OPINION

Olympia City Council: Pat Cole's Picks

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It's local election season, and we're all trying to figure out who to vote for and support. 

Local elections are, in many ways, the most important elections. Our local governments have the most effect on our quality of life. They deal with everything from homeless to COVID-19, roads, infrastructure, youth programs, parks and recreation, on and on.  How the garbage is collected, where kids can go to play or get help, and how the police operate are all controlled locally. 

One of the best resources is the candidate forums, where we get to see the candidates, hear them, and get a better sense of who they are and whether they can do the job.  I recently watched the League of Women Voters Zoom forums for Olympia (I am much more familiar with that city), which is easily accessible online, LWV candidate forums , and came away with the following thoughts.

I was elected to the Olympia City Council in 1993 and served from 1994-98.  Having been there, I know that it takes a long time to get up to speed and understand all that is on the Council's plate.  For newcomers it's particularly helpful to have served on one of the city's advisory boards just to know a bit how the system actually works.

Why I am supporting the incumbents

When I look at what this council has done: supporting progressive public safety like the Crisis Response Unit, homeless camp clean-up and services including Familiar Faces, providing shelter and housing, their position on Capital Lake, expanded and improved city parks including new dog parks, and their agreement to require vaccinations of city employees I see a lot of work that I like and agree with.    

Having a thorough understanding of the issues and, in particular, the history of what's been tried before is invaluable.   There is a desire by some people to vote against incumbents to voice frustration over situations they don't like. Understandable, but not necessarily helpful.  The problem with that is that there is no substitute for experience and historical perspective when evaluating a problem or policy.  

(This column continues after the chart:) 

Pat Cole's Picks for Olympia's City Council

Bold = Pat’s Pick.  

CAPS = Challenger

Position 2

 

Huynh vs. KESSLER

Huynh has better knowledge, has shown to be a quick study, has broader experience.  Kessler doesn’t appear to have enough experience, knowledge of how the city works, nor specific ideas of what she thinks should happen.

Position 4

(This is the seat held by Pat Cole, back in the day)

Gilman vs MERCER

Gilman has been a good councilman, and is the clear choice.  Mercer should simply not be on the council for both policy and temperament reasons.

Position 5

 

Parshley vs REED  

Parshley is bright, knowledgeable, thoroughly does her homework, and a hard worker. She’s the clear choice. Reed doesn’t have the knowledge, ideas, or experience yet to be on the council.

Position 6

 

PAYNE vs GAUNY

Payne is mindful, informed, brings a voice for folks that need representation on the council. I believe Gauny could do the job but his position on the virus eliminates him from my support.

Position 7

 

Cooper vs WEIGAND 

Cooper has taken a leadership role in addressing homelessness and housing.

The answers demonstrate detailed knowledge or a lack thereof

The candidates were asked about Capitol Lake, Housing Costs, new police laws, broadband service by the city, and COVID-19 mandates.  The first thing I noticed was how well informed and clear Lisa Parshley, Jim Cooper and Clark Gilman were. Their answers included specifics, not generalities or slogans.   They had a clear understanding of the city's real complexities and how it responds to COVID-19, homelessness, housing affordability, public safety, and Capital Lake.  They demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the issues, what has been done (quite a bit), and the next possible moves.  Of course, that's easier when you are an incumbent, but by now, any candidate should be somewhat informed, have done their homework, and have concrete ideas of what is needed.   That often wasn't the case.  Many of the answers were general, and when the candidates were better informed it left a better impression. 

Multi-Family Tax Exemption

For instance, a specific question about the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) has gotten a lot of attention.  I was glad to see that both Dontae Payne and Spence Weigand knew what it was.  Ms. Parshley clearly understood the MFTE, acknowledging that the tax exemption should be evaluated and possibly changed to only apply to affordable housing, a position I agree with. Mr. Cooper also had specific ideas about how it may be better applied.   Mr. Weigand also made a particular case for increasing the walking patrol for downtown, a program I appreciate. It's one that we've voted for where the implementation is lacking.  

Some candidates understand the city's efforts about homelessness

Many of the candidates didn't seem aware of our current efforts to deal with homelessness. 

Talauna Reed contended that people aren't out in the camps providing services which simply isn't true.  

Candace Mercer seemed particularly strident. I can understand being angry but you can't do business this way.  To get things done, moving the group towards what you believe takes an ability to listen and work with others.

One of the insightful exchanges was when Ms. Parshley was asked if she had gone into any camps.  She answered yes. She's been in many camps many times plus provides veterinary care for the camper's animals.   

