It won't be easy.
The City Council passed its 2012 budget by just one vote last month. With the departure of councilwomen Sally Lien and Linda Byrnes, as well as the retirement of former mayor Margaret Larson, the makeup of the council has changed and decision-making could become even more contentious this year.
Tolbert, whose day job is executive director of the Arlington Fly-In and Sport Aviation Convention, calls herself an optimist and a hard worker.
"Moving forward" has become her motto.
"We control only a few things in life," Tolbert said. "A person can't stop the rain, but maybe you can do something to keep people happy even when it's pouring."
After the November election, Tolbert gave herself the title of Mayor-in-Training and signed her emails and thank-you notes with the temporary monicker. She collected information from city employees in all departments, met with the volunteers on city commissions, sat in on a meeting of the ministerial association and heard from business owners around town.
"And Mayor Margaret was so good to me, showing me the ropes and encouraging me," Tolbert said.
Arlington Municipal Airport Supervisor Dale Carman doesn't think Tolbert will have any problems. He has known her for years from her work as the Fly-In director and as a member of the city's airport commission.
"No new mayor in any city in this country right now is going to have an easy time, but Barbara is good at bringing people together to get things done. Just think of the 500 people who volunteer to work a whole week for her at the Fly-In," Carman said. "She is well-spoken and very professional, she studies the issues and she's good at contemplating solutions."
One solution to the challenge of quick communication with people who live in Arlington is technology, said Tolbert, 53, who wants to be Arlington's first Facebook mayor.
"I am an information junkie. I want to know what's happening. I read newspapers, websites, friends' posts on Facebook and anything I get my hands on," she said. "I want people to get the information they want and need about the city. I am huge on open government. Everything has to be done in public."
Truth isn't always easy, but truth builds trust, especially in smaller cities, Tolbert said.
"We all own this city, and it would break my heart if people felt they did not have a voice during my watch."
On an evening just before Christmas, Tolbert finished her coffee at the Local Scoop restaurant and then hurried down Olympic Avenue to join a potluck dinner hosted by volunteers who work the front desk at the Arlington Police Department. There she joined Larson at the head table.
These 20 volunteers also pitch in for events such National Night Out Against Crime, Relay for Life and Shop with a Cop. Police Cmdr. Brian DeWitt talked about the accomplishments of the group.
They are Tolbert's kind of people. And Larson's.
Of the many things they share, one of the most important to the former mayor and the new mayor is their appreciation of people who love their community and prove it by sharing their time and talent, Larson said.
"The city is in good hands with Barb," she said.
As a girl growing up in Michigan, Tolbert said she never dreamed she would become the mayor of a city on the West Coast.
"Life is full of opportunities and challenges, and I am so lucky to get these," she said.
When it comes to challenges, the work starts tonight with her first council meeting. On the agenda are changes to the city's comprehensive land-use plan that would make way for the city's Manufacturing Industrial Center.
"I think this year, it's going to be about keep a long-range perspective," Tolbert said. "We need to preserve what makes Arlington special to its residents. Our parks by the river, our brigade of volunteers, and our partnerships with the Stillaguamish Tribe, Arlington Public Schools, Cascade Valley Hospital, the merchants and the service clubs.
"And we have a good council, all who are smart people willing to work hard and look out for the people of Arlington. I am ready."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
The Arlington City Council meets at 7 tonight in the council chambers at 110 E. Third St.
To communicate with Mayor Barbara Tolbert, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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