Meet Sandpoint’s City Administrator
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo by Kiersten Patterson Photography
Jennifer Stapleton grew up in Helena, Montana, but like many people, fell in love with Sandpoint the first time she visited, which was during her senior year of college at Gonzaga University. She and her husband Greg shared a goal of moving to a smaller community where they could raise their kids and spend weekends on the water, and Sandpoint called their name.
A driving force behind Sandpoint’s new Master Plan, Stapleton is dedicated to her work for our community. When she’s not focused on making our city the best possible community it can be, you’ll find her with family and friends, or maybe even participating in a local cornhole tournament.
Q. Is there a specific memory, story or person that has greatly influenced who you are today?
A. My family, definitely, has been very influential. I was raised by my parents, Tom and Marilyn, who both have a strong work ethic that was undoubtedly passed on to me. I started working in my dad’s veterinary clinic when I was 9 or 10. It started with cleaning the kennels and quickly evolved into receptionist and veterinary assistant. I assisted with many of his after-hours calls and have helped pull porcupine quills out of a dog more than once! I have worked ever since that time—through high school and college, until today.
Beyond that, I was raised with a love for community and a commitment to community service and family that is deeply rooted in loyalty.
Q. What makes our town such a special, unique place to live?
A. The beauty of Sandpoint is breathtaking, and the sense of community is on par with the best. The recreational opportunities and open spaces are constantly calling, and we answer as often as we can. We appreciate and attend nearly all of the events and look forward to seeing friends and neighbors downtown, at the Panida, and generally out and about. One of the things I have missed most during COVID is music. We are so fortunate to have such great local artists and others who want to perform here. The silence has been deafening.
Beyond this, we are a small community that has a fascinating mix of people and diversity of thought from places all over the world. That provides a richness to our community fabric that I haven’t seen elsewhere. We have had the most interesting conversations with strangers who became friends. We regularly have moments with our small group of close friends where we look at one another and just say, “We live here.” Nothing else needs to be said.
Q. What are you most passionate about in your role as city administrator?
A. It’s a simple answer—serving this community and all who live, work, recreate and visit here. I am passionate about community involvement and going beyond the walls of City Hall by reaching out and listening, respecting and really hearing all voices and perspectives. I am also passionate about the city team. Our community is truly fortunate to have such dedicated, talented and innovative city employees. They work hard, and most go far above and beyond to serve this community.
Q. Is there a specific vision or dream you have for Sandpoint in the future?
A. I don’t allow myself my own vision of future Sandpoint because, if I did, it would cloud my ability to hear and represent the collective community vision. Growth is here—more than I think people even realize—and it is important, more than ever, that we come together and define what aspects of our community and our history we value most and which define our place and who we are so we can stay focused on protecting and preserving them. That is why all of our master planning is so important.
Q. How will the Master Plan benefit and advance our community as a place to live and visit?
A. These planning efforts are important because they define our community priorities, needs and vision based on community input, benchmarking and best practices and technical expert reviews, analysis and recommendations. I have never seen another community take on as many Master Plans at one time as we are doing. That said, this is how it should be done. I credit our elected officials for their insight and vision in this regard.
Usually, governments tackle one Master Plan at a time and, as a result, resources get prioritized based on the most recent planning effort and don’t take into account the needs and visions across all service areas. Without that broader effort, governments inevitably allocate funds to one need at the expense of others. Prioritization can only really happen when all things are considered.
Q. What has been a piece of advice or experience that you’ve carried with you and that has impacted your life for the better?
A. I had a conversation with a very close friend of mine, Dean Lueck, when I was considering the job opportunity at the city and agonizing over the impacts of a move on my family. Dean was 77 at the time, and he said to me, “You know, Jennifer, one of the regrets I have when I look back on my life is that I did not take enough risks.” Dean’s words have stuck with me to this day, and I’m still fortunate to benefit from his wisdom and friendship. I appreciate him beyond words.