Monday, October 8, 2012

The County Commissioner Candidates, the Farm Bureau, and Those 'Background Noises'

Above: The October Grand Mound Chamber of Commerce monthly lunch meeting featured guest speakers Karen Rogers, above, who is running for Thurston County Commissioner Position #1; Kim Fry of the Rochester School District speaking about the charter school initiative; and Port Commissioner Jeff Davis and staff from the Port of Olympia to discuss their 2013-2025 strategic plan update.

The County Commissioner Candidates, the Farm Bureau, and Those 'Background Noises'

 By Janine Unsoeld

At a candidate forum held last week featuring all four candidates running for the Thurston County Commission, several questions and answers concerned land use, local agriculture and food security, new development, and the efforts to help local farmers diversify the marketing of their produce. Other issues were discussed (see County Commissioner Candidates Speak About Issues, October 1, 2012,

The newly revised Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) was mentioned by the incumbents, Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe, as a successful accomplishment, as well as the county’s new Agri-Tourism Overlay District Ordinance, promoted by the current commissioners as a way the county can help farmers better promote their products.

Not all are happy, however, with either ordinance. County commissioner candidate Andrew Barkis (R), who is challenging commissioner Sandra Romero (D) for Position #2 which covers Lacey, Yelm, and Rainier mentioned at last Monday’s forum that the Farm Bureau has sued the County over the new CAO.

Karen Rogers (D), who is challenging commissioner Cathy Wolfe (D) for Position #1 which covers Olympia, Tenino and Bucoda, also has issues with the Critical Areas Ordinance and says the new Agri-Tourism ordinance is not working. Rogers just received the endorsement of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce this week.
There are other differences of opinion on other issues. These four candidates and these two separate, but intertwined environmentally-related county actions, and the endorsements and financial backing received by each candidate reveal what is a politically, socially, culturally, economically diverse Thurston County.
The county commission race is worth examining in terms of votes received in the August primary, the amount of money raised and spent by candidates, where the money is coming from, issues that may be unique to south county residents and overall commission structure and representation.

The Thurston County Farm Bureau Lawsuit

On September 24, 2012, the Thurston County Farm Bureau filed a petition for review with the Growth Management Hearings Board challenging revisions to the Critical Areas Ordinance (Ordinance 14773) which the Thurston County Commission adopted on July 24, 2012.

The petition is asking the hearings board to find that the County's ordinance is non-compliant under the State's Growth Management Act and that its provisions violate state law. It states that “the county failed to provide adequate public process, added provisions affecting agricultural uses and lands in violation of state law, attempted to define "existing" and "new" agricultural uses and then regulate both in a discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal fashion." It goes on to say that the new CAO also hindered fish and wildlife habitat and recovery efforts by imposing requirements for the management of timber and agricultural land in violation of state law.

The Thurston County Farm Bureau, an advocacy organization for farmers and ranchers in Thurston County, believes that the adverse land use effect of the ordinance serves to damage property rights and interfere with owners' reasonable use of their land. There are nine people listed on their newsletter masthead as 2012 board members, one of whom is Glen Morgan, best known for his organizing activities associated with the S.T.O.P Thurston County property rights group.

According to the press release, the Farm Bureau, local farmers and rural residents attempted to discuss various alternatives with the Thurston County Commissioners which would promote agriculture, preserve the environment, and protect property rights.

"The Commissioners dismissed efforts to develop consensus language and adopted this ordinance without allowing the pubic to comment on the final draft. We believe that the Commissioners' actions were illegal, unwise, and just plain wrong. They left us no choice except to file this appeal," said Raul De Leon, President of the Thurston County Farm Bureau in the press release.

Asked to comment on the Farm Bureau lawsuit, Commissioner Romero said yesterday, “We are confident that our ordinance will sustain a legal challenge…Since we were one of the last counties to update our ordinance, we learned from other county ordinances. We are right in line with our neighboring cities and counties who have not been challenged or who have sustained challenges. During the two plus year update, we have worked closely with the State regulatory agencies.”

Asked whether or not the lawsuit was expected, Romero added, “We expected the Farm Bureau to appeal to the Growth Board, mainly because they have threatened to do so from early on, even before the ordinance became law.

Those ‘Backroom Noises’ in south County

Meanwhile, everyone in the room at last Wednesday’s Grand Mound Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon meeting, all 30 of them, while dining on pasta and meatballs covered with tomato sauce, green beans, salad and rolls, already seemed to know about the Farm Bureau lawsuit.

But it wasn’t county commissioner candidate Karen Rogers, who gave a brief presentation to the group about her positions on various issues, who mentioned it – it was Port of Olympia Executive Director Ed Galligan.

Galligan, there along with Port Commissioner Jeff Davis and Mike Reid, the Port’s development director, was there to sell the Port’s draft Vision 2025 Strategic Plan Update to chamber members and the south County community on its goals.

At the beginning of his presentation, after apologizing for being overdressed (Galligan was the only person in the room wearing a suit and tie), he joked about being in south County where “you know what Sandra Romero thinks of you and the Farm Bureau lawsuit,” receiving big chuckles from the audience.

