The Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to repeal an ordinance naming Thurston County a “welcoming community” to people regardless of their immigration status.
Instead, County Commissioners replaced it with an ordinance that states the county is a welcoming community “to not only immigrants, but to all residents regardless of their heritage and background.”
The commissioners did not discuss either ordinance before they voted. The “welcoming community” ordinance was passed in December, just before two of the commissioners took office.
Earlier, during the public comment portion of the meeting, Zena Hartung of Olympia urged the commissioners to table the proposed ordinance.
“This strikes me as a disingenuous obfuscation, in other words (a) lie, or maybe just an alternative fact,” she said.
Hartung criticized the commission for its recent firing of Director of Public Defense Daryl Rodrigues and the removal of former Olympia City Council member Joe Hyer from the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee. She said they haven’t acted welcoming to people who are different from them.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Thurston County’s three politically independent commissioners have vowed to shake up county government. Commissioners John Hutchings and Gary Edwards were elected in November, joining commission chairman Bud Blake. They have begun unraveling some of the policies adopted by the previous commission, which was led by two Democrats.
So far, the new commission has repealed a $10 fee for about 42,000 property owners with septic systems. In addition to the actions taken against Rodrigues and Hyer, they also asked for the resignation of the public health director.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Edwards told The Olympian that he believes the new ordinance is better than the old one because it doesn’t single out people for their immigration status.
“I think that welcoming everyone regardless of their heritage covers it all,” he said. “That means we’re welcoming everybody.”
He said he believes the earlier ordinance could have set the county up to lose federal funding. President Donald Trump has ordered cuts in federal funding for communities that declare they are safe harbors for undocumented immigrants, also known as “sanctuary cities.”
“It’s a bit of a bugaboo in the future — it could be on budgetary issues,” Edwards said. “And we really need to make sure we don’t run into any budget setbacks.”
However, Edwards said he doesn’t think the new ordinance changes the county’s existing practice of not holding people based solely on a detention request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The Sheriff’s Office stopped holding people solely on ICE requests in April 2014, after a U.S. District Court ruling that ICE detainers were requests and not legally mandated.