Linda Oosterman better choice for county PUD commission

In addition to deciding the fate of the Thurston Public Power Initiative, Thurston County voters also have to select between two good candidates for the one open position on the Thurston Public Utility District board of commissioners.

Linda Oosterman is the better choice, because as an outsider skilled in working with difficult people, she would bring decorum and order to the sometimes unruly PUD commission meetings.

The other candidate in this race, Steve Fossum, is a 20-plus-year state employee with the Department of Social and Health Services.

Oosterman has 20 years of management experience in the human services field and a master’s degree in organizational management. She was the key player in turning around Grays Harbor County’s mental health crisis program, and involved in crisis work evaluating people for possible detention.

That experience is desperately needed on the PUD commission. She pledges to move quickly and effectively to bring order to commission meetings and try to rein in the utility district’s hodge-podge of small water systems spread over several counties.

She also has a familiarity with public utility districts. Her father worked as an auditor for a PUD, and her brother was an employee of another PUD.

The major difference between the two candidates is their position on Proposition 1, a ballot measure in this fall’s general election that would empower the Thurston PUD to “construct or acquire” facilities to distribute electricity to Thurston County residents.

Oosterman is voting against Proposition 1 because there is too little information upon which to make an informed decision. The PUD’s preliminary study into providing power “isn’t worth the money they paid for it,” she says.

She’s particularly concerned about the proposition’s effect on property taxes, noting that county employees have told her Thurston County would lose significant tax revenue, and that taxing burdens might shift to fire districts.

Fossum, on the other hand, is a proponent of public power and is supporting the ballot measure. He would insist on a full study, however, because he agrees there are many unanswered questions.

He is not versed in property tax issues and has not looked into the effect Proposition 1 would have on taxpayers in Thurston County.

Fossum and Oosterman agree the Thurston PUD should establish a criteria for acquiring water systems, other than simply generating critical mass to keep the PUD financially solvent. They both favor consolidating the PUD’s efforts to Thurston County, which is its designated service area.

Water customers in other counties pay the PUD for water service but do not pay its property tax assessment, as all Thurston County residents do.

The difference in this race is that Fossum is more inclined to be part of the PUD “club.” He is endorsed by current commissioners Chris Stearns and Alan Corwin, former commissioner Paul Pickett – who stepped down part-way through his term – and the Thurston Public Power Initiative group, which promoted Proposition 1 onto the ballot.

He has additional endorsements from the Thurston Lewis Mason Central Labor Council and Local 443 of the Washington Federal of State Employees.

Oosterman’s endorsements include Sen. Karen Fraser and Thurston County’s prosecutor, treasurer, assessor, and current and former sheriffs. Her long list also includes Port of Olympia commissioners, a mayor and city council members.

The Thurston PUD needs someone thinking outside its current group to help transform the district into a respected, well-run organization better equipped to even consider taking on something as complex as providing electrical power.

This is particularly critical because voters provide the only oversight of public utility districts in Washington, and commissioner terms last for six years. It’s important to make the right choice.

Voters should elect Linda Oosterman to the Thurston Public Utility District.