Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Olympia Approves Pathway to Trail System

Above: Charlotte Olson, 92, walks off the Chehalis Western trail to her residence at The Firs, an independent living facility on Lilly Road in Olympia, on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Olympia city council approved the purchase of a pedestrian and bicycle access easement from Ensign Road near The Firs.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Making a dream come true for many seniors, the Olympia city council approved on Tuesday night the purchase of a pedestrian and bicycle access easement near The Firs, an independent living facility on Lilly Road in Olympia.

The city will construct and maintain the pathway which will provide access to and from the Chehalis Western trail system from Ensign Road.  

Installation will require the removal of one tree and some vegetation trimming around a streetlight which will also be installed. 

The project is expected to be completed by September or October.

First reported by Little Hollywood last summer, residents of The Firs had worked for over two years to gain safe access from the edge of the facility’s property to the trail. Many of the residents use canes, walkers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters.

The hazardous connection is from the end of the property’s sidewalk at the end of Ensign Road to a steep, 65 foot dirt path that drops several inches, then dips down into the middle of a drainage ditch, and rises again to meet the trail.

The city had neglected to obtain the right of way when the facility was built in the 1980s and the property owner, Olympia PropCo, LLC, denied the city access.

Negotiations between the City of Olympia and property owners stalled.

Finally, an offer of compensation and a settlement agreement was reached in March. The easement will cost the city $24,000.

Residents of The Firs are thrilled with the news.

Sherman Beverly and Freeman Stickney, along with several other residents, were active in presenting a petition to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee signed by residents asking the Olympia City Council to take action on the issue.

Beverly and Stickney each served as resident council president and expressed joy upon hearing the news on Wednesday.

Max Rheinhardt, executive director of The Firs, said he is excited for the residents.

“I’m excited that it’s come to fruition,” said Rheinhardt on Wednesday, crediting the efforts of MBK Senior Living, The Firs’ management company. He said the facility will hold a grand opening for the pathway when it is complete.

Above: “It's a nice trail, says Charlotte Olson, 92, as she comes off the Chehalis Western Trail, navigates the steep dirt path, and steps onto the sidewalk at the end of Ensign Road.

Charlotte Olson, 92, was seen walking off the Chehalis Western trail on Wednesday to her residence at The Firs. Olson is excited about the completion of the pathway project. With the assistance of a cane, she takes a half hour walk on the trail nearly every day and enjoys seeing the dogs and bicycles. 

“You gotta keep moving!” she said as she entered The Firs.

Keith Edgerton works across the street from The Firs as the Providence St. Peter Hospital Sustainability Coordinator. He is also the hospital’s employee transportation coordinator as part of its commute trip reduction program.

Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to the residents of The Firs at the time, a neighborhood pathway application to the city had been independently written and submitted in mid-2015 by Edgerton, on behalf of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association.

“We are very excited about this new trail connection to Ensign Road from the Chehalis Western Trail,” said Edgerton.

“We offer incentives for alternative forms of transportation commuters and have bike lockers, bike cages and bike racks located around our campus so we hope this new trail connection will make it easier and more enticing for employees and the public to ride their bike to the hospital. 

“Our hospital is committed to improving the quality of life for our community so we are just as excited for this new ADA accessible access to the trail for all of the retired folks and hope they feel more comfortable accessing the trail safely after the new trail connection is installed. 

“Providence St. Peter Hospital is very appreciative of The Firs ownership for granting an easement to the city of Olympia to allow this trail connection to be built,” said Edgerton.

The Chehalis Western trail system offers 56 miles of paved, uninterrupted trails, allowing access to regional businesses, homes, work, and recreational activities.

To read Little Hollywoods July 31, 2017 story, Seniors Denied Safe Access to Trail System, go to

Port of Olympia Seeks Clearer Vision

Above: The Port of Olympia has launched a new initiative, Vision 2050. A 27 member task force, which includes Chris Richardson, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, and Rhys Roth, Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, above, met for the first time on Tuesday.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Eager for a fresh start after ousting executive director Ed Galligan last month, the Port of Olympia has embarked upon a public outreach initiative called Vision 2050. 

