Friday, October 12, 2012

Civility in Thurston County Conversations

Civility in Thurston County Conversations

By Janine Unsoeld

The League of Women Voters, an organization that supports voter rights and voter education, is acting to address the increasing apparent lack of civility in various political processes. 
The Thurston County chapter of the League has chosen this topic for a series of upcoming discussions in hopes of generating new ideas about how we can all contribute to civility within our democratic processes.

The definition of “civility” that has been adopted for the League of Washington State is: “Being civil does not mean being silent.  It does not mean avoiding contentious public issues.  On the contrary, healthy disagreement is central to a robust, flourishing democracy. Civil dialogue strengthens policy.  Only by considering all sides is it possible for us to make progress while keeping everyone’s dignity and democratic rights intact.”

Civility discussion meetings will be held Wednesday, October 17, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., at The Evergreen State College, Seminar Building II, A2107, and later that evening, October 17, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., at the Olympia Community Center, Room 200, 222 Columbia St. NW. 
A discussion meeting is also scheduled for the afternoon of October 16 in a League member's private home, and the home cannot accommodate a large group. Given the amount of interest already generated, a request was made by the League to just publish the location of the two Wednesday meetings.  

Cynthia Stewart, a local League board member, will facilitate the discussions.  In an interview today, Stewart expressed excitement in getting back to these in-person focus group conversations that the League used to sponsor in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

She will lead participants in discussions exploring the following questions:

1.      How important is civility to you in assuring that we continue to have a democracy?  How would you describe the degree of civility that you feel is important?  To what extent does the definition above describe your own attitudes about civility in democracy?

2.      How would you describe current national, state and local processes (e.g., campaigns and elections, legislative processes, regulatory processes, etc.) in terms of the extent to which they are conducted civilly?  What would you change, if you could?

3.      What are the boundaries of civility?  When is civil disobedience appropriate?  When is some other form of protest or engagement appropriate?  When are they inappropriate?

4.      To what extent does information or lack of information affect our ability to act and react civilly in our democracy?
5.      What could/should the League of Women Voters and individuals do to enhance civility in our democracy?

Stewart, a trained dispute resolution mediator, says she has learned that, when parties are in conflict, “the intensity of their anger is a reflection of the extent that they have needs that are not being met. It’s better to stop and ask what do they need and deliberate, acknowledge that, and try to address that need.”

In an effort to increase League membership and garner interest in a younger population, an intern from The Evergreen State College will work with the League starting in January to help with future focus groups and broaden membership.

The League of Women Voters is not just for women - it is open to men and women alike and tackles other topics such as health care, quality of government, education, transportation, and alternative energy. The League also researches and publishes detailed position papers on these topics.

Future focus group topics will be announced in the local League newsletter and on their web site each month. The League is also training moderators who can be available across the state to facilitate discussions of controversial topics. 

For more information and directions to meetings, go to the League web site,
Above: Disputing ducks earlier this week in Olympia near Percival Landing. They worked it out.

Andrew Barkis and Why He Wants To Be Our Next County Commissioner

Above: Andrew Barkis, candidate for Thurston County Commission Position #2, talks a lot with his hands during an interview in his office on Tuesday, October 9th.
Andrew Barkis and Why He Wants To Be Our Next County Commissioner

 By Janine Unsoeld

For months, one lone campaign sign for Andrew Barkis on Olympia’s West Bay Drive greeted me every day as I rode my scooter though town to work.  Gaudy looking, yellow, with black, girly-looking curly-que lettering, the sign says he’s “Honestly Refreshing.”
Running as a Republican for Thurston County commissioner Position #2, the position currently held by Commissioner Sandra Romero (D), I didn’t think much of it.

Then, the August primary garnered Barkis 47% of the vote, against Romero’s 52%, with no other challengers in the race. For the primary, only voters in that district could vote for the candidates. In the general, every registered voter in the county can vote for either candidate.

Since I do not live in that district, I kept waiting for our corporate and local media to enlighten me on who this person is, and how and why he managed to get a chunk of the vote. Two months later, eight local parades and ten debates and forums later, the campaigns for Thurston County commissioner Positions #1 and #2 and pressing county issues have still received no coverage or analysis.

So, with the ballots scheduled to be mailed in a matter of days, I still wondered. Who is Andrew Barkis? 
I called him up.  He said his property management office was on 4th Ave, near Ralph’s Thriftway and I was welcome to come on by. We coordinated a time for the next day. That was easy. So, two blocks up from The Olympian offices, I settled in to meet Barkis and asked him a few questions.

