Three seats on the Tumwater City Council have turned over in the past year, reducing the city’s bench of experienced leadership. Newcomers now comprise nearly half of the City Council.
Voters have a chance to help rectify that situation on the November general election ballot by re-electing Ed Hildreth to a second full term and electing experienced planning commission chair Debbie Sullivan.
The revolving door in Tumwater council chambers started last December when Judith Hoefling retired. Council was rocked when popular councilman Ed Stanley died suddenly in February. The turnover continued in April when Betsy Spath announced she was moving to Arizona, and ending her four-year term a year early.
It was the remaining four council members, not the voters, who filled those open seats. It’s a natural tendency for members to pick like-minded individuals. It enables a smooth transition and reduces the potential for conflict.
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But that inclination isn’t always productive or in the city’s best interests. It can create a myopic collective vision blind to some options and alternatives.
Council had many capable individuals from which to choose. They picked Nicole Hill, a Nisqually Land Trust project manager, to fill Stanley’s seat, and John Way, an Olympia attorney, to replace Hoefling. Hill and Way are running unopposed this fall.
For Spath’s open seat, council selected Kyle Lucas, a government affairs consultant and freelance writer. Sullivan, who applied for all three appointments and was overlooked, is challenging Lucas.
LUCAS VS. SULLIVAN
Sullivan would bring a fresh perspective to council, one that might beneficially challenge current thinking. That fact might have influenced council’s refusal to appointment Sullivan. They were wrong not to do so.
Her service to the city and willingness to run for office previously should have earned her one of the three open positions.
Sullivan has been deeply involved with the city’s planning commission for a decade. For the last seven years, commission members have unanimously elected her to their leadership chair.
The value of that experience is obvious. Sullivan is locked onto the key issues of zoning and land use that face Tumwater. Her solutions may differ from the rest of council, but she will expand the council’s thinking and provide a voice for an unrepresented sector of the city.
Lucas comes with a unique background of poverty and adversity, and with the experience of having served as former Gov. Gregoire’s director of the Office of Indian Affairs. She has a strong environmental background.
But she is focused on social justice issues, such as affordable housing. Those are important challenges, but not the critical ones confronting Tumwater.
Tumwater has reached its non-voted property tax cap of $3.10. Council didn’t vote to get to that point, but declining valuations took them there. Without new construction, commercial business revenues or significant rising property values, the city will encounter financial issues in the near future.
Sullivan has received endorsements from Hildreth, Hoefling and Rep. Chris Reykdahl, among others.
Sullivan, who narrowly lost to incumbent Joan Cathey in the 2011 municipal elections by 110 votes, will bring energy, a positive can-do attitude and a business background to the council. She’s by far the most knowledgeable and experience about the issues that should matter most to Tumwater voters.
HILDRETH VS. BLAIS
Incumbent Ed Hildreth is the only serious choice in this race. Hildreth is an experienced and intelligent council member, who understands city government.
His opponent, Priscella Blais, does not present a viable alternative. She seems focused on education issues, which are unrelated to city government.