Reader Opinion

'Troubled and saddened' by cities' 'promotional' flyer about proposed regional fire authority


OPEN LETTER (also sent to City Council members)

Dear Editor,

I have received the flyer sent by the City of Olympia (and the City of Tumwater) regarding the Regional Fire Authority ballot measure Proposition No 1.

On the very top of page 1, of a 4-page front and back flyer, in relatively small print, are the words “For Information Only ... Not intended to support or oppose the ballot proposition.”

I am troubled and saddened by the flyer as it is clearly intended to promote the ballot measure, despite its statement that it is “for information purposes only.”  My deep concerns are based on three issues:

  1. It is an inappropriate expenditure of public funds (i.e. taxpayers’ funds) as it is clearly designed to be promotional,
  2. It is quite likely a violation of state law, and remarkably similar to a recent violation by the City of Olympia,
  3. I am a strong supporter of the City, and one who relies on the City to inform and educate citizens and voters (inc. myself) when I am not well informed about local ballot measures, I now simply don’t trust the City to play the role of an impartial source of (real and thorough) information.

The flyer, adorned with photos of (only) firefighters is designed clearly to elicit support. The text on the flyer isn’t informational as much as it is promotional. The four main text boxes are entitled “Stabilize funding…”, Meet the needs…”, "Maintain a healthy workforce”, and "Increase service efficiencies”, and are conspicuously similar to statements made by the proponents from the beginning. While opponents of the Proposition do argue those points, they also point out that these cherry picked points are, at best, deceptively minimalist and specifically do not address those points which are considered possible reasons to vote against the Proposition.

That is not informational to voters. That is merely repeating that which the proponents pay for to influence voters to support their measure. Again, them doing so is fine and an acceptable part of the process. Using public money to do so by the City is neither.

I was a member of the Public Disclosure Commission when a complaint against the City of Olympia (#60520) was heard and a violation was found by the City, of RCW 42.17A.555, and a fine paid by (then retired) City Manager Steve Hall.
There were concerns raised that a retired employee paying, out of his pocket, for a fine incurred when he was an employee, would be both unfair to him, and, importantly, not serve to have the offending entity pay the fine and therefore realize a “cost” to illegal behavior.

It appears that here, by the City apparently thinking the only offending/violating language in the flyer in that case was the “Vote For”  language. The statute, however, does not specifically rely on that language when it holds that a public entity misuses public facilities when it “ directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign... for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition.”

I most certainly would not be surprised if another complaint against the City is forthcoming.

Lastly, but most certainly not least, is the damage done to the City’s reputation and standing as a neutral arbiter and source of credible, and complete, information on local ballot measures. By sending this obviously promotional flyer, the City has said to its residents that, if the public is considering a ballot measure where the City (at least a majority of current council Members) supports it, do not rely on mailings/statements from it when determining how to vote, or to become truly informed.

          ~ Russ Lehman, Olympia

The opinions above are, of course, those of the writer and not of The JOLT. Got something you want to get off your chest? Post your comment below, or write it up and send it to us. We'll likely run it the same day we get it.  

Editor's Note:  To see the March 29, 2023, debate between proponents and opponents of Proposition 1, please click here.