Relevant experience runs deep in Thurston PUD District 3 race

Incumbent Commissioner Chris Stearns faces three challengers for his Thurston Public Utility District seat, and all three have deep backgrounds in utilities, financial analysis or water systems.

The top two winners of the Aug. 5 primary will advance to the general election in November. Commissioners receive $1,300 a month, plus per diem and reasonable expenses. Thurston PUD is a water utility that 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.

PUD commissioners serve six-year terms.

Here are the District 3 candidates, most of whom recently met The Olympian’s editorial board.

•  Jesse Conwell, 38, is a utility and maintenance manager for Carlyon Beach Homeowners Association. Conwell views himself as the best person for the job because he has pertinent utility management experience.

He’s also not that impressed with the current PUD Commission because PUD general manager John Weidenfeller so often has to explain things to them.

“If you don’t know your own utility, how do you know how to ask the right questions?” he said about the commission. Conwell said the commission might be comfortable with on-the-job learning, but “I’m not going to have to be trained for six years.”

•  Dennis Pulsipher, 59, is a longtime Olympia resident. He’s also a former chief deputy assessor for Thurston County and a former employee at the state Department of Revenue. He currently is the chief appraiser for the King County Department of Assessments.

Pulsipher decided to run because he believes in PUDs, having been exposed to them growing up in Eastern Washington. “I appreciated the service and how active they were in the community,” he said.

He also was partly spurred to run after a phone call from the PUD that he found somewhat troubling. He was asked to appraise a water system in Pierce County, but ultimately declined the job due to a conflict of interest. But the conversation left him feeling like the PUD wasn’t as strong as he would like to see them in terms of analyzing and bringing on new water systems.

He finally decided that the PUD “needs additional help.”

•  Doug Swift, 47, is vice president of operations for Swift Asset Management, an investment business established by his father that currently is being liquidated. The business recently sold three water systems with 291 customers to the PUD, he said.

Swift, who also serves in the Coast Guard Reserve, said he is running for the District 3 seat because he thinks the PUD could be run more efficiently. He also thinks that the PUD is growing simply for growth’s sake and is forgetting its mission of providing safe, reliable and affordable water and services.

•  Chris Stearns, 57, who has a background as a fisheries biologist and worked for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he is defending his seat because he has strong beliefs about water, particularly groundwater — wanting to make sure that the county’s groundwater is protected, for example, from saltwater intrusion in north Thurston County and farm waste in south Thurston County.

Other water contaminant problems include iron and manganese, he said.

Stearns has raised about $2,900, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. The data didn’t show any specific contributors.

Conwell and Swift have chosen to do mini-reporting, which means they plan to raise and spend less than $5,000.

Pulsipher has raised about $4,300, PDC data show, including contributions from former Thurston County Assessor Patricia Costello and Port of Olympia citizens advisory committee member Clydia Cuykendall.