the right questions.
Q: What do you like most about living in Liberty Lake?
A: I think it's just the families, the people who live here. I've lived all over the country, and people here are very involved in their community. They have a really positive attitude about attending events and, at the same time, you have corporate citizens who help put those things on. You just don't see that in other places. It's easy for people to be negative about their community, but people in Liberty Lake have a positive outlook, and I really appreciate that.
Nov. 5 Election Results
City of Liberty Lake
Council Position No. 1
Debbi J. Haskins 43.17
Lori Olander 56.13
Council Position No. 2
Hugh Severs 56.27
Jeff Sitton 42.99
Council Position No. 4
Odin Langford 53.36
Mike Tedesco 46.09