What prompted this remark was that Rogers, at the end of her presentation, had just been asked by an audience member what she thought of Romero’s comment at the September Lacey Chamber of Commerce meeting, where Commissioner Sandra Romero was heard by audience members to imply that south County resident concerns “were just background noise.”  

Rogers, who was also a speaker at the Lacey Chamber candidate forum, said, “I spoke before Sandra, so I didn’t get to respond, so I was jealous of Andrew – he got in the last word!”  

The September Lacey Chamber of Commerce Forum

At the Lacey forum held September 5th, moderated by former Lacey Chamber president Stewart Ridgeway, Ridgeway asked the candidates a series of questions. Their last formal question was, “Do you feel that the Thurston County commission represents all the opinions and values of Thurston County?”

Rogers responded first, saying, “No….and referred to several residents in south Thurston County and their issues and concerns.

Romero followed Rogers, saying, “You know, we spend a lot of time in Thurston County listening to people and you can’t please everybody – there’s become a bigger divide once the Freedom Foundation, a special interest group, got really active two years ago in Thurston County and there’s a lot of background noise coming from that sector but Lacey is a great place to do business and one of the things that we talk about at Thurston Regional Planning is where should business occur – should they occur in a sprawled out way in the county where there’s no infrastructure or should businesses occur in the cities where there is the infrastructure – the roads, the sidewalks, the sewer – all the things that help in that three legged stool that businesses need and that attracts businesses. PKMM Advanced Technological Solutions were in Lakewood and Lacey stole them.”

Challenger Andrew Barkis pounced on Romero’s comments.

“I don’t think people of this county would appreciate being called ‘background noise’. The voices of the people of this county are not background noise and the Freedom Foundation is one group, along with many other groups, both right and left, that have helped people find their voice. We may not agree all the time but at least they’ve helped them find their voice….It is concerning, there is a divide and whether it’s caused by one organization or another, any agenda is going to cause that divide. We need to work together to bring them back together for the common good of this county, to be a voice that helps them – it’s the business community, it’s the agriculture community, it’s all voices, south, north county, it doesn’t matter, we’re not going to agree on everything…. We have to find a way to make it work because after all, the people of this county are the boss.”

Asked yesterday to clarify or comment on her ‘background noises’ comment, Romero responded, “I never said, nor implied, that south County residents were 'background noise.' The comment pertained to S.T.O.P. and its campaign of misleading information, not to citizens of any part of Thurston County. The organized voice of the Freedom Foundation and the Thurston County Farm Bureau has been filled with misinformation. This misinformation has made it difficult to sort through what legitimate issues are out there and what the made up issues are. We believe we addressed the legitimate issues in our new Critical Areas Ordinance and shed light on the made up issues. Spreading misinformation does a dis-service to all our citizens.”

Meanwhile, back in Grand Mound…

At the Grand Mound Chamber of Commerce meeting, people stayed to chat with the guest speakers.

Asked by this reporter what she thought about the speakers and about her role with the chamber, Kay Crookshanks introduced herself and said, “I’m a financial planner here in Rochester. I’ve lived here 18 years – I moved from Mill Creek. I love it here. I think we’re just very underrepresented and overregulated. When you have commissioners in the county that say things like, “we’re going to make this the greenest county in the United States, that’s scary.”  Another chamber member standing nearby nodded in agreement.

“And I’ll tell you something, when you come here wearing a suit like that, (referring to Galligan) you’re either here to sell me something or coming from a funeral,” Crookshanks laughed.

Donna Weaver, a civic leader and real estate broker with DreamWeavers Real Estate in Rochester, was also asked what she thought of the day’s presentations.

“In a nutshell, I believe that people who are in power who feel justified in placing emergency ordinances which impacts thousands of families for no other reason than to fulfill their own agendas need to be replaced. Personally, I like our commissioners, but politically, I’m at complete odds with them. They feel justified and fully believe they’re doing the right thing, but they don’t consider the impact to the wage earners. Families are every bit as important as the environment.”

Asked to be specific, Weaver said she organized two Rochester Roundtable discussions with the commissioners last year to discuss local economic development issues and the difficulty and expense of getting county permits to start new businesses in existing buildings.

“Come here, let me show you.” Once outside, Weaver pointed out the buildings across the street from the Rochester School District Building on Highway 12.

“See those buildings?” said Weaver, pointing down the street. “These have been fixed up and are rented out. ‘I was told this one,’ she said, pointing straight ahead, ‘was too old to fix and has septic system issues. The building next door looked similar prior to cleaning it up – the new owner cleaned it up. So what happens? Prospective businesses walk away and go to Lewis County. They welcome small businesses with open arms and try to make it do-able. Thurston County is not nearly so welcoming to the small business owner.”

“From gophers to $2500 permits, the commissioners are turning our town into a ghost town. We’ve made progress, but I think for the most part, we’ll do better with new commissioners or at least diversify if nothing else.”
The County Commissioner Race By The Numbers
For Position #1, Cathy Wolfe received 32.62% of the vote, and Karen Rogers received 30.01%, with Ken Jones, taking 25.02% and George Barner taking 12.34%.

