Alta Fry, 89, of Olympia recently got a robocall criticizing Thurston County Commission candidate Jim Cooper.
She said she regrets answering her phone.
“I was upset about it,” Fry said. “I don’t like that kind of campaigning.”
Cooper and his opponent, former Tenino Police Chief John Hutchings, have both disavowed a series of robocalls that were paid for by political committees Friends of Jimmy and We Want to be Friends with Jimmy Too.
In fact, all four candidates in the two county commission races have political committees working against their campaigns.
A group known as People for Thurston County, funded largely by Ramtha channeler JZ Knight of Yelm, sent out mailers criticizing Hutchings and former Sheriff Gary Edwards, who are both running as independents, while supporting Cooper and fellow Democrat Kelsey Hulse.
Hutchings and Cooper say they promised clean issues-based campaigns and deny allegations raised by the PACs.
One of the anti-Cooper robocalls was voiced by former Olympia City Council member Karen Rogers, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Board of County Commissioners in 2012. Rogers told The Olympian she felt obligated to share with the public what she experienced on the Olympia City Council when dealing with Cooper, and what she heard about his time at Together, an Olympia-based nonprofit.
“When you have knowledge of something, with that knowledge comes responsibility,” Rogers said.
Rogers said she sat next to Cooper for two years on the City Council and heard him make inappropriate comments about members of the public during council meetings.
“They were disrespectful, they were demeaning,” she said. “And I felt like, ‘If you don’t respect these people, then why are you here?’ That was my own personal take on him.”
Rogers said she was told by several of Together’s current and former board members that Cooper struggled leading the nonprofit and that his staff threatened a walkout. Rogers said Cooper was fired after an investigation, and a gag order was placed on the nonprofit’s staff and board members.
“If you’re not good enough for Together, how the hell are you good enough for the county?” Rogers said.
Cooper said he was at Together for 6 1/2 years.
When asked to describe his departure, he said, “I had a mutual parting of ways with the board of directors. It’s a human resources conversation, and that’s all I’m able to talk about.”
The Olympian contacted several board members who said they couldn’t talk about Cooper’s departure. Together’s board president, Glenn Cramer, also declined to talk about Rogers’ claims.
But Cramer said the nonprofit is disappointed that it has been dragged into a campaign fight.
“Nobody — nobody consulted with us, nor did we provide any consent for any of these messages to mention our agency,” Cramer said. “And as a nonprofit, we would never endorse a candidate for elected office. Truthfully, this is a distraction to our important work.”
Boston Harbor resident Elizabeth Shepard, 66, who has been active in the state and county Democratic parties and endorsed Cooper, said she’s never seen a Thurston County Commission race turn so ugly.
She said PACs shouldn’t be allowed to put out what she described as “hate speech” for any of the candidates.
“It’s very discouraging for people like me who have been interested in politics for a long time to see things get so down and dirty,” Shepard said. “We have issues. We need to be talking about the issues. We don’t need to talk about things that are untrue and unprovable.”