Olympia faces many challenges, especially in downtown areas that have been adding new housing and residents. How our capital city takes its next steps to foster a thriving commercial hub is just one of many issues in this year’s election for four City Council seats.
Other concerns are bolstering public safety in the city core, finding solutions to the regional homelessness crisis, facing sea level rise and figuring out how to add some 20,000 new residents over two decades into the city.
Mail-in ballots for the Nov. 7 election are going out this week.
After interviewing all but one of the candidates (who canceled his interview) The Olympian Editorial Board recommends that voters re-elect incumbents Jim Cooper and Jeannine Roe — and elect appointed councilman Clark Gilman, who faces an up-and-coming challenger in Max Brown.
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In the fourth race for the open seat, veterinarian Lisa Parshley and local attorney Allen Miller are both intelligent candidates but have shortcomings. We wish voters had additional choices.
Position 4: CLARK GILMAN
Either candidate could serve, but Clark Gilman has served well since his appointment to fill a council vacancy. In particular Gilman showed leadership over funding a daytime winter warming center for those living on the street during the coldest winter months.
Though the center now appears a dead issue for the next winter, Gilman outlined a passionate, articulate argument for why our community (and neighbors) should fund it.
Gilman, a public-school teacher, former builder and union official, is patient and appears to have better listening skills than his rival. He is backed by many environmentalists and Democrats.
Max Brown is a former Planning Commission member and works for state government. Brown brings the important perspective of someone still in his 20s. He shows compassion for the city’s street residents, has experience with land-use issues and his backers include a former Democratic governor, legislative lobbyists and real estate interests.
Brown is quick to shoot down others’ ideas as impractical. Yet he’s offered impractical ideas of his own — namely rent control and impact fees for new projects in north downtown areas, which are at risk from sea-level rise. Even if state lawmakers authorized such impact fees, the cost might only be a small deterrent; it would generate too little to fund meaningful projects.
Overall, Gilman is the more seasoned choice.
Position 5: LISA PARSHLEY or ALLEN MILLER
Lisa Parshley brings fresh perspective as a veterinarian who operates and owns two clinics in the city that employ 40 people. She has displayed creativity and problem solving in her professional life and helped created a pilot project in Seattle schools to bring more racial diversity to her profession.
Like Allen Miller, she favors favors rapid rehousing, outreach and services to address homelessness, which is already part of the city’s effort to revive the downtown, and she favors incentives and zoning to ensure affordable housing is available to lower income families. She is also committed to finding regional solutions to homelessness and wants to improve the city’s transparency so the public gets more involved in government issues.
On the down side, Parshley lacks government experience and created drama around her candidacy by registering to vote in the city while registering her motor vehicles in Boston Harbor, outside city limits. This was a foolish mistake pounced on by an opponent who lost in the primary. Parshley admitted the mistake, and the Thurston County canvassing board ruled she was properly registered to vote in Olympia.
Rival Miller is a civic-minded lawyer who has served on the Olympia School Board and city Planning Commission. His views on housing and homelessness are similar to Parshley’s.
Miller has worked over several decades advocating for open space around the north end of Capitol Lake and the isthmus. Though he ran unsuccessfully for public office, including Thurston County commissioner last year, Miller was co-chair of a campaign that won city parks funding in 2015.
Miller has his own Olympia law firm. He is alone among candidates in pushing the city to buy and demolish the decaying high-rise office building that is already proposed for redevelopment on the city isthmus next to the lake. He appears wedded to keeping the dam that impounds the Deschutes River as a man-made lake with poor water quality and he is overly optimistic about getting permits to dredge its decades of accumulated silt.
Most disconcerting, Miller’s been eager to embrace rejected science as if it were authoritative for deciding whether part or all of Capitol Lake should revert to an estuary. Parshley favors an estuary but favors good science.
Neither candidate earned our trust or endorsement, though either candidate could serve well enough. But Parshley is more likely to bring a new, assertive voice to city discussions.
Position 6: JEANNINE ROE
Two-term incumbent Jeannine Roe was swept into office after the city’s divisive experience around a multistory development on the city isthmus nearly a decade ago. The controversial project was ultimately scrapped.
Roe went on to help foster good city programs for downtown Olympia. One was the Downtown Ambassadors project, which along with merchants helps to remove debris and human waste from city sidewalks and alleys. It also provides a link to the city’s street population.
Roe was also a force behind the Artesian Commons park project, which has yet to fulfill its promise downtown. She has working relationships with the downtown business community, which is important to the downtown revival.
Rollins is a younger candidate who helped co-found the Just Housing advocacy group. She has worked with Downtown Ambassadors. Rollins would bring a more direct voice for those struggling on city streets, which is a valid reason to support her. Rollins has run a positive campaign. We hope she stays involved and seeks a later opening.
On balance, Roe is a steadier voice. Her experience and centrist approach can help the council work through controversial issues, including redevelopment on the isthmus.
Position 7: JIM COOPER
Cooper, an incumbent, is challenged by Daniel (Danny) Marsh. Both candidates are military veterans and neither is reporting campaign fund-raising, But Cooper is a known quantity and the only choice in this race. Marsh is running below radar.
Cooper’s been in the public eye for years ever since he led the Thurston County Democrats but with varied success. He lost a bid last year for county commissioner, advocated for a since-scuttled $15 minimum city wage ordinance and tried to stir interest in a county charter proposal that got no traction.
But in his council role, Cooper has displayed some finesse in building coalitions that get things done. As the council’s chief architect of the 2015 parks measure, he included language to ensure that the new tax funds may be used only for parks.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was updated to emphasize that neither Lisa Parshley nor Allen Miller earns our endorsement.