Barkis, 44, is physically fit and warmly engaging. Greeting voters at their doors since March, he says he’s covered 75-80 precincts, going to an estimated 15,000 homes. His i-Phone has a pedometer in it.
“It’s super accurate, it even tells me my elevation and calories burned,” Barkis shows me. “I’ve personally averaged 15-20 miles a month.  My team has done three times that."

The owner of Hometown Property Management, a firm he bought in 2004 with a business partner, Barkis’ company was honored several years ago as one of the top thirty property management companies in the United States by the National Association of Residential Property Managers. His company employs 20 people and is recertified by the organization every two years.

Barkis’ long list of civic experience includes being a long-time member and former chair of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Lacey Sunrise Lion’s Club. An Eagle Scout, Barkis is a long-time Boy Scout troop leader and current chair of the Boy Scouts of Thurston County. He has two sons, ages 9 and 18, with his wife Lisa, to whom he’s been married since 1992. Born in Chehalis, he is the eighth of nine children.

Asked about his unconventional campaign signs and slogan, Barkis credited his 19 year old nephew, Austin, a graphic designer. Austin asked him a series of questions:  "What’s your favorite color? Yellow. What’s your favorite drink? Coke, but I don’t drink it. (The font used for his signs is actually called the Coke Font.) What words do you hear described about you? Honest. What would you bring to the position of county commissioner? I’d refresh the commission, you know, like you refresh a page on your computer….and so on.”

“I like to think outside the box. I don’t want to do what others have done. I didn’t want red, white and blue.”

What made you want to run for county commissioner? What was the tipping point for you?

“I’ve always known deep down I’d be in public service, even as a kid. When I was chamber president, people were always asking me when I was going to run for something. I was asked several years ago in a meeting with Sam Reed, Kim Wyman and Gary Alexander. Over breakfast, they asked me what my plans were down the road. They were encouraging me but at the time I wasn’t ready.  Then, about two years ago, watching what was happening in the county, land use issues, and the budget crisis, it became apparent there was a need for new leadership. I was asked by several people to run. After two to three months of investigative work, I met with citizens, law enforcement, asked a lot of questions, and went on vacation with my wife to think it over.  We came back, and I was ready.”

Please be more specific about your concerns with “land use issues.”

"The County restarted the process of "updating” the Critical Areas Ordinance. The revision turned into a complete rewrite of the ordinance. The land use issues are far reaching. The inability to use your property, to build and or develop has been severely impacted. I am concerned, as this affects individual property rights. It affects the agriculture community, the industrial and business community. The process an individual or business has to go through to determine if they can use their land is complicated, and very expensive. The outcome of the process may render your land unusable all in the name of protecting our environment."

"There are other methods that can achieve balance in protecting our environment and still allow for the use of your property. The adaptive management approach is one way that is much more reasonable and has been adopted by other areas. Thurston County did not look at anything but the most restrictive in their process and the result is evident in the ordinance as adopted."

Asked what his county commissioner campaign was about, Barkis said leadership.

“Leadership starts at the top – we have fantastic people at the county in roads, the sheriff’s office, Resource Stewardship, all looking for clarification. My company is a direct reflection of my leadership. That’s at the core of what I’d bring to the commission, that private sector leadership and quality. County staff wants to be empowered to do more. Instead, what do they get? ‘We’re going to cut you and your position…’  I’m going to empower them and ask them ‘what can we do?’ They will excel and what comes out of that is better customer service, for all residents. Now, people feel like they’re putting out staff when they need answers.”

You’re a Republican. Some people have the opinion that all south county residents are Republicans, members of S.T.O.P. Thurston County or the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. Where do you live, and are you a member of S.T.O.P. or the Freedom Foundation?

“I have never been to a S.T.O.P. meeting and I’m not a member of the Freedom Foundation. I’m not a party guy (me:  oh, you mean the Republican Party) – right, a Party guy – although I’ve been a precinct committee officer for the Republican Party for two years now. I like the grassroots part of that and meeting tons of people.  For the last 13 years, I’ve lived near Lake St. Clair, six miles out from Lacey, in a 1950’s house, a fixer upper.  I grew up in a house in Chehalis that was built in 1894. I like old houses.”

“About S.T.O.P., Glen Morgan is a friend.  S.T.O.P. helps people find their voice, the same as Sandra helps people in Futurewise find their voice. That organization is as radical, or many times more so, than S.T.O.P. (Romero was a board member of Futurewise when the organization sued the county in 2008, and won, because Thurston County was out of compliance with the Growth Management Act). Socially, I’m a moderate Republican, and a fiscal conservative. I believe in small government, private enterprise, and I’m an environmentalist in the sense that I treasure where we live. I’m an avid outdoorsman. We bike, camp, and go backpacking….There’s nothing radical about me. I’m very principled.”

