At the regularly scheduled Thurston County Commissioner meeting last Tuesday afternoon, all appeared similar, yet different from the previous eight years of this Commission. The room is the same. The furniture, the flag, and even the staff are the same (well, except for the head of the health department who had already been fired by that time). However, the nametags, the mood and the new commission has changed.
There is still residual shock in Thurston County among political insiders about the election results from 2016. This is more than just the changing faces which exemplify the peaceful transfer of political control in a modern, healthy society. We are familiar with this at a national level, but it is just as notable when observed in a local setting. It is now officially the end of an era in Thurston County.
As we discussed late last year, the election results were unexpected. Many political insiders planned a political “coronation” of the same old political crew. Instead, there is real change at the Thurston County Courthouse. The new Independant Thurston County Commissioners Gary Edwards and John Hutchings and Bud Blake can now demonstrate why they were chosen by the voters over the poor “progressive” choices presented by the Thurston County Democrats this year.
There are many challenges confronting this elected body. As noted by community leaders throughout Thurston County, the historic commission was exceptionally abusive to the rural residents, and most of the planning staff enthusiastically joined and cheered this abuse. Pocket gopher taxes, Crap Taxes (based on phony data pushed by the recently fired Health Department Director) , and Rural Car Taxes, the concepts were consistently targeting rural homeowners. Title 26, bag bans, and a hostile permitting department also helped pave the political
path for reform. The process of cleaning up the historic problems and restoring faith in local government won’t be easy.
While the property rights abuses of the historic commission are well documented and common knowledge, the challenges facing the new commission extend into more areas than just how they abused the residents who live here. They will also have to face the mystery and confusion of the budget which has been opaque and questionable for many years. In the recently approved two year budget (an improvement over the previous one year budgeting process, and more in harmony with the state’s two year approach) the projection is that the County is ending 2017 with a reserve fund of approximately $8 million, but starting the year with $14 million. Where the extra money comes from and whether it exists at all is just one of the accounting mysteries worth solving.
A challenging history of mismanagement of resources will also need to be addressed by the new commission. The inevitable need to expand the new jail (which was designed to be too small and inadequate to serve the needs of the community before it was even built) will be costly. The fiasco and embarrassment of the 3400 building which cost $8 million and 18 years to take a $4 million asset and turn it into a $2 million asset still sits empty and unused. This property will probably need to be sold to someone who can at least take this money pit off the backs of the taxpayers. It is certain that many other landmines will be discovered as the new commissioners sift through the detritus from the previous commission.
Tuesday was the first official meeting with public comment for the new commissioners. It was a reminder of the many public comments made from that microphone over the last eight years begging commissioners Valenzuela, Romero, and Wolfe to start putting people first for a change in Thurston County. The people were typically ignored or ridiculed. Now, the politicians who ignored us are gone, and a new commission has arrived promising to listen. It is a nice change. Last Tuesday’s meeting was short. People clapped when the meeting ended, but the real work begins now.
We can learn lessons from the past, if for no other reason than to learn from mistakes. We also need to focus on the future and the common goal of making Thurston County a better and more prosperous place for future generations to enjoy. Let’s support the new Commissioners in this effort, but always remain watchful to ensure they don’t stray from these goals. Our community suffered enough under the Loony Tunes Commission, but there are still some special interests who believe cartoons should replace reality. It will require eternal vigilance to ensure that our commission doesn’t turn into another cartoon episode ever again.
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDER’S INTENT THAT GOVERNMENT BE CREATED BY THE PEOPLE, TO SERVE THE PEOPLE. IT WASN’T THEIR INTENTION FOR THE PEOPLE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT. IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH FAILED TO SERVE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE “ALTERED OR ABOLISHED.” UNTIL WE RETURN TO THE FOUNDER’S INTENT, WE REMAIN WE THE GOVERNED…