Editorials

Lacey voters should look beyond fire dept. issue

Three long-serving incumbents on the Lacey City Council have drawn strong opposition from challengers eager to unseat them.

In many respects the Nov. 3 election is a referendum on the city’s handling of a contentious contract dispute with Lacey Fire District 3. The dispute is between the council members and the three elected commissioners who manage the sprawling fire district. The city does not have its own fire department and instead contracts with the fire district for fire and emergency medical services.

After a nasty dispute between the elected officials over management of the fire district, adherence to the contract and how money and firefighting resources were being deployed, the council this year gave notice that it does not intend to renew the contract when it expires and would, instead, investigate forming a city fire department, leaving the district to cover the rural area.

The dispute led to the closure of a crucial Hawks Prairie fire station, competing lawsuits and eventually an agreement for the city to pay an additional $400,000 to reopen the station.

The fracas also motivated unionized firefighters – who were caught in the middle of this management dispute – to launch an all-out effort to unseat three of the four council members up for election. While no one can question their right to back candidates of their choosing, the fact that firefighters went to the Democratic Party to recruit candidates unnecessarily politicized what are supposed to be nonpartisan council races.

That’s unfortunate.

But true to their word, the firefighters are working their hardest to unseat the three incumbents. Firefighters are going door-to-door soliciting votes, erecting yard signs, working behind the scenes, donating dollars and outmaneuvering and outworking the incumbents.

We encourage Lacey voters to look beyond this single issue. The city and fire district managers are continuing their negotiations, and a 30-member citizens advisory group has been studying the issue for months and will have a recommendation this year.

While the fire issue is an important public safety question, it’s not the only issue facing the city of Lacey, which has undergone phenomenal growth in recent years and faces serious transportation, water and infrastructure demands as a result.

We encourage Lacey residents to look at the candidates and their experience and vote for well-rounded candidates able to provide leadership on the myriad complex issues that will come before the council over the next four years.

That’s what The Olympian’s editorial board did in our endorsement interviews.

Our recommendations:

PRATT VS. BURGMAN

It’s time for a change. Ann Burgman, 66, a funeral director, has been on the council for 16 years. Yet when we asked her to name a couple of issues where she led the way for policy decisions, Burgman could not provide a single example beyond full-council decisions. That’s because while Burgman has been a contributing council member and reliable listener, she has not taken leadership roles.

Challenger Cynthia Pratt is a well-qualified candidate.

Pratt, 66, retired as an environmental planner with the state of Washington. She has a solid background in state environmental policy and land use laws. Given Lacey’s anticipated growth, Pratt has the ability to be a tremendous source of information and leadership on growth management issues coming before the council.

Pratt has a modest amount of leadership experience, having been appointed by the governor to serve on the county boundary review board. In discussing the fire issue, the need for strong transportation infrastructure and creating walkable communities, we found Pratt to be analytical and articulate. She has a vision for a united community guided by reasoned growth balanced with environmental protections.

Voters should support Cynthia Pratt on Nov. 3.

RYDER VS. DARBY

Unlike Burgman, John Darby has proven himself to be a capable leader on the Lacey City Council. He deserves a third term.

Darby’s challenger is 35-year-old Lacey native Andy Ryder.

Part of the job of every challenger is to make a case why the incumbent should be replaced. Ryder falls short in that regard.

While Ryder rightfully chastises Darby for his votes against Lacey’s homeless encampment ordinance, we found Ryder to be fragmented in his thoughts and lacking a clear vision for where he wants to lead the city. Maybe it was nerves, but Ryder, who is self-employed, had the same problem at the recent candidate forum sponsored by The Olympian and the League of Women Voters. Ryder is a smart local businessman who shows great promise for future public service. We encourage him to volunteer for the planning commission or other city advisory groups to learn the internal operations of City Hall.

Darby, 34, who is chief executive of a company that specializes in technology solutions for the health care industry, stumbled badly in his last term when he helped steer an annexation that personally benefited him because he was about to build a home in the development. Darby denies any wrongdoing, but the ethical lapse is of concern. The question is: Does it disqualify Darby from consideration for reelection?

We don’t think so. Darby has demonstrated his leadership abilities on issues ranging from a new paramedic unit in the Lacey area to one-bin recycling. He understands the challenge to continue providing the same level of service to the public with revenue constraints. In a council with several former public employees, John Darby brings a valued connection to the business sector to the Lacey City Council and merits re-election on Nov. 3.

LAWSON VS. SACKRISON

Ron Lawson, an extremely likeable, grandfatherly man, clearly has the best interests of Lacey at heart. He demonstrated that when he motivated his 22nd Avenue neighbors to go to City Hall and fight a procedure that gave city residents too little input in land use decisions in their neighborhoods.

He won that battle.

Lawson, 71, seeks to bring his broad professional experience in real estate, construction and advertising to the City Council. He understands that Lacey has worked itself into a “real pickle” by not having sufficient water to meet expected growth.

A colorful character who speaks his mind, Lawson is running for all the right reasons. And while we appreciate his exuberance and his passion for city issues, Lawson simply lacks the leadership experience necessary to direct the council and empower the community at this pivotal time. Lawson’s theft of his opponent’s yard signs shows his political immaturity and lack of judgment.

Graeme Sackrison, 66, the incumbent, retired as legislative liaison for the state Employment Security Department. He has been an excellent representative of Lacey, having served several terms as the council-appointed mayor.

Sackrison believes the council handled the fire district issue responsibly given the circumstances, but holds out hope that ongoing negotiations can resolve the dispute by year’s end to the satisfaction of both sides. He rightfully says that this issue isn’t about firefighters, it’s about management of the fire district where he says the chief and commissioners acted “without due care.”

Sackrison’s goal is to stay on the City Council long enough to see the Gateway Project to fruition. That’s Lacey’s hard-fought vision to bring jobs, housing, entertainment, retail development – and yes, tax revenue – to the Hawks Prairie area creating, in essence, Lacey’s downtown. Cabela’s is a great first step.

Gateway is a terrific vision for Lacey and Sackrison deserves another term to turn that vision into reality.

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