BELLINGHAM - City Council President Cathy Lehman has announced she will cut her first term short by a year to take a job influencing climate change policy statewide.
Lehman will resign at the end of the year to take the role of voter education and outreach director for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters.
In her new job, Lehman will educate voters on environmental priorities and encourage people to get to the polls to vote on climate change issues. She also will work to hold elected officials accountable.
"I truly believe that local office is extremely important. ... That's where real decisions are made that affect our day-to-day lives," Lehman said. "But on climate change, which I consider a paramount issue for our lifetime and for my generation, I want the highest impact I can possibly make with my life."
Lehman was on the board of the Whatcom Conservation Voters when she first decided to run against then-incumbent Barry Buchanan in the 2011 election for council. She stepped down from the board to run and beat Buchanan with nearly 68 percent of the vote.
Lehman said the position is the only thing that would have taken her away from her elected role.
"I wouldn't have left for any other reason," she said.
In January the remaining council members will start the work of appointing someone from the third ward to Lehman's position. That four-year spot is up for election in 2015, and whoever is appointed would need to run to stay on the council.
The third ward covers most of downtown, including portions of the Columbia, Lettered Streets, Central Business District, York, Sunnyland, Roosevelt, Puget, Whatcom Falls and Sehome neighborhoods.
Longtime council member Gene Knutson said Lehman's announcement came as a surprise, but he fully understood her taking the job.
"She's been a breath of fresh air on the council," Knutson said. "I'll miss her, but I'm happy for her for this move."
Mayor Kelli Linville said she was sad to see Lehman go but was glad Lehman will stay on council through the city's budgeting process this fall.
"She has been an extraordinarily positive, strong member of the City Council," Linville said. "I think she has a good combination of idealism and the practicality of what you can achieve at any one time. ... She and I shared a lot of the same goals. She was a pleasure to work with."
During her time on council, Lehman said she is most proud of working with the Lake Whatcom Joint Policy Group, which helped align the policies of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District.
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