Amber Liermann remembers the exact moment she decided to run for Maricopa City Council.
“I was driving down Porter Road, driving past Pacana Park, and just thinking about it,” she said. “I turned my blinker left, and I drove down Bowlin and I walked into City Hall and I signed my name. I was ready. I was like, ‘I really want to do this.’”
That was Nov. 7, 2019. Though not part of her plans for the day, it did not come out of the blue.
“I was starting to pay attention to the decisions that were being made by council,” she said. “I began to value those decisions and the impact that they have on our community on a daily basis. With some of the volunteer work I’ve done, I see some of the needs, some of the real, raw, vulnerable needs of our community members.”
She took the oath of office in a Dec. 1 ceremony at City Hall.
Liermann has worked in Maricopa 17 years and has lived in town 16 years. She has always been a highly active individual with a lot of irons in the fire and a passion to help that drives almost everything she does. That has placed her in the middle of many community and charity efforts.
As a result, she has become a familiar face beyond the confines of Maricopa High School, where she is Exceptional Student Services behavioral counselor. Her work with Copa Closet on campus, providing free clothes and supplies for students, brought her into contact with even more like-minded residents, who connected her with others.
“I have a passion to help our most vulnerable citizens. I believed if I could earn a position, I could make a greater impact,” Liermann said.
Before and during her campaign, she gained the support of many high-end leaders who saw how engrained she was in the community. For all that, she was a political newcomer among five other candidates vying for three seats.
So, she had her work cut out for her. She also had a lifetime of multitasking and being a go-getter to push her forward.
WHY AMBER IS AMBER
Liermann was born in Los Angeles. Her father was a military chaplain at the time. Her mother was a preschool teacher and music teacher.
Amber was a middle child amid five siblings — four brothers and a sister. Like their father, her brothers served in the military.
“I’m a middle child, so I think oftentimes I played that middle child role of peacemaker, flexible, helpful,” Liermann said. “I was kind of your typical middle child.”
The family moved around a bit during her childhood, partially due to her father’s military service. He eventually retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Liermann went to elementary school in Redlands, California, and junior high in Chula Vista. She spent one year of high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, but graduated in Staples, Minnesota.
She was a three-sport athlete in high school. There also were extracurricular activities and clubs like Students Against Destructive Decisions and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“When I was in high school, I went to school all day, and then I went to sports, or band, or choir or handbell choir,” she said. “I went to church, and I was very involved in my church. So, my schedule now is pretty much like my schedule in high school and college.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Crown College, a private Christian school in Minnesota, in 1995. That wasn’t the direction she started out.
“I wanted to be a teacher my whole entire life. That’s all I ever wanted to be,” Liermann said. “My junior year of college I had a pre-teaching experience in the classroom, and I recognized right away that there were about four or five students in my class who were really struggling to learn. It really concerned me and bothered me. I became very passionate about identifying the barriers to their learning and finding solutions for those students. After that experience, I changed my major from elementary education to psychology.”
She moved to Arizona and earned her master’s degree in counseling from Ottawa University in 2001. Liermann was living in Chandler when hired as a counselor at Maricopa High School in 2003. The first person she met in Maricopa was Heidi Lee, who was the ESS director at the time and is now an assistant principal at MHS.
The ESS program ensures special-education students receive not only the proper education for their abilities but also the proper counseling. That is where Liermann thrives.
Liermann moved to Acacia Crossings in 2004 when her daughter was a toddler and her son was an infant.
“There was, I think, one streetlight,” she said. “There was just that one grocery store. Bashas’ had not opened yet, no Fry’s, nothing like that. So, I drove to Chandler for my groceries. The Dairy Queen was here and Headquarters and La Roca. And that’s about it.”
The new city was gearing up for dramatic growth, but Liermann had already seen something unique in town. She took the job at MHS because of the diversity she witnessed on campus.
“Even back then the diversity drew me to this district,” Liermann said. “There is a richness in that diversity. There is a depth in the diversity here. That is a depth we can draw a lot of strength from, not just individually but from each other.”
She said that made her excited to raise her family in the community.
Liermann now has four children, and they are used to watching her involvement in the community on an almost nightly basis.
Her volunteer work has included Maricopa Police Department, Maricopa Veteran Care Center (she is on the board), Copa Closet, Family Advocacy Center, Women’s Hope Center and her church, Church of Celebration. She has also been on the MHS Site Council.
Her oldest daughter is now 18 and attending Grand Canyon University, where she majors in worship arts and wants to minor in youth ministries.
Her 17-year-old son, a junior at MHS, hopes to attend the Air Force Academy. He is in the pre-application process, running cross country, carrying a 4.5 GPA, working a part-time job and volunteering.
