It’s not often that a singular, defining issue determines the outcome of local elections. Controversy over whether the community wants a low-barrier shelter and where to locate it has that potential in the city of Olympia.
It’s time for the city to take strong and immediate action to save its downtown from crime, increasing drug use and discarded syringes.
All of this year’s candidates for City Council express concern about downtown, though they differ in how to prevent it. That gives voters a clear choice.
The Olympian’s editorial board has chosen to support two candidates with similar views about downtown. We are endorsing Julie Hankins and Cheryl Selby. We are also endorsing Jim Cooper, who has no serious opponent.
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HANKINS VS. VOLZ
Both candidates in this race strongly oppose a low-barrier shelter.
Challenger Mike Volz has operated his downtown auto restoration business for 12 years. He says the number of panhandlers and people sitting on the streets is growing, and they are becoming more aggressive and belligerent. Volz would redirect city funds toward more walking police patrols and the successful ambassador program.
While he has clear views on the downtown issue and represents a business voice sorely needed on council, Volz lacks the necessary city experience to succeed. In that regard, Julie Hankins is the superior candidate.
Appointed two years ago, Hankins brings 20 years of quasi-council experience working with the city’s neighborhood associations. She’s a collaborator who sometimes relies too much on process over decisiveness.
Hankins believes a shelter needs barriers, and favors rapid rehousing as the solution to the region’s homeless problems. She says shelter promoters should have held community conversations involving all stakeholders before proposing a specific location.
If Hankins can trust her opinions and her vision, she could blossom into a leader on this council. She deserves to have that opportunity with a first full-term.
SELBY VS. MILLS
This race offers voters a clear voice on how to improve downtown. Cheryl Selby opposes creating a low-barrier shelter downtown. Darren Mills favors it.
Since returning to Olympia in 2005, Mills has thrust himself into civic affairs through the Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA), currently serving as its chair. His approach to downtown — keeping it clean and safe — originates from a PBIA committee.
Although he owns a hair salon downtown, he believes a low-barrier shelter must be located in the city’s core because that’s where the need exists. He supports the right of the homeless to camp in front of City Hall, and says a downtown shelter will get people off the streets.
Selby is also a business owner. She has two retail store locations, one downtown and on another on the west side. She worked for the city on two previous occasions and has 25 years of nonprofit experience.
Selby gets the edge because she recognizes the downtown is oversaturated with social services. She’s also solution-minded and is already working with others to find a shelter location outside the city’s core.
This race features two good candidates, but Selby is on the right path for downtown.
COOPER VS. ATLANTIS
Jim Cooper has no competition. Prophet Atlantis is not campaigning nor did he come to the editorial board. Voters elected Cooper to a two-year term, now they should give him a full term.