A 27 member task force is charged with helping port staff and consultants interpret public feedback that will help shape how the port will look, feel and function in the years ahead.

Task force members were handpicked by port staff, its project consultant, and Thurston Regional Planning Council staff. They met for the first time Tuesday afternoon at the Lacey branch of South Puget Sound Community College. Eighteen task force members were in attendance, and one called in on speaker phone.

The public process is off to a rocky start. 

Notice for the meeting was sent out at 2:20 p.m. on Monday afternoon only to those who were already on the port commission agenda email list. A press release, social media postings, and links on the Port's website announcing the initiative will be posted Wednesday, said staff.

“While I understand the short notice wasn't ideal, it still fell within the 24-hour notice required for public meetings,” Jennie Foglia-Jones, Port of Olympia communications manager, told Little Hollywood on Tuesday morning.

The port's website for Vision 2050 is and is expected to go live on Wednesday.

No port commissioners were in attendance, but acting executive director Rudy Rudolph was present throughout the meeting. One member of the public was present. 

Vision 2050 Purpose

The meeting agenda included an overview of port functions and financing by Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association.

“We are fundamentally about community control of important assets such as waterfronts, airports and industrial areas,” he said.

Throwing the doors wide open, Johnson said ports have a lot of flexibility in what they choose to do, adding that ports now have the authority to own and operate tourism facilities.

It was Marc Daily, executive director of Thurston Regional Planning Council, who asked about the elephant in the room – port acceptance of controversial cargo such as military cargo and ceramic proppants - and asked whether or not the port has a choice in what it decides to accept.

Johnson walked back his comments saying the port has to abide by certain laws such as the Federal Shipping Act of 1984 which states that terminal operators cannot unreasonably discriminate in the provision of terminal services.

Throughout the two hour meeting, task force representatives asked questions, obviously unclear about their role, what they were being asked to do, and why.

Staff responded that the project’s scope of work was approved by the commissioners. 

While the commissioners adopted its current strategic plan in 2017 and like it, they are open to feedback. Depending on the feedback, the commissioners may go back and revisit the plan, said Foglia-Jones.

“The primary responsibility of the task force is to ensure we design a comprehensive and inclusive engagement process, interpret community input accurately and translate those ideas into a vision and action plan that ensures the Port remains prepared, impactful and sustainable in the years ahead,” she said.

The task force is anticipated to meet approximately five times between June 2018 and August 2019 and will be responsible for presenting a recommended vision plan, with strategies and actions to the commissioners for consideration and adoption.

It is unclear when the group will meet again, but it may be several months or up to a year.

The consultant and his team will interview selected community members, conduct an online survey, offer presentations and forums, and use social media to collect public feedback.

Questions posed will include: 

When you think of the Port today, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

The Port funds operations through multiple business lines. What do you consider priority areas for future revenue growth?

Looking forward, what do you perceive as the Port's most significant barriers to success?

Over the longer term, where do you think the Port should focus direction and/or investment?

Public Involvement

With fifteen minutes to spare in the agenda, task force members were asked to review and endorse the consultant’s proposed public engagement plan.

Helen Wheatley of Olympia holds one of the four public-at-large positions but was unsure of her role and hesitated to endorse the process. She said more time is needed to ensure representational community engagement.

She wondered about the methodology for identifying stakeholders and expressed concern that the group wasn’t being asked to provide input into the study or the outreach methods.

“The actual request for proposals for this project says the Port of Olympia is seeking assistance in the development of a community vision for the Port of Olympia. It also says it would be in alignment with the update to the Port’s Strategic Plan, she said.

Referring to a 2012 citizen survey conducted by the Port of Olympia, she wondered what the port plans to do with the information it gathers about community values and preferences if it is not in alignment with the port’s current strategic plan.

She is requesting that the public make suggestions about organizations that should be on the task force.

“Organizations that should really be on this committee list need to be alerted that this is happening,” she said.

Above: Helen Wheatley, in pink, provides feedback to Thurston Regional Planning Council staff during a meeting of the Port of Olympia Vision 2050 initiative.

