This is a pivotal election for the Olympia City Council because a majority of the positions are up for election. The decision of voters on Nov. 3 will go a long way toward shaping the future of the capital city.
After years of inaction by council members more interested in national and international issues than policing and potholes, the 2007 election brought refreshing change. Finally, Olympia had a decisive City Council that studied issues, made the tough decisions and got the city moving again.
A new City Hall is under construction, and the Hands On Children’s Museum will soon break ground on port property. A fourth fire station will be built on the east side, The new state employees credit union is ready for occupancy and the city has made significant progress on not one, but two, proposals to meet the decades-long goal of attracting market rate housing downtown.
Plans are in place for the first municipal parking garage, and a major road improvement project is under way on Boulevard Road, with Harrison Avenue and 18th Avenue improvements scheduled shortly. The council has purchased additional land for parks, created West Bay Park, pushed Percival Landing repairs to the top of the to-do list and acquired the city’s first freshwater swimming beach at Ward Lake.
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No longer is the Olympia City Council mired in the minutiae of a nuclear-free zone ordinance, angry port protests, a proposed community values ordinance or other nonsense. Yes, the isthmus housing proposal and the lake vs. estuary issues have been contentious, but no one can accuse Olympia of ducking the tough issues. Those who make tough decisions open themselves to public criticism. This is a do-something, not a do-nothing, council. What’s unfortunate is that some people may be one-issue voters. They cannot look beyond one council vote or action to see everything positive going on. That’s regrettable.
Today The Olympian’s editorial board offers its recommendations for the candidates we believe will keep this city moving forward — candidates with a variety of experiences and solid decision-making skills to tackle the issues that will come their way for the next four years.
VELDHEER VS. ROGERS
Karen Messmer is leaving the council. Seeking to replace her are two more Karens — Veldheer and Rogers. The Olympian supports community activist Karen Veldheer.
Rogers, 36, a policy analyst for the Liquor Control Board, has spent much of her campaign running against the current council. She’s primarily focused on the majority vote to uphold the planning commission recommendation to rezone three blocks of the isthmus to allow a mixed-use development, including 141 condominium units. Hers is a campaign of “no” — “no” on the housing project, “no” on the parking garage, “no” on the City Hall. Given her arrogant temperament we have serious concerns about her ability to work with her council colleagues and the city staff.
Veldheer, 37, has gained a reputation for her grassroots activism, helping her Cooper Crest neighbors resolve issues of substandard development that resulted in flooded crawl spaces under their homes. She is focused, determined to improve communication between the council and city residents and supportive of the need to balance economic development with environmental protections. She serves on the steering committee of the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations in Olympia.
Veldheer is much more even-tempered and willing to learn than her opponent. She will have a steep learning curve if elected on Nov. 3, but she, by far, has the better temperament to work with the other six council members. We support Karen Veldheer for Position 4 on the council.
BUXBAUM VS. KINGSBURY
In some respects Councilman Jeff Kingsbury has been his own worst enemy in the past year.
As a leader on the council, Kingsbury was instrumental in drafting the pedestrian interference ordinance, which has helped ease a thorny panhandling problem downtown. Kingsbury, 49, artistic director at Capital Playhouse, also played a pivotal role in drafting the Camp Quixote ordinance that has worked so well to house the homeless in Thurston County. His solid leadership skills have been a terrific benefit to Olympia and its residents.
But Kingsbury also has taken some missteps. He has sometimes treated constituents poorly, and he got caught up in the stupid practice of council members’ e-mailing one another during council sessions. It was dumb, and Kingsbury knows it. He says he has learned from his mistakes. It’s imperative that voters not judge Kingsbury on a couple of minor mistakes, but on his four years of hard work and his strong leadership on the council. He is not afraid of making tough decisions and he has been a solid supporter of nonprofit organizations in the community.
His opponent, Stephen Buxbaum, 54, a management consultant, is a disappointment. Ask Kingsbury whether he supports the lake or estuary option and he answers clearly and concisely — “lake.”
Ask Buxbaum the same question and you get a rambling answer about setting principles for negotiations and how, “we need to bring people together around a shared vision.”
Shared vision? Make a decision! Show some leadership. Based on his demonstrated ability to resolve tough issues, we encourage voters to re-elect Jeff Kingsbury to a second term on the Olympia City Council.
ROE VS. MACHLIS
This is an easy call. Joan Machlis, 60, retired owner of Wind Up Here, is head and shoulders above her challenger, Jeannine Roe, 52, a senior legislative assistant with the state Senate.
Roe is a one-issue candidate. She opposes the council decision to rezone the isthmus, and that appears to be the sum and substance of her knowledge about city governance.
We found her lack of knowledge about the city budget and spending priorities shocking. She’s myopic on the isthmus controversy, and totally ill-prepared to serve on the Olympia City Council.
Machlis, by contrast, has been an excellent council member. She is quiet in demeanor, but has earned a reputation as someone who studies issues in depth, asks the hard questions, comes to a decision and sticks with it.
As a former downtown business owner she gets it. She understands the importance of creating a thriving downtown that has a mix of housing, retail, restaurant and shopping experiences. She’s an advocate for economic development, but not at the expense of the environment. She understands the importance of an efficient transportation plan and how that’s an integral part of the city’s comprehensive plan — the guiding document for development of the community.
Machlis, who was appointed to a vacant council position in January 2008, is thoughtful, articulate and, most important, understands the breadth and depth of thinking necessary to run the complexities of city government. It was telling when Machlis said, “I have a passion for all of the issues.” That speaks of her desire to do the full job, not be a single-issue candidate like her opponent.
Elect Joan Machlis to a full, four-year term on Nov. 3.
SERMONTI VS. HYER
Councilman Joe Hyer, 36, co-owner of the Alpine Experience, is extremely bright. No one knows the city budget better than Hyer. The effort to build a parking garage would have stalled — yet again — were it not for Hyer’s pressure to keep the project alive. He also deserves credit for the city’s zero-waste plan, collecting stimulus funding for important road improvements and the acquisition of the Ward Lake property. No one can question Hyer’s council work ethic.
But he can be extremely indecisive. It drives his friends and supporters crazy. He’s for a lake. No, he’s for an estuary. No, dual basin is the best answer. He’s opposed to a park on the isthmus. No, he supports an isthmus park. Then there was his cop-out on the Capitol Way reconstruction project. He went right down the middle of that road — abstaining on the key vote.
That’s not leadership.
We like the direct, decisive approach of Tony Sermonti, 29, who until recently was a communications specialist with the state Senate.
In the lake vs. estuary issue, Sermonti came out early for the lake option and he has stuck with it. He supported the rezone on the isthmus and doesn’t waffle.
For a young man he has an impressive resume. He was appointed by Gov. Gary Locke to serve as the student representative on the board of trustees at The Evergreen State College and has been president of the Capital City Pride organization for the last two years.
Look for him to tackle the structural problems in the city budget. He’ll look for ways to build partnerships and treat people with the respect they deserve.
Voters looking for a fresh, new voice on the council will support Tony Sermonti on Nov. 3.