emergency weblog; or: epersonae; or: elaine nelson

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Candidate forum, my thoughts

Some impressions of the 2009 candidates for Olympia city council.

Categories: General

Last Thursday the neighborhood association had its general meeting, the main part of which was a candidates’ forum. In my official role as Secretary, I took notes during the first (non-candidate) part of the meeting, and then kept time (sorta) during the forum. I’ve been musing on the forum and the candidates since then, and thought I’d try to pull my thoughts together. (Somewhat obvs note: these are not official ENA opinions, just my own.)

Port commission

The port candidates were mostly notable for drawing impressively weird questions. First guy got subjected to a long rambling question…about a crosswalk in front of Madison School. WTF, dude? Srsly? “I just wanted to get that out there.” Took all my self-control not to bull-rush over Nathan and tell the guy to STFU and wait to ask someone who could actually do something about it. Second guy also got a long rambling question, this time about whether he’d consider zero point energy as a green power source for the Port’s operations. The answer was something along the lines of: “sure, we’ll look at anything if it’ll save us money.” One thing I did not know that I found somewhat curious: the Port dropped out of the Thurston County Regional Planning Council, allegedly because of the cost. That’s something I’d like to look into a little more. I’m not terribly engaged in this rate, obviously: since I can’t even remember the candidates’ names! But that might be something to tip me one way or the other on the one race that’s contested.

City council

It’s a big year for city council elections…the big issues being centered, alas, around one tiny corner of the city. Everyone’s all het up about the isthmus and the lake.

For my non-Oly readers: isthmus = should the city raise height limits on a section of downtown. Lake = should Capital Lake (note: adjacent to isthmus!) be returned to a natural estuary…not that the city actually gets to make that decision, BTW.┬áIt’s worth mentioning that most of downtown is artificial, and about 2 inches (exaggerated for effect) above sea level.

On that note, pretty much every candidate, council or port, got asked about global warming, sea level rise, and WTF the candidate in question plans to do about it. Most of the answers were variants on “we’ll have to look at that,” although somebody (can’t remember who!) mentioned a study while Fouch was mayor that included an option for sea gates or something.

There’s also a lot of energy around whether the city should be building a new city hall downtown, esp since it won’t have any parking, and it’s costing a bunch of money when the city is hurting elsewhere. Two thoughts about that: it would be good to know how much the city is saving by consolidating all their cheesy little buildings, and from my experience at Pierce, it seems to be vastly easier to get money for building something than to get money to just run stuff.

More impressions, in order…

  • Karen Rogers – the battle of the Karens. I didn’t have a strong preference for one or the other before the forum, and I’m not sure if I do afterwards. Rogers gave sort of a strange statement, mostly repeating issues that people had complained to her about during our picnic in August. Not so much what she thought might be able to be done about it, though. She went way over time, too, IIRC. On the other hand, she strikes me as someone who is exceptionally competent and thorough, which are qualities that I really appreciate. Not a great campaigner, but maybe a good public servant?
  • Karen Veldheer – Veldheer gets my undying admiration for one thing: she was the only candidate to make her initial statement under time. She makes quite a bit of her experience as president of her neighborhood association (and they had to do battle over stormwater issues with the same developer who wants to develop the isthmus), and having done that, I’ll say it’s a good experience dealing with people, some of who are pissed off about things that you have zero control over. (See question about crosswalk above.) She has the charismatic public presence that Rogers lacks, but I’m not sure if she has the same level of expertise. My hunch is that we’d do pretty well either way.

Here’s a thing…I’ve noticed some people in Olympia disparaging state employees, especially when they run for public office. I don’t know what’s up with that. The state is a big employer in this town, and one that in many cases gives the kind of expertise one assumes is useful in city government. So it seems only natural that those folks would be attracted to council positions. But there’s this resentment (?) from some people who aren’t state employees. Why is that, exactly?

