Spokane Journal of Business

2018 Rising Stars: Emily Arneson

STA ombudsman prefers helping people to billing them

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-—Natasha Nellis
Emily Arneson left private law practice last year to go to work for the Spokane Transit Authority. Of the organization, she says, “When I came and met everyone, I was sure this was the place for me.”

Last year, employment and public records attorney Emily Arneson knew she needed a new line of work even though she enjoyed what she was doing for a Spokane law firm.

“I really hated having to bill people for the work I was doing,” Arneson says. “I just wanted to help.”

She was hired as Spokane Transit Authority’s ombudsman and accessibility officer in June 2017, where she found her background in law, research skills, and desire to help people provided her the perfect fit. “When I came and met everyone, I was sure this was the place for me,” she says.

Arneson, 34, grew up in Spokane and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School, then attended Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Wash. After Whitman, she attended law school at the University of Washington and worked in elder law in Tacoma, Wash., before moving back to Spokane in 2012 to take a job at the Witherspoon Kelley law firm.

Now at STA, she’s a neutral party who is the liaison between the public and the transportation agency for any concerns and problems the public may have, Arneson says.

“Although I work for STA, it’s my job to question things,” she says. “It’s a way to hold the agency
accountable.”

She works directly for the CEO, which removes any other go-betweens and ensures any concerns she has go straight to the top of the agency.

“The public feels their opinion is valued when there’s a position specifically for that,” she says. “A lot of times, if people don’t know where to go or who to ask, it comes to me.”

Her job as an accessibility officer means she works extensively with STA’s paratransit service, which provides door-to-door transportation for disabled passengers. Arneson is also in charge of hearing appeals from people who have been banned from the bus system for bad behavior or who weren't approved to use paratransit services.

Sometimes she will receive requests for service from people living outside STA’s service area, and Arneson says she tries to connect those people with community resources that can help them.

“I like that the work that I’m doing is critical to people’s lives,” she says.

Not only is her role at STA important, but so is the service that STA provides, Arneson says, adding, people who drive cars might not understand what a key role transit provides for people who have no other way to get around.

“If they can’t take the bus, they can’t get to the doctor, to social functions, to the grocery store,” she says. “Transit is such a vital need for everybody.”

Even people who never take the bus can see its benefits in the community, Arneson says. “You will feel them in traffic mitigation,” she says. “We can attract businesses because we have a good transit system.”

Arneson says she finds herself riding the bus more now that she works for STA. She particularly likes to use the bus when she’s going downtown so she can avoid paying for parking and the hassle of finding a parking spot. 

Her three daughters, 10-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, have also become fans of the bus system.

“My kids love it,” she says. “They love riding the articulating coaches.”

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