Her youngest daughter, 15, is in ninth grade at MHS, where she takes art and dance with plans to study performing arts in the future.
Her youngest son, 13, attends Maricopa Wells Middle School. A three-sport athlete, he is also interested in joining the military.
With 17 years of Maricopa contacts, Liermann found support that ranged from friends speaking up for her campaign to formal, investigated endorsements such as the City of Maricopa Police Association.
Liermann said the endorsements “gave dignity” to her rookie campaign. Support came from an 8-year-old girl and a state legislator. It came from years of growing her network of acquaintances. She both reached out for support and worked for it.
“I was given some very hard questions” from prospective supporters, she said. “I was just sweating.”
The results were obvious.
Vice Mayor Nancy Smith backed Liermann, saying her “positive attitude, conservative fiscal mindset and ambitious work ethic will be welcomed to council.”
State Rep. Bret Roberts said she has “pragmatic insight into our city’s needs.”
Former state legislator Steve Smith, whom Liermann said was hugely helpful with his advice, said she “has been a force in our community for years and her experience with economic issues as well as her history of support for our military will be a welcomed addition to the City Council.”
Constable Glenn Morrison, another mentor, said, “Amber has gained my respect due to her years of volunteer work, community involvement and ability to build effective working relationships with people from all backgrounds.”
Her pastor at Church of Celebration, the Rev. Joshua Barrett, went public with his political support of Liermann: “As her pastor, I have seen many examples of her leadership skills and talents and have long been impressed by her character, diligence, compassion and heart for bettering people around her.”
And from elementary school student Brinleigh Thorp: “She is filled with passion!”
In a COVID-drenched campaign season that made meeting people difficult, that kind of backing was invaluable. Liermann survived the primary by placing third and qualifying for a runoff with Andre LaFond. She won the seat with more than 55% of the vote in the general election.
“I’m just so amazed and humbled by the support that I’ve been given,” she said. I was very encouraged by that. Good conversations, good interactions. A lot of it, too, is I have a lot of connections through the volunteer work that I’ve been doing in the community. I think those connections helped me build trust.”
She touted three main issues, saying she wanted to join council to make a difference. That it is a part-time job with pay and benefits went over her head until near the end of the campaign.
“I had no idea there was financial compensation,” she said. “I thought it was a volunteer position.”
Liermann always named as her first priority improving Maricopa’s health and mental health resources. That includes pushing efforts to bring a “full hospital” to town. And she sees strengthening mental health as a community effort.
“Our community is amazing. We have generous, kind, amazing people, but we’ve got to connect these people,” she said. “That’s part of my problem with our mental health services in Maricopa. I believe there’s some disconnect in those services.”
She is proud the board of Maricopa Veteran Care Center is starting mental health counseling services in March. With volunteers in place, it is developing a referral process and needs assessment.
State Route 347 is top of mind for her and “a deep concern for residents.” While she sees the complexities involved in improving the roadway between Maricopa and Interstate 10, she wants to be part of the decision-making that creates change.
“The next step is that we need to complete the survey that the Maricopa Association of Governments has requested … so we can position ourselves for the funds that we are competing for with other cities and counties as well,” she said.
It has been and will be a very long process. What can be done right now to lower the dangers of driving SR 347?
“Educate people,” she said. “The thing is we have people from all over the country. We may need to do some education about local laws and local expectations, because they aren’t aware of the history of 347.”
The third issue of her campaign was economic development. She has seen the efforts to bring companies to town and had conversations with City Manager Rick Horst about the importance of shrinking the floodplain.
“I’m looking forward to learning more about that and making decisions that move in that direction,” Liermann said. “It’s kind of right in the center of where we really want to do some major growth.”
Liermann said with many of the endorsements came great advice and mentorship. She’s received tips on how to manage her full-time and part-time job with family life.
She said she will handle that balancing act just like other members of the council.
Her kids, she said, are curious about what her new job will entail. They are used to seeing her involved in community efforts almost every night of the week, and they are busy multitasking, too.
“That’s been my children’s whole life,” Liermann said. “We are used to a very active lifestyle.”
Liermann said she’s in it for the long haul, willing and wanting to serve as long as she’s needed. She is particularly happy to have been elected on her first try.
As a behavioral counselor, she said her mind is trained to identify problems and then find the solutions to remove obstacles. She is also trained not to get distracted and wants to put those skills to use for the community.
“I try to contribute to discussions and problem-solving, but I guess I was hoping for more opportunity to make a greater impact. I believe that serving on council will give me that opportunity.”
This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa magazine.