Lacey turned 50 years old as a city last year, and the town once known for its sprawl of homes and a shopping mall has come of age. In the next few decades it is likely to grow larger than Olympia with more than 30,000 new residents anticipated by planners.
How Lacey handles this growth is among the issues in this fall’s City Council races.
Five council seats are on the ballot this year, but only two seats drew more than one challenger.
The race for position 7 on the council drew four candidates in the primary, and the two top finishers, Carolyn Cox and Ken Balsley, are moving to the Nov. 7 ballot.
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The position 6 race features first-term incumbent Michael Steadman and challenger Robert Motzer.
Mayor Andy Ryder, Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt and newly appointed council member Rachel Young are running unopposed.
Given the complex challenges facing Lacey, it needs robust leadership in this critical time of growth possibilities. Provincialism is no longer viable for this community; leaders must see beyond the city limits, grasp regional development trends and be open to new ideas. They need to welcome the city’s diversity.
Coming to grips with the homeless campers and encampments that are emerging is something else the city must grapple with — sooner better than later. There are new business districts in the city that are slow to fill out; there is also a need for bus service in the city’s northeast quadrant.
On balance, Cox and Steadman are the best options for voters. Cox, a state employee, is running for the open seat held by local leader and icon Virgil Clarkson, who is retiring. Cox brings experience from the city Planning Commission, which she chairs. Cox has a broad view of growth and wants to prepare the city for it.
Balsley is retired and writes a newsletter on local matters; he is a die-hard Lacey booster and history buff. Though he’s often been an abrasive voice or gadfly in the community, he says it is time for him to go from throwing pebbles at the outside of the tent to going inside the tent where decisions are made.
To his credit, Balsley gained some experience to do that. He served on the city historical board and is chairman of the city’s parks board.
Overall, Cox is the more moderate voice. And where she looks out to looming city and regional challenges, Balsley represents more of a return to the past.
The candidates differ sharply on the growing challenge of homelessness in Lacey, which shows its face with tent encampments. Cox rightly sees it as a regional problem that all jurisdictions have a role to help answer.
Balsley is taking a more hands-off view on homelessness, though he wants a stronger voice for Lacey on intergovernmental boards that deal with transit and other issues. He cites his support for the city’s hub that links military veterans with counseling, jobs, housing and other help.
Both candidates want bus service for the northeast county’s Jubilee development and to see the Lacey Gateway area develop.
In the other race for position 6, incumbent Steadman is a Marine Corps veteran and forthright about his intentions. He owns a small business that manages properties in South Sound. The challenger is Robert Motzer, also a veteran, who works as a civilian trash-hauler at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
Steadman says public safety is a top concern, and he represents the city on the regional emergency services board. He favors work on a regional plan to deal with South Sound’s homeless crisis, and he’s gained helpful experience in his first term.
Motzer said his top priority is working with veterans and adds that he has helped homeless people through a weekend faith ministry in Olympia. But he lacks experience in government and could benefit from serving on an advisory board or committee first.
Some of Motzer’s goals appear in conflict. He wants lower taxes, economic growth, completed road projects and looser regulations, but investments in infrastructure are needed to attract business. His belief that business growth and looser building regulations will cut housing costs is unproven, but worth debating.
Both Steadman and Motzer hope to spur development in the Lacey Gateway area and get local bus service extended well north of Interstate 5.
In the end, Carolyn Cox and Michael Steadman look like the better bets.