Task Force Members

Travis Matheson, Task Force Chair, Vice-Chair, Port of Olympia Citizens Advisory Committee
Stephen Bramwell, WSU Extension/South Thurston Economic Development Initiative (STEDI)
Michael Cade, Thurston Economic Development Council
Jeff Choke, Nisqually Indian Tribe
Josh Cummings, Thurston County
Todd Cutts, Olympia Downtown Alliance
Marc Daily, Thurston Regional Planning Council
John Doan, City of Tumwater
Ann Freeman-Manzanares, Intercity Transit
Michael Grayum, City of Yelm
Brian Hardcastle, Tumwater School District
Brad Hooper, North Thurston School District
Teri Pablo, Yelm Community Schools
Ray Peters, Squaxin Island Tribe
Drew Phillips, Public-at-Large
Bryan Reilly, Olympia & Belmore Railroad
Chris Richardson, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation
Rob Rose, International Longshore Workers Union Local #47
Rhys Roth, Center for Sustainable Infrastructure at The Evergreen State College
David Schaffert, Thurston Chamber of Commerce
Bill Sloane, Olympia Yacht Club
Keith Stahley, City of Olympia
Shanna Stevenson, Public-at-Large
Shauna Stewart, Experience Olympia & Beyond
Dr. Tim Stokes, South Puget Sound Community College
Rick Walk, City of Lacey
Helen Wheatley, Public-at-Large

For more information about Port of Olympia issues, go to Little Hollywood, and type in keywords. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mistake on the Lake Deconstruction Underway

Above: The ongoing deconstruction of downtown Olympia’s much reviled nine story building provides a surreal view through the buildings framework to Budd Inlet, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains. The almost unencumbered view has not been seen since 1964.

Mistake on the Lake by the Numbers

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The scene is surreal.

With window frames and outer metal sheathing removed, a stunning sight looking north from the Washington State Capitol Campus toward Budd Inlet, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains is revealed through the buildings framework for the first time since 1964.

It is a visual tease that will not last long and gives false hope to those who may think that downtown Olympia’s much reviled nine story building is coming down once and for all.

We are talking about, of course, the building best known as the Mistake on the Lake, or the Capitol Center Building. The building at 410 Fifth Avenue is now known as Views on Fifth.

The owner, Ken Brogan, his investors, and representatives successfully navigated city permit processes and appeals to create a mixed-use commercial and residential building of the same height and two, three story buildings nearby.

City staff said on Monday that they do not have a schedule for the project, but estimate that it should take about a year to complete.

Above: A City of Olympia hearing examiner approved the redevelopment proposal for Views on Fifth. A public hearing on the project held January 9 lasted nearly six hours, with one five minute break. Hundreds of community members were in attendance.

Although the project could have been handled by the city, the building is so controversial that the city deferred to a hearing examiner to determine whether the proposed project is a permitted use within the urban waterfront-housing zone, and if it complies with all city codes.

“The Capitol Center Building is unattractive and its location is truly unfortunate. In a perfect world it never would have been constructed, and it could not be constructed today,” wrote City of Olympia hearing examiner Mark Scheibmeir, in his decision dated February 2.

The building cost two million dollars when construction started in 1964 and was completed in 1966. Although the state department of archeology and historic preservation deemed that it was eligible for the national register in 2013, it was never listed.

Above: The deconstruction of the nine story building as seen earlier this week in downtown Olympia.

Mistake on the Lake by the Numbers

2,000 + pages of case documents were available to the hearing examiner related to the redevelopment project.

$1,500 dollars was spent on overtime for additional City of Olympia police presence the night of the hearing on January 9. Despite advance chatter of possible disruptions, there were no known police actions related to the meeting.

1,022 new weekday daily trips are expected to be generated by the project. The applicant will mitigate the traffic impacts by payment of a traffic impact fee of $167,224.83.

248 wooden pilings are under the Capitol Center Building, according to a civil and structural engineer for the applicant. The timber is sound, according to a 2012 analysis.