The city has and will continue to spend millions to combat homelessness by increasing staff and services, purchasing shelter beds, cleaning the camps, contracting for housing and more.   Dealing with an urgent problem of this magnitude on top of COVID-19 and a lack of resources - mental health facilities, shelter, social services, economic disparity – is normally not required of a city.  There have been huge local efforts to address homelessness.  There is a long way to go, but a thorough understanding of the city's current actions is needed to govern effectively.  

Support of COVID-19 mandates

One thing that made a significant impression was how strongly the candidates support Gov. Inslee's attempts with respect to COVID-19, including whether city employees should be required to be vaccinated.  

Again, Clark Gilman, Jim Cooper and Lisa Parshley were very clear and direct in their support both of the governor and having city employees vaccinated.

Dontae Payne and Yen Huynh were also specific about their support. 

Neither Corey Gauny nor Candace Mercer support Governor Inslee's actions nor a mandate for masks or vaccinations.  That position is very disappointing and doesn't move us any closer to ending this pandemic.

So…here are my thoughts, for what it's worth. 

I think Gilman, Cooper and Parshley all show a good grasp of what is needed while understanding what has been done, which in this intense time is substantial, especially with the resources at hand and limits placed on us for what they can actually do.  We need that kind of perspective and knowledge on the council.   

Yen Huynh seemed well informed and ready to take a more active role.

I particularly appreciate Lisa Parshley's thoroughness, ability to communicate, and her extra efforts.  

I found Spence Weigand well informed for a political newcomer, like his position on some issues like the walking patrol, and appreciate his willingness to do his homework; there is a lot required to be an influential council member. But I disagree with him about relying on "the market" to providing the type of affordable housing we need – providing for people with economic needs is not what the free market does. That's what government does.  

I think Mr. Cooper understands that, has demonstrated that, and has a more comprehensive view and ideas.   All of the candidates recognized the problem we have with housing affordability; what to do about it separates them.

Dontae Payne seems to have the temperament required to work with others, understands the city well, and has insight into often underrepresented communities.  

Corey Gauny is energetic, but his position on what to do about the COVID-19 pandemic is sufficient for me to support his opponent.   

With respect to Candace Mercer, I don't agree with her on much of anything, both style and substance, don't perceive she's done her homework, nor do I think she has the ability to represent enough of our community or work effectively with the rest of the council. 

Talauna Reed has good intentions, I appreciate many of her concerns, but as much as she is speaks about the poor and homeless, she didn't seem to know about all the programs this council has put in place and what Olympia is actually doing.  I heard general statements and no specific ideas of what she'd like to see happen. 

I found this to be true with Robbi Kessler as well.  I think all could benefit from joining one of the city's many advisory boards, allowing them to become more familiar with how the city works and generate specific ideas of what needs to be done.

It's a tough job

As we know, our community is made up of many views and classes, from the very poor to very affluent, conservative to progressive, and our local officials need to be sensitive to as many people as possible in order to plan and spend in a way that fits the needs of our overall community. 

We benefit greatly in that our council isn't made of districts and is non-partisan so that special-interest groups don't overly influence councilmembers. It's a large, complicated, relentless, time-consuming job, especially for people already working full time, and the pay isn't nearly sufficient to live on.

Serving on the city council is absolutely the best community service job one can have.  If you do your homework, work cooperatively with others, and listen well you can absolutely accomplish and achieve for the betterment of all of us.  

Pat Cole  -  pcbiglife@gmail.com - is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he seeks to set a positive tone and lead informed discussion about local civic issues.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The opinions expressed above are those of Pat Cole and not necessarily The JOLT.  As a policy, we don't endorse candidates. 
Further, if you'd like to express your opinions, please write them up and send to us, especially if you are focused on Lacey or Tumwater. If you've got questions about what would be acceptable, please call Danny Stusser on 360-357-1000 x1. 
 

Comments

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TX_Mojo

The actual results the past 4 years from Parshley, Gilman, and Cooper’s performance has been disastrous. They’ve helped make Olympia a destination city for transients, vagrants and drug abuse.

I seriously question Pat Cole’s judgement.

Saturday, October 9
Will Porter

As a student of public administration, I really appreciate the work you put into your writing - I think of myself as someone who cares a lot about local elections, but I rarely can attend important forums like the LWV meeting. I rely on observant, curious, diligent strangers to do the hard work for me, and I thank you for doing it. We need more local people reporting about local events!

Saturday, October 9
Linda Panowicz

Corey is a very good candidate for city council. I can’t help wonder who is stealing and/or defacing his campaign signs over and over again. What ever happened to fair play?

Sunday, October 10
Lisa Ganser

“There is a desire by some people to vote against incumbents to voice frustration over situations they don't like. Understandable, but not necessarily helpful” to white supremacy and capitalism.

5 days ago