Thursday, May 10, 2012

Olympia Councilmember Karen Rogers To Run For County Commissioner

Above: Olympia City Councilmember Karen Rogers today.

Olympia Councilmember Karen Rogers To Run For County Commissioner

by Janine Unsoeld

In an announcement made first to this blog, Little Hollywood, Olympia city councilmember Karen Rogers today announced her decision to run for Thurston County Commissioner, District 1, currently held by Cathy Wolfe.

Wolfe, who is in her third term, is running for re-election to the four year position. Wolfe's re-election website includes supporters such as fellow county commissioners Sandra Romero and Karen Valenzuela, and Olympia city councilmember Jim Cooper.

Rogers' press release states that the top issue she will address is bringing more jobs to Thurston County. Other top issues Rogers will focus on are maintaining crucial services - public safety, roads, and public health - by budgeting responsibly, and making government open, respectful, and responsive to everyone throughout Thurston County.

"North County is well represented on the Commission. South County residents, however, feel like they've been ignored and mistreated. And based on what I've seen, I think they're right," Rogers said.

In a telephone interview and a brief in-person follow-up interview today, Little Hollywood blog reporter Janine Unsoeld asked Rogers questions about her decision and thoughts on several subjects.

Janine Unsoeld: Why are you running for commissioner?

Karen Rogers:  I care about our community and want to serve where I can do the most good.  Thurston County residents expressed the need for open-minded leadership, for someone who can get us through these tough economic times, listen to everyone from all sides, and make balanced decisions. And many of them encouraged me to take the fight to the county level.

As an Olympia city councilmember, I have a proven track record of being fiscally responsible, listening to all sides, fighting for everyone’s right to be heard, and making balanced decisions.  I want to bring that experience, commitment to fair-play and ability to bring people together to work for our shared goals to Thurston County government.

As an Olympia city council member, you recently ran for Olympia mayor and lost in the primary. How would you respond to people who think you may not be happy in your current position?
Former Olympia councilman Craig Ottavelli once told me that people in our community approached him and said that I was the only councilmember who spoke for them — I was their only voice on the Olympia city council.  Being in public office isn’t easy, but knowing that I’m providing a voice to people who would otherwise be unrepresented or overlooked makes everything worth it.  Being an elected representative truly is an honor and a privilege.

Thurston County certainly covers the political spectrum.  Are you hearing from the STOP (Stop Taking Our Property) rights coordinators?
People who have asked me to run include Democrats, Republicans, independents, Tea Party members, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, business owners, retirees, environmentalists, progressives, property-rights advocates, etc.  Right now, people in Thurston County are far less concerned with party lines than they are with issues.  A good example of this is the Community Renewal Law (CRL).

In July/August of 2011, the Olympia city council voted on whether to use the CRL to establish a “renewal area” in downtown.  I voted against this for several reasons, one of which is that the CRL greatly expands eminent domain (legally forcing people to sell their land).  There are times when eminent domain is truly necessary, but it should only be used as a last resort.  Two of the STOP coordinators attended the council meeting following the CRL vote, and they thanked me for voting against it.  But they weren’t the only ones who thanked me.

Business owners also realized how the CRL can — and already has — discouraged investment in downtown.  To use the CRL, the Olympia city council has to claim that areas of downtown are “blighted.”  Calling an area blighted scares away people who would otherwise invest in downtown, drives down property values, and harms the area’s reputation.  It simply isn’t good for business.

Are you able to run for commissioner and retain your council seat?

Yes.  See the Washington State Attorney General’s Office list of incompatible offices.

Would you resign your city council seat if you won the Thurston County Commissioner seat?

I'd like to hear from voters about that.

You used to work with the Washington State Liquor Control Board and left that position in December. What are you doing now for income?

Everyone is welcome to see my income statements through the Public Disclosure Commission.  In addition to serving on the Olympia city council, I receive rental income.  I’m also setting up a home-based consulting shop to help small business owners adjust to Initiative 1183, the liquor-privatization initiative that passed in 2011.

Running against Wolfe, how would you have voted differently from her?

I personally like Cathy, but there are areas where I would have voted or worked differently.  For example, I felt that the No Shooting ordinance was a distraction.  It took two and a half years of staff time and five revisions on an ordinance that, right from the beginning, the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the county sheriff said was unnecessary. Why pursue a problem that the sheriff says doesn’t exist?

The ARC is a big issue. (The county Accountability and Restitution Center, otherwise known as the jail.)

Our $45 million dollar empty jail. If you put a measure on the ballot and ask the voters to decide, your must respect their decision.

What about the ongoing update to the Critical Areas Ordinance?

Environmental regulations must be based on good, validated science. Regulations must make sense, be understandable, and show a clear need. Most of all, they need to help people, not hurt them.

There’s a fellow by the name of Jon Pettit who owns property along the Deschutes River, and serves as an example of what I would do differently. 

Mr. Pettit's property has been in his family for generations, and they've had small camping spots along the river for decades. He allows various groups like the Boy Scouts fire fighters to camp there without charge, and he's set up port-a-potties to keep the area clean. The County told Mr. Pettit that he must get permission from the county, and pay tens of thousands of dollars, to continue allowing campers. As a commissioner, I'd honor this as an exempt, grandfathered activity and direct staff to focus on more pressing problems.

Can you work with Commissioners Romero and Valenzuela?
I hope to work with the commissioners just like I do at the city - respectfully and professionally. Our county is diverse, and the Commission should reflect that. The key is to listen, be professional, and always remember who you work for. And when you do disagree, it should be done respectfully and kept to policy.

Thank you Councilmember Rogers.

Rogers' press release states that voters can learn more about her campaign by calling (360) 628-7052 and speak with her directly.