After 29 years of service in the public sector, the last 14 of which were as manager of the city of Lewiston, Jan Vassar still wasn’t ready to step into the shadows. She remained active in civic endeavors and held a position on the state Public Transportation Advisory Council.
But when longtime associate and friend Bruce Sweeney lost his courageous battle with cancer in August, Vassar recognized a new opportunity to serve. She contacted Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and volunteered her expertise as a possible successor to Sweeney on the Idaho Transportation Board.
The governor took Vassar up on the offer and named her Dec. 10 to fill the remainder of Sweeney’s term, which expires on Jan. 31, 2010,
“I felt I had some skills that I could bring to the table so I submitted a letter of interest to the governor,” she recalls.
She would be open to filling the District 2 spot on the board for a longer term if circumstances allow.
Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Darrell Manning vows to do what he can to secure that longer arrangement.
“We are very, very pleased to have Jan on the board,” he says. “She brings a local perspective that will be very valuable to the board. We are fortunate to have her.”
Vassar first entered the public arena as a student at Washington State University in Pullman. She did an internship in the manager’s office at the city of Lewiston and liked the experience so well she accepted a job on the administrative staff.
It was the beginning of a long-term association. She retired as city manager in 2006, leaving a city of about 250 employees and an annual budget of about $50 million.
During her administration, the terminal building at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport nearly doubled. The city also completed a long-term project to build a highway connected the Lewiston Orchards and the Clarkston (Wash.) Heights.
The city also built a solid waste transfer station, developed a five-year strategic and funding plan without the benefit of a consultant and successfully crafted six benefit packages for city employees.
Lewiston also received a number of awards for financial reporting.
Vassar has remained busy working on community projects related to the city library, parks and high school. She plans to remain on the Public Transportation Advisory Council if possible while waiting to see whether a regular appointment to the transportation board will emerge. If time allows, she also will consider volunteering next year as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), which assists children involved in court proceedings.
Vassar enters her new position without a preconceived agenda, only a willingness to share in solving transportation challenges, including the need for additional revenue.
“There’s a great statewide need for transportation improvements with very limited resources. I come to the board with an open mind, knowing that I have a learning curve ahead. There are no easy answers… if there were easy answers, they would have been found already.”
District 2, which encompasses Nez Perce, Latah, Clearwater, Lewis and Idaho counties, has benefited from two very stalwart transportation board members, Vassar admits. Sweeney and Mike Mitchell will be difficult to follow.
“We have had very strong leadership on the board from District 2, and I hope I can carry on that tradition.”
Vassar earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Washington State University and has completed post-graduate work through an international program for city managers. Husband John is a retired small business owner in the Lewis-Clark valley. They have two children, Stacy, a resident of Seattle, and Daniel, a resident of Portland. They also have four grandchildren.
Following a day of meeting with ITD staff and getting to know the department on a first-name basis Wednesday, Vassar participated in her first transportation board meeting Thursday afternoon in Boise.