Mrs. Coder goes to Washington

Bellevue Council president Kathy Coder recently attended a summit in Washington, DC to discuss the economic sustainability of the nation’s small towns.

Bellevue has been home, off and on, for the past 20 years for Kathy Coder, but since returning here in 2004, the community has become her passion.

"When we moved back, we bought a 100-year-old house. It was lots of work, and at the same time, I kept thinking I wanted to get involved with Bellevue. I knew nothing about local government, but I thought I'd like to bring some ideas here."

Coder went to a few council meetings, found herself replacing a council member who had resigned, and shortly after was elected council president.
"This was never a planned thing," Coder said, "but it's been a great learning experience, and I've learned that you don't have to be a politician to be involved."

She said that she felt that Bellevue had somewhat isolated itself from other communities, and so she started attending various meetings, including the Congress of Neighboring Communities, an organization attempting to connect the 38 communities abutting the City of Pittsburgh.

Coder's learning experience expanded to working on various committees, attending a local government academy and becoming involved in Good Schools PA, Building ONE Pennsylvania and Building ONE America, described as being "…an emerging national network of statewide and metropolitan organizations seeking to stabilize and revitalize communities, reinvigorate local economies and promote regional opportunity."

When Building ONE America hosted a White House summit on July 18, with 170 local elected officials, business, labor and civic leaders representing 22 metropolitan regions gathered from across the United States, Coder was among those invited to participate. Titled the "Forum on First Suburbs, Sustainability and Economic Growth," attendees discussed topics that included community schools, decreasing tax bases, as well as infrastructure and housing in inner ring communities, inner ring referring to communities close to center cities, not distant suburbs such as Cranberry.

"Building ONE America's founding executive director Mike Kruglik worked with President Obama in Chicago, so there's a big connection there," Coder said.

She theorizes that one of the reasons that she was invited was because of her work with Building ONE Pennsylvania and the fact that "They didn't have that many Republicans there, and they wanted it to be about inclusiveness. I'm more for the vision of what we're trying to create in Bellevue and the region than I am affiliated with any [political] party. What's most important is what we're all trying to accomplish together. Local parties need to take a back seat."

Coder paid the expenses for the trip on her own, and she believes that it was money well spent.

"Bellevue's name was in Washington D.C. Bellevue was seen at the White House. More than anything else, though, it's who I met there that will be the biggest asset. There are people on the Federal level who want to see what's happening in Bellevue."

She said that Patrick Maier, executive director of Building ONE's innovative housing alliance, has been planning to visit Pittsburgh to speak of how communities can achieve inclusive housing without compromising quality housing.

"He wants to give advice on how to do this better. That kind of contact is priceless."

Coder pointed out that Bellevue is getting more grant money than ever before, a fact that she attributes to better community and government relationships. She also is working with other North Boroughs communities, she said.

"We'll get so much more done by working together," she said. "I want to see something happening here. I don't just want to be on council. We're at a crossroads here. It's time for action."

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