200 feet from the Ordinary High Water Mark of Budd Inlet is a northeast parking lot adjacent to the project. It is owned by several individuals, some of whom own Views on Fifth through a different corporation. Ownership of the parking lot was jettisoned by the applicant, ostensibly to circumvent scrutiny by the city and state Shoreline Management Act jurisdiction. The applicant asserted that there was no evidence in the project record suggesting improper future ‘piecemealing.’ Just in case, the hearing examiner added a condition that precludes the applicant from using the parking lot for commercial use without undergoing a Shoreline Management Act review. This does not include parking on the property.

143 units of rental apartments are anticipated, some of which are defined as live/work spaces. These are defined in International Building Code as a dwelling unit or sleeping unit in which a significant portion of the space includes a nonresidential use that is operated by the tenant.

60 percent (over) of Olympians voted for the creation of a Metropolitan Park District in 2016. Purchase of the Capitol Center Building was specifically part of the ballot language, with the hope the area could be made into a park. 

15 feet is the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) of the southeast corner of the Capitol Center Building, which lies within a Flood Zone. City ordinance requires the Capitol Center Building to be flood proofed up to 16 feet BFE, or one foot. Sea level rise in downtown Olympia is predicted to be one foot by the year 2050.

7 former Governors of the State of Washington, some of whom who have since passed away, represented by local attorney Allen Miller, who want the building removed: Albert Rosellini (deceased, 2011), Dan Evans, John Spellman (deceased, January 26, 2018), Booth Gardner (deceased, 2013), Mike Lowry (deceased, 2017), Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire.

7 magnitude earthquakes are the standard for minimum design loads for buildings and other structures in Western Washington, relied upon by the International Building Code and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 

6.8 was the magnitude of the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. The Pacific Northwest is overdue for an earthquake larger than magnitude 7. Current simulations and research generally focus on the possibility of a magnitude 9 for the region.

For more photos and information about the Views on Fifth, or the Views on 5th, Mistake on the Lake, Capitol Center Building, owner Ken Brogan, downtown Olympia, sea level rise, flood events, King Tides, the proposed hotel, or the isthmus, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search button.

Editor's Note/Clarifications, June 19: Little Hollywood made a couple numerical corrections to this story. Little Hollywood appreciates the feedback.

Above: Children play in the Heritage Fountain in downtown Olympia earlier this week.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Stronger Latinx Community, Una Fuerte Comunidad Latinx

Above: Bill Fishburn, president of the Hispanic Roundtable of the South Sound, gives Olympia immigration attorney Steffani Powell a hug after Powell gave a passionate, 30 minute speech detailing the repercussions of the Trump Administrations immigration plans and policies.

South Sound Hispanic Roundtable Summit Highlights Community Resources, Immigration Issues

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Una fuerte comunidad Latinx, A Stronger Latinx Community, was the theme of the first Hispanic Roundtable of the South Sound community summit held in Tumwater on Friday.

About 200 people attended the event held at the Capital Region ESD 113 event facility in Tumwater.

Many were representatives of area schools and colleges, state agencies, and nonprofit, community agencies that serve the Latinx population in Thurston, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Mason and Pacific counties.

Cosponsored by Educational Service District 113, participants were invited to collaborate, create conversations, and identify opportunities, gaps, and barriers regarding Latinx access to employment, housing, public health, education, legal, financial, and community resources.

According to 2016 Washington State Office of Financial Management statistics, Latinos comprise 12 percent of the Washington State population. Thirty-two percent of Latinos in Washington are immigrants. 

Latinos comprise eight percent of Thurston County’s population and 10 percent each of Lewis, Grays Harbor, Mason and Pacific counties.

Above: Business cards and organizational materials were exchanged throughout the day as new relationships were forged during conversational sessions at the Hispanic Roundtable community summit on Friday. 

Left to Right: Maira Ramirez, Kaleidoscope Play and Learn facilitator at Child Care Action Council, Karin Verrill, League of Women Voters Thurston County, Aleyda Cervantez, program assistant for outreach services at Highline College, Carlos Ruiz, president, ALPFA Seattle, an organization that promotes opportunities for Latinx advancement, and Pat Dickison, immediate past president of the League of Women Voters Thurston County.

The summit’s timing meant that recent national and state immigration issues and policy shifts focusing on Latinx youth, children and families took center stage.

