3 vie for Thurston PUD District 2 seat

About 18 months ago, Russ Olsen of Lacey, was appointed to fill the District 2 seat on the Thurston Public Utiltity District commission that was suddenly left vacant by former longtime commissioner Alan Corwin.

Corwin abruptly resigned with four years left in his term, which meant that Olsen, following his appointment, would have to defend the seat in 2014.

The defense is underway, but Olsen also has drawn two challengers: Brian Hess and Patrick Thomas, both of Yelm.

The top two winners of the Aug. 5 primary will advance to the general election. The winner of the general election will then complete the final two years of Corwin’s term, and then will have to decide whether to run again. PUD commissioners typically serve six-year terms.

Commissioners receive $1,300 a month, plus per diem and reasonable expenses. Thurston PUD is a water utility, which owns 158 water systems and manages 15 others inside and outside the county. It has about 3,500 customers, 42 percent of whom are in the Tanglewilde area near Lacey.

Here are the District 2 candidates, most of whom met The Olympian’s editorial board on Wednesday:

-Brian Hess: Hess, 47, currently is a full-time student, finally pursuing his education after spending 25 years in the Army. He was recently a student at South Puget Sound Community College and now is pursuing a degree in computer engineering at the University of Washington Tacoma, according to his LinkedIn profile.

It’s a nonpartisan race, but Hess said he was encouraged to run for political office by friends in the Thurston County Republican Party. He’s also a Republican precinct committee officer for precinct 704, he said.

Hess said he decided to run for the PUD seat because water is an important resource, but he’d also like to raise the profile of the PUD in the community. After doing his own research, he was surprised at the number of people who know nothing about the utility, making him think that the PUD is “more of a trustee than a representative form of government.”

-Patrick Thomas: Thomas, 38, is set to retire from the Washington Army National Guard after a 15-year career in the military. He was unable to attend the edit board Wednesday because he’s not allowed to actively campaign while he’s on the clock. But Thomas decided to run for the PUD seat for two reasons: he wants to continue to serve his community, just as he has done in the military, but he also was spurred to action after he was affected by an e-coli breakout in a Yelm-area water system last year. He said it took about a month to resolve, and that experience “really got me interested in our infrastructure.”

Thomas is working toward a bachelor’s degree in political science at Saint Martin’s University.

-Russ Olsen: Olsen, 39, is a longtime Lacey resident who attended North Thurston High School, Saint Martin’s University and received his MPA from Seattle University. He is the director of the Washington State Pollution Liability Insurance Agency, and previously worked for the state Department of Ecology as a unit supervisor for the voluntary cleanup program unit.

As a member of the commission, Olsen Wednesday singled out one major accomplishment for the PUD and talked about a future goal. The accomplishment, which is a first for the PUD, was to establish an asset management plan for the PUD’s water systems, including establishing a timeline for replacing water system equipment and the cost to replace that equipment. A future goal for the PUD is to offer wholesale broadband service in the county, and the PUD has asked Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater to partner and explore “the feasibility of providing low cost, limited broadband wireless service in the geographical area of the three cities,” according to a news release that Olsen distributed at the editorial board.

Olsen has so far raised about $4,700 for his campaign, according to state Public Disclosure Commission data. Contributors include Lacey City councilman Michael Steadman, Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder and state Sen. Karen Fraser.

Thomas has chosen to do mini-reporting, according to PDC data, meaning he plans to raise and spend no more than $5,000.

Hess said he’s not raising any funds at this time.