  • Steven Buxbaum – in the interests of fairness…C is a big fan of Buxbaum, we even have a yard sign…the first one we’ve ever put out in all the years we’ve lived together. So I was predisposed to like him. That said, I was surprised at how much I was impressed by his statement, particularly the nuanced way he talked about the housing issue. He gave a very smart concrete example that was NOT downtown, and something where the city might have an influence: a mobile home park for seniors over on the Westside, where the owners of the property (?) are seeking a zoning change to allow commercial. If the zoning change goes through, then it’s likely the seniors will lose their housing, and almost certainly have no other options for independent living. That’s the kind of thing that makes me think he’ll be a good addition to the council.
  • Jeannine Roe – another race where I came in with no opinion, but this time I think I may have been tipped, and by what might seem like an odd thing. She primarily talked about being a life-long Olympian — which as you might imagine doesn’t necessarily mean a lot to me — but when she rattled off a list of issues she wanted to tackle, she mentioned making parking in downtown free again. Uh, no. After “listening in” on C’s urban studies classes, I think free parking is pretty much the last thing we need. (See the work of Donald Shoup for details, or Google for “high cost of free parking.”) I wasn’t entirely sure I heard her correctly, so I visited her site a couple of days later and yes, she does want to making parking free in downtown. So my somewhat eccentric reasoning leads me to support Joan Machlis — who wasn’t there, but it was the first night of her MPA classes, so I understand.
  • Joe Hyer – I was most struck by Hyer’s level of energy. I don’t know if he gets his coffee by IV or something, but wow, a big fast energetic speaker. Probably the most physical of any of the candidates, lots of talking with hands and so on. Someone asked him if he could defend the isthmus decision, since he was the only member of the current council present. (In addition to Machlis, Jeff Kingsbury was absent, in his case because he was in a theater performance.) His response was interesting — no, he couldn’t, since he’d voted against it, but he followed that by saying that if people didn’t want the rezone, it was his job to follow that; if people want a park in that space, it’s his job to somehow make that happen. He also talked quite a bit about how he was still learning, that governing the city is a big complex job, not just about these few things that people get all fired up about. I always appreciate someone who can handle that level of nuance.
  • Tony Sermonti – is this seat the baby-face position? Weird visual symmetry between Sermonti & Hyer that way, although their dress was entirely opposite: Hyer the outdoorsy guy, as I suppose fits his main business, with down vest and all, Sermonti in a snazzy suit. (Note to Sermonti: I think Oly is not so much a suit kinda town.) I actually felt bad for him, because he was totally off-key on the isthmus issue, and walked right into it. I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made for developing that space (and personally I don’t give a damn about the view question), but he sure didn’t make it. He came off as classist — there’s too much subsidized housing downtown, not enough that “people like me” can buy (as an aside to the aside: what makes him think he could afford one of the proposed townhouses?) — and high-handed. That got highlighted when Mark Derricott asked him a “philosophical” question, and he responded in part by saying we don’t live in a representative democracy. I’d like to think he got that sort of backwards: we don’t live in a direct democracy, but (in theory) a representative one, in which we elect people to make decisions for us. But wow…his actual response just about set the room on fire. Thankfully, C spoke up quite loudly from off in the corner of the room, and suggested that since this was the last candidate of the evening, perhaps we should break for snacks and one-on-one conversation.

I didn’t get much of a chance for that last, since I was cleaning up my notes, taking dues from random people, and otherwise doing ENA business. I did get a chance to bitch about bike lane conditions to Buxbaum, who mentioned a couple of his least favorite spots as well. But all in all, I’m glad I had a chance to go to the forum. (And I’m extremely grateful to Bev Kooi, the ENA board member who actually called all the candidates and invited them, plus arranged for the location. Bev is teh hawesome.)

Finally for those keeping score, here’s my “endorsements”…

  • Position 4: flip a coin
  • Position 5: Buxbaum
  • Position 6: Machlis
  • Position 7: Hyer

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