Olympia immigration attorney Steffani Powell’s voice broke as she described the Trump Administration’s immigrant deportation plans and policies and the hundreds of parents and children who are currently being separated.

“Trump’s vision of America is exclusionary….As of last Sunday, 300 of the 550 children currently in custody at U.S. border stations had spent more than 72 hours in custody…almost half are younger than 12,” she said.

On Thursday, it was confirmed that as many as 120 asylum seekers were transferred from Texas to the federal detention center at SeaTac. The group consists of mothers who arrived with their children seeking asylum and were prosecuted for unlawful entry. Their children are being held elsewhere, with their location unknown to the mothers.

A solidarity day of action at the SeaTac Detention Center in support of the mothers being detained was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Above: Olympia immigration attorney Steffani Powell described the Trump Administration’s widespread immigrant deportation plans and policies at the Hispanic Roundtable Community Summit on Friday.

“This is beyond sickening….this isn’t really about law and order. Separating immigrant families is cruel and immoral. Many of the people crossing the border are fleeing from violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the United States, which they have a legal right to do.

“U.S. Homeland Security recently announced the end of temporary protective status for approximately 57,000 Hondurans living legally in the United States. In other aggressive policy moves, over the next two years, more than 300,000 individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal and Sudan, who are legally in the U.S. with permission to live and work, will be asked to depart voluntarily or be deported,” she said.

Powell said that as of March, there were 680,000 pending national immigration court cases. Each individual has just one and a half hours to present their asylum case and some judges have a 99 percent denial rate.

According to the American Immigration Council, there are 980,000 immigrants in Washington State. One in seven Washington State residents is an immigrant.

Three hundred and fifty thousand people in Washington live with at least one undocumented family member.

“This current administration has commandeered the immigrant story….they have rubbed out all color, love, hope, sacrifice and struggle. They have erased the tenacity, the courage and devotedness of their characters….This administration has vilified and dehumanized and criminalized immigrants. It’s trying to make us believe a grim, desolate life story.

“It is imperative that we take back the immigrant story…the true story is of sacrifice, endurance, fortitude, resolution and devotedness to the cause of families.…It is not a story about people who need to be kept out by a wall….The people who have arrived in our communities have traveled far….The only wall that should be built is a wall around hatred, willful ignorance, xenophobia, racism and intolerance,” said Powell.

Above: Many resources for immigrant family support were provided at the first Hispanic Roundtable community summit on Friday. Karina Brown, a Spanish teacher at Elma High School, picks up materials at a table about Sound to Harbor Head Start and ECEAP, which provides individualized preschool education, health education, and family support in Grays Harbor, Mason and Thurston counties.

For more information about the Hispanic Roundtable of the South Sound, go to

Sunday, June 3, 2018

County Prosecutor Tunheim Interview on the Issues

Above: Thurston County Courthouse sign directs visitors. A 2017 independent report says Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Office practices contribute to slow case management. In an interview, Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim touts new case management protocols and programs.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

In his bid for a third term as Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney, Jon Tunheim is, for the first time, facing a challenger. 

In a recent interview with Tunheim, Little Hollywood focused on themes mentioned at his May 14 campaign kickoff party. It also took a deep dive into a 74 page independent report published in 2017 about Thurston County Superior Court felony case flow and calendar management.

Prosecutors in Washington State process all criminal cases, including those filed in Superior Court.

The report is particularly harsh in its findings about the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Office, saying the office does not have many policies in place that are standard best practices for trial courts.

Tunheim responded to the report and revealed new case management protocols currently underway.

National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Report

The report, published in June 2017 by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), is titled “NCSC Felony Caseflow and Calendaring Study of Thurston County Superior Court.”

The consultants studied data and a sampling of cases within the prosecuting attorney’s office (TCPO), the public defender’s office (TCPD), and the court system, identifying a host of procedural and performance issues that causes delays, system inefficiencies, and productivity problems.

“Importantly, most everyone in the criminal justice system interviewed by the NCSC project team is dissatisfied with its functioning. To create the changes this report is recommending, every participant in the system, including the TCPO and the TCPD, must be willing to modify and reengineer their operations to improve overall system productivity for the public and for themselves,” it says.

