They solemnly swear - really they do

Olympia - The elected officials of the new decade were sworn into office Tuesday during a jam-packed ceremony at the Thurston County Courthouse.

Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman administered the oath to 35 newly elected officeholders, including Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, who faces election for a four-year term next year; two Port of Olympia commissioners; two mayors; and numerous council members for the county’s cities and towns. Also present were commissioners for parks and recreation, fire protection and cemetery districts.

It was a standing room only crowd within the courthouse’s largest courtroom as friends and family shared in the celebration.

Voters elected to office more than 70 people last month. Some of them have already taken their oath because their terms start earlier than Jan. 1, Wyman said.

State law requires that election winners take an oath of office to be qualified to hold office.

If change was the mantra of the 2008 presidential election, it was reflected in local political circles the following year. Tumwater has a new mayor for the first time since 1994, with longtime Tumwater mayor pro tem Pete Kmet succeeding incumbent Ralph Osgood. The Lacey City Council saw three new members, its largest turnover in a single election in the city’s 43-year history. The Olympia City Council also saw significant turnover.

Many of the new officeholders will begin their terms in uncertain times as the bad economy is forcing public agencies to make tough choices: raise fees, ask voters to raise taxes or cut services.

In brief remarks, state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, read the famous beginning of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – to illustrate the competing demands that they will hear from their constituents.

“Government may be going direct to heaven or it might be going direct the other way,” he said. “A lot of that will be determined by the people in this room who are elected officials.”

Lacey City Councilman Virgil Clarkson, who won a fourth four-year term last month, and Lacey fire commissioner Skip Houser joined Hunt in offering their pearls of wisdom to the political Class of ’09.

Clarkson advised his peers to do their homework and be available to their constituents.

“Whether you know it or not, you’ve made yourself very conspicuous in your communities,” he said.

In a pointed remark, Clarkson also urged the nonpartisan officeholders to avoid “the certain creep of partisan politics around the council tables.”

Houser encouraged them to get to know the employees of their respective agencies. He advised them to listen “until your ears fall off,” including the criticism that he said can contain kernels of truth they need to hear.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427