I asked Barkis about the sources of his endorsements and financial support.

“I’ve looked at the candidate PDC reports, and compared to the Democratic Party giving Wolfe and Romero’s campaigns $7,000 each, you’ve received just $600 from the Thurston County Republicans since the primary. You’ve received many contributions from individuals, business owners and organizations, and ranchers, many to the maximum allowed. Please explain.

“The Republicans aren’t the well-oiled machine that the Democrats are in this county….I have no agenda. I’m not beholden to the Olympia Master Builders, the Farm Bureau or the Realtors. They sought me out – it’s an honor to have their endorsements. It bothers me that I’m being mis-classified – and I’ve never sold real estate.  With the Master Builder’s, they asked to support me in a way that I thought was interesting. They asked if I would be willing to accept their endorsement and financial support. They represent painters, builders, carpenters, housing people who are employers in this county. Why wouldn’t I want their endorsement? So how am I going to work with them? The same way I do with everyone: find consensus and common ground. Most of my financial support is from individuals, business owners, and farmers…. I’m not beholden to anyone – I don’t have that line of 25 organizations expecting me to go in one direction.”

Asked about the feelings of south County residents, Barkis said he is happy to have the endorsement of Rainier Mayor Randy Schleis. “South county mayors feel grossly underrepresented and have started a mayor’s council. They want to be at the table….”

He says he doesn’t think the commissioners should automatically vote like a team.  “I keep hearing the commissioners say they’re a team, ‘we need to be re-elected’…That scares me. A commission should work together, yes, and demonstrate teamwork, but not operate as a unified voice without dissention. There are differences of opinion….”

Like the Critical Areas Ordinance and the pocket gopher? 

“It’s not good policy – putting them on the endangered species list is not necessary. There’s a cost attached to the Critical Areas Ordinance. These are big numbers….it’s a blanket proposal with no room for negotiation. We have to look at balance. How about industrial agriculture? We need cooperatives to grow and produce our own food – that will produce jobs, tax revenues. Let’s go to the people at the Economic Development Council (EDC) who know these issues the best and go after it!”

I thought the purpose was to list the gopher as an endangered species so we are not dictated to by the federal government as to what we can or can’t do here in Thurston County. It was pre-emptive. Isn't that want you want?

"I do not believe this is the case. I have heard this but the fact remains, they can advocate along with the community not to have this listed."

Let’s talk about impact fees. Thurston County isn’t collecting them and the county is growing. How do we pay for this? How should those fees be determined? And do we really have to believe the Office of Financial Management and Thurston County Regional Planning projections that x number of people are going to be moving here within 20 years?

“I look at those projected numbers and go hmmm…I believe they are put forth to establish policies and agendas. They use fear tactics that Grandma isn’t going to be able to get the bus stop because of all the traffic coming and we have to build more to meet those demands.  But developers are paying. The commissioners lump the Scott Homes, Gemini’s, and John Irwin Construction’s in all together with the Horizon’s and DR Horton’s.  Ask any builder what they have to pay. I question the current administration’s true purpose of the source of revenue. When I hear that the developer must pay their “fair share,” where will that money go?  If we’re going to have that conversation, everyone needs to be at the table. What is reasonable? Here’s what we need to offset, like roads and parks. You’re killing them collecting it up front. Why can’t we do it at the time of closing? That would be a mutual benefit for both the county and the builder.

What about the fees that were put into place in June?

“Let me show you testimony I gave to the commissioners.”  Barkis digs through his files and produces his remarks made during the commissioner’s public comment time on June 19th, 2012:

“Thurston County is proposing…to add yet another fee to the myriad of fees and costs that are already placed upon developers….Is this what is needed now as we begin to finally see a bit of light after a very dark tough economic time? As is so often, the cost/benefit approach is overlooked and replaced by a perceived revenue source….These studies are very clear on the counties (sic) goal of collecting revenue for developed and undeveloped parks. It is curious that this becomes the focus now as over the years, especially during tough economic periods, the parks are the first to be cut out of the budget….In reviewing the proposals it clearly states ‘several issues must be addressed in order to determine the need for the validity of such fees…the benefit of New Parks and Rec. facilities to the new development.’ I believe before we place yet another burden upon a segment of the population, the commissioners should look at the overall budget…Impact fees are not the answer, or the solution…the use of impact fees to dictate where and what type of development occurs is wrong on every level.”