The report is available online at 

The NCSC consultants contend that lack of supervision of deputy prosecutors and ineffective pretrial conferences contribute to poor-quality decisions regarding which cases to take to trial. It also says there are too many trials. 

For those cases that do go to trial, approximately 50 percent end in not guilty findings or guilty findings to lesser charges.

Of 388 scheduled pretrial events, only 138 (35 percent) occurred on the date and time scheduled. The report says that this is a tremendously high percentage given the number of events that take place.

In blunt language, the report says that in-custody defendants’ length of stay at the jail is longer than it needs to be, the jail population is higher than it needs to be, and the current practices of the prosecuting attorney are a substantial cause of continuances, thus contributing to a slow case management system. 

Of the cases analyzed by NSCS investigators, the time from charging to disposition ranged from 28 days in a burglary case to 681 days in a drug sale case. Sex offense and drug sale/purchase cases took the longest to reach finality.

Pertaining to the handing over of case evidence, the discovery delivery process, the report illustrates communication difficulties between the prosecutor’s office and public defender’s office.

The report recommended that the prosecutor’s office overhaul its discovery delivery system to include a checklist so defense attorneys can see what is being delivered and is not yet delivered. This list should be entirely electronic, saying other counties have systems that could be copied.

“The Prosecutor believes in case management autonomy for his deputies. Although this may sound good in theory, in practice autonomy leads to large-scale plea agreement inconsistencies across his deputies. This is an issue of justice and fairness,” says the report.

To improve overall efficiencies, the report lists several major recommendations for the prosecutor’s office.

Above: Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim 
Photo by Janine Gates/Little Hollywood Media

Tunheim Responds To Report

In our interview, Tunheim was asked to respond to the report, which, to a layperson, appears particularly scathing toward the prosecutor’s office.

The reports findings are important because the county’s criminal justice system eats up 76 percent of Thurston County’s general fund and the county commissioners are currently considering an expansion of the relatively new county jail. 

Tunheim said that “if there’s anything good that came out it [the report], everyone got their finger pointing done,” while pointing out the flaws in case flow and timeliness.

“There’s been a cultural issue with our Superior Court for a while now – nobody is holding anybody else accountable. It’s a delicate issue. Prosecutors and defenders work together in a relationship…of give and take on both sides…we try hard in this county to not be inappropriately adversarial. We try not to make it personal and try to understand each other’s hurdles.”

As a result of this relationship, Tunheim said there are continuances.

“Judges let lawyers make those decisions and were criticized in the report for not holding our feet to the fire,” he said.

Tunheim said he disagrees with the report’s comments on prosecution policy as there was no prosecutor involved in its writing.

“There were two consultants, a court administrator and a judge, both from large court systems. They are good system thinkers… (but)  I don’t feel like they understood that very well from a prosecutor’s perspective. Some things in there I just flat disagreed with on a philosophical policy level. All the system stuff about how we can move cases through – most of that I agree with.

“…There were admittedly things causing cases to be delayed. The discovery issues were less about discovery and more about when they get offers and are part of the negotiation process. We have been having a hard time getting discovery from the law enforcement agencies and that is putting some delay in our process because we can’t turn it over until we have it – and it takes time to do that,” said Tunheim.

New System Improvements

Tunheim says processes have improved since the report came out. New case management protocols which determine how a case moves through the system officially went live on June 1.

One of the recommendations in the report was for the process of discovery to be handled electronically.

“We all came to the table and came to specific agreements….The public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office have been working together for the last six months to put a request for proposals out to get a new case management system that will hopefully be another improvement for all of us so we can exchange our discovery electronically, better schedule things and be all on the same page and use the system to better watch cases as they are moving through on the timeline.”

Felony Leadership Improvement Project (FLIP)

Tunheim described a new felony leadership improvement project (FLIP) that involves the leadership of the prosecutor’s office, public defender’s office, the court clerk, the court, jail, and pre-trial services to design a new case flow management system.

Meeting one and a half hours every month since last year, with a subcommittee meeting more frequently, part of their work is to set a realistic schedule for trial dates and design tracks for cases. The process is called differential case management - a good assessment at the very front of what a case might look like and how it might be resolved within a realistic timeframe.