According to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) C-4 reports filed show that, as of August 31, Wolfe raised a total of $19,355.97 for her race and had spent $15,137.74. Rogers, during this same time period, raised a total of $21,211.01 and had spent $19,531.38.

In the primary, for Position #2, Romero received 52.62% of the vote. Barkis received 47.38% of the vote. No other challengers participated in this race.

According to the PDC, C-4 reports filed show that, as of August 31, Romero had raised a total of $32,630.42 for her race. Her expenditures totalled $23,405.38. During this same time period, Barkis had raised a total of $39,119.93 and spent a total of $30,118.39.

The next monthly campaign C-4 reports are due to the PDC on October 16 for the period of September 1 through October 15 and these numbers will have increased by thousands of dollars. Voters can view the candidate's weekly C-3 reports filed since August 31 by the candidate’s campaign treasurer.

Since August 31, Wolfe has raised $16,650; Rogers has raised $8,605.64; Romero has raised $14,435; and Barkis has raised $11,795.

In terms of overall fundraising so far, Barkis, as of the latest filed PDC reports, is in the lead with the most money raised, $50,914.93. Romero is second, with $47,065.42; Wolfe is third, with $36,005.97; and Rogers has raised the least, at $29,816.65.

Where the money has been raised is also important. During this time frame since August 31, for example, both Wolfe and Romero each received lump sums of $7,000 from the Thurston County Democratic Party. Rogers, a Democrat, did not receive an endorsement or funds from the party. Because she isn't a Republican, she has not received money from the Republican Party either. Barkis, a Republican, has not received money from the Republican Party during this time period.

The PDC doesn't keep statistics on whether campaigns have broken recordbreaking campaign finance amounts, said Jennifer Hansen of the PDC today, but the individual candidate records are searchable back to the year 2000. To go back further depends on how much database entry has been accomplished.

According to this reporter's research of PDC reports, Romero raised an amount in 2008 that stands as the second highest ever amount raised and spent for a Thurston County commission campaign to win her current position, raising $73,320.40 and spending $69,456.57 in her race against Jon Halvorson (D).

But no one tops Kevin O'Sullivan (R), who ran against Bob Macleod (D) for county commissioner, Position #3. He raised a whopping $110,461.92, and spent $99,403.07.

O'Sullivan lost the election.

Little Hollywood transcribed the quotes from the September 2012 Lacey of Chamber of Commerce event of Romero’s and Barkis’ remarks from

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission website is and is very user-friendly. They are located at 711 Capitol Way #206, (360) 753-1111 or 1-800-601-2828.
Above: Vacant and leased-out buildings line State Highway 12 through Grand Mound.

Port of Olympia Seeks Public Comment on Strategic Plan

Above: This seagull told this reporter that he has already read the Port of Olympia's Vision 2025 - Strategic Plan Update, but found it woefully lacking in detail. When asked for specifics, he said he was especially concerned about their future gull management plans.
"I am very upset with the Port's current method of gull eradication, but I can't go to this week's public hearings. All the meetings are indoors, and I have no access to the internet or a phone. My only method of communication is to poop on their cranes. I have done that once, and I'll do it again, in hopes the Port Commissioners will get my message," said Mr. Seagull, earlier this morning.

Port of Olympia Seeks Public Comment on Strategic Plan Update

by Janine Unsoeld

The Port Commission invites Thurston County citizens to provide input to the Port's draft of the Vision 2025: Strategic Plan Update 2013-2025. The draft plan is available for review on the Port website and comments will be taken until October 22. The 36 page plan features big print and several full page color pictures.

At a meeting on Wednesday of the Grand Mound Chamber of Commerce, Port staff updated chamber members on its goals and informed them of the strategic plan update and upcoming public open houses.

Port Commissioner Jeff Davis and Mike Reid, the Port’s development director, outlined the port's goals to dredge and clean up Budd Inlet, increase rail activity at the Marine Terminal by 25%, complete the revitalization of the East Bay District, develop the Swantown District, work with the City of Tumwater to generate 15 acres of commercial development and 30 acres of industrial development on Port owned Tumwater properties, increase port related direct jobs by 25%, invest in the community, increase public understanding of Port activities, and identify the Port's baseline carbon emissions and work to reduce or offset those emissions.

The public open houses are:

October 9, 5:00 -7:00 pm

*Presentation at 5:30 pm
Thurston County Fairgrounds, 3054 Carpenter Rd, Lacey

October 10, 7:00-9:00 pm

*Presentation at 7:30 PM
Airport Terminal Building, 7702 Terminal Street, Tumwater

October 11, 6:00-8:00 pm

*Presentation at 6:30 PM
The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia Street NW, Olympia

Copies of the plan will be available at the open houses. The Port Commission is currently scheduled to make a decision on the plan at the November 5, 2012 Commission meeting.

For more information, go to or contact the Port at 915 Washington St NE, (360) 528-8000.