Barkis added, “Nothing bothers me more when a government has trouble with their budget and the first thing they cut is services to seniors and police. What about parks?  The fact of the matter is, we’re not in good shape. The knee-jerk reaction is to cut expenses, but we need to look at things we can add. Increase our tax base and revenue stream. We have to be business friendly, and balance the needs of the environment. What are the roadblocks? I went to the Economic Development Council's real estate forum recently.  We have a great infrastructure, a skilled work force, the best location, the last remaining land available for manufacturing. It’s a recipe for success. Why aren’t they here? Regulations. It’s not easy. We have to change that, first thing.”

What regulations would you change - barriers to development - to invite businesses to Thurston County?

"I would look at the Critical Areas Ordinance and begin the process of discovery of how it can be altered. This is one of the first and biggest "roadblocks" - so much revolves around this. The permitting process, what and where things develop. There is much to be learned once in office. The key is listening to the citizens on what are the areas of hindrance. Learning the workings, focusing on bringing a customer service attitude into the court house.  A culture that realizes who the customer is and focuses on asking 'how can we be of service.'"

Switching gears, I asked Barkis about the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and asked his opinion on their groundwater study to put treated water back into our aquifer.

Barkis said, “It’s very concerning…I have a concern about what would be in that water, it getting in our aquifer, and have it come back in a couple years and then we say, ‘oops…”.
Asked if he thinks LOTT meetings should be televised, he said yes, but “don’t get me started on LOTT.” (Romero is the county commissioner representative to the LOTT Alliance.)

Barkis says he has many issues with LOTT, and believes the organization to be spending too much money. “There needs to be accountability. Where’s the accountability?” Barkis reaches for a nearby highlighter pen.

“It’s like this. I have an office manager who buys our pens. I have what, seven highlighters in my desk drawer.”  Barkis digs them out. “Do we need more highlighters? No. Turns out we have enough of them. With LOTT, there appears to be no oversight. They say they got a grant to do such and such. So what? Grants don’t come from God! They come from the federal government or the state – bottomline, us. That’s the difference between a private and public mindset.”

Pressed to go beyond highlighters, Barkis added:

“When I see the office complex they have built, the money they have put into the Eastbay Plaza etc. it is concerning. The dollars they are using are the People's. They keep increasing the rates. This has a direct effect on individuals, especially during these tough economic times. The rates are getting to the point where many can’t afford it. The money collected should be solely for the purpose of providing the service they were designed to do - process waste water. If money is needed to improve infrastructure and keep pace with demands on the system, that is one thing. If money is needed to improve technology to assure the water being discharged back into the Sound is safe and not impacting an already fragile ecosystem, then that is warranted. The other expenditures I question.”

“I find it interesting that we celebrate developing a public space in our community for families and children to play and splash in a stream created with "reclaimed" sewage water, but we do not work to clean up Capitol Lake….We have a beautiful lake in the center of our city that could be enjoyed in the same manner! Just saying!”

It’s time to end our interview, and asked him how he has been received overall. 

“People are great.  They ask me about my background, what my priorities are, and lots of questions about land use. We were in Tenino on Saturday….I’ve been in the South Capitol neighborhood, the Eastside, off Boulevard, Tumwater… great reception. I’ve had a few doors slammed in my face and my wife got bit by a dog… it’s tough sometimes, but when it’s all said and done, I will know we’ve done the best we could do.”

I asked Barkis where he likes to hike. 

“The Olympics, Hood Canal, Duckabush, Mima Falls, the Bald Hills... I like to ride my Harley to clear my mind, and ride the back country through Tenino, Yelm, Rainier, Tenino, Bucoda, cut down through Lewis County, back to Rochester…the backroads. “

Asked what he might be reading right now, Barkis said, “Killing Lincoln,” by Bill O’Reilly. “It’s pretty fascinating….The divisions in our country were so great. I see similar divisions now in our country and right here in our county….

“And,” reaching to some files surrounding his desk, “these,” plunking down a hefty stack of binders and red folder issue files. “I’m a quick read, I’m like a sponge. I feel like I’m getting my Master’s in Commissionership,” Barkis laughs.

“There’s an amazing transformation in campaigning. You campaign for a position, particular roles and responsibilities. Then, there’s a passion and a conviction that creeps in as you knock on doors and listen to people, a passion that supersedes the job description.  I have a passion for this county. I can make a difference and it’s huge.”

As of mid-day on October 12, according to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office, there were 158,100 registered voters in Thurston County, 64,970 registered voters in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, and 5,519 registered voters in the south county cities of Tenino, Rainier, Yelm and Bucoda. 

Regardless of location, there are voices throughout the county who do not feel they are being represented.

Andrew Barkis' is one of them.
Above: At the end of our interview, as the sun starts to go down behind him, Barkis shows off an enlarged copy of an article written about him on February 4, 2007, "Chamber leader knows power of perseverance," by The Olympian's then-business reporter Jim Szymanski.