Tunheim says a Thurston County murder case will take six months to a year to get to trial. A drug possession charge will take sixty to ninety days.

Addressing criticism in the report, Tunheim said he has felt unheard for a long time regarding the creation of a management system. 

In 2010, when another report was done about the court system, Tunheim said he advocated for a differential case management, but the court responded, “We don’t have the computer system to be able to do that.” Tunheim agreed it was a dinosaur of a system.

More case management fits and starts occurred as he worked with the previous county commissioner appointed public defender, Daryl Rodrigues, and it could never get rolled out.

“Finally, when the report came out, everyone was ok, let’s do this,” Tunheim says. He says the report unfairly implies that it’s the prosecutor’s office responsibility to develop a differential case management system.

“We can’t do that – it’s a system – so that’s why FLIP was so important – everyone finally came to the table and we were able to participate.”

First Look Unit

Tunheim’s new “First Look” unit is an idea that came out of the FLIP process. Its goal is to do a front end assessment of cases, contact the public defender’s office, and see which cases could be resolved quickly.

These cases often involve a significant addiction issue or are in need of some other kind of diversion. The unit’s purpose is to take a chunk of cases out of the system, so that the ones that are left get the prosecutor’s time and attention.

“Theft may be the case, but what (may be) driving it is the addiction…or maybe it comes in and nobody is arguing about what needs to happen, it just needs a plea offer to be made to see if we can resolve the case.”

Since January, about 150 cases have gone through the First Look process. It started with one deputy prosecuting attorney and Tunheim has since added two more, taking them away from other caseloads.

Tunheim credits one of his deputy prosecutors with coining the “First Look” phrase.

“I like it…it’s different. It proactively seeks out cases that could benefit from earlier resolution….I want to give it a very specific role and authority in the office…not make it just a process or a phone call.”

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program

Tunheim was asked about the law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) program, a law enforcement led alternative to jail or other criminal justice response.

Tunheim took issue with points his challenger, Victor Minjares, made about it in an interview with Little Hollywood. Minjares had declared the county program a failure.

“I’m not ready to do that,” Tunheim said, saying it is a still a pilot project, begun last fall with the Lacey Police Department and the county sheriff’s department.

“It’s all set up, but we’re not getting the referrals from law enforcement. We’re still troubleshooting that…We’re in a way different environment than Seattle where it was created….We thought we could take this and do it on a county scale and that’s where we are running into our challenges. At the county, a deputy has someone in custody, and it’s easier for them to just take someone to jail and let the system work it out….Our feeling is that law enforcement doesn’t think it meets their needs right now.

“This may evolve, but if law enforcement would rather just take them to jail, our First Look program will take a look at the case and put it into community diversion.  Instead of charging them, release them from custody, and have mobile outreach meet them at the jail as they are being released to help them set up their plan. That’s our next step. I’m hopeful that will become our solution….We can make that happen. 

“That’s why I was concerned about the slow process. When FLIP is fully activated, that will reduce caseloads, and that burden will come down a little bit,” he said.

Speaking of caseloads, Little Hollywood asked about the morale of his team. 

In an office of 32 deputy prosecutors, 13 lawyers are assigned to felony cases. Last year, each deputy prosecutor had about 120 open felony cases at any one time.

The question led Tunheim into an animated conversation about the theory of hope.

Saying his style of leadership is driven by the concept of hope – the belief that the future can be better than the present and one’s ability to make it so, Tunheim says he has a good team that works well together. The office has experienced a very low turnover of lawyers over the past seven and a half years.

“We are creating a forward thinking culture for the community,” he said.

Editor’s Note/Clarification, June 4: In reference to the morale of Mr. Tunheim’s team and the number of open felony cases last year, Mr. Tunheim says each deputy prosecutor had 120 open felony cases, not a total caseload of 120 for the team. The reference has been corrected.

For more information about the campaign for Thurston County Prosecutor, go to County Prosecutor Tunheim Defends Career, Successes, at and “Minjares Makes Case for Prosecuting Attorney Race,” at