Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Olympia Councilmember: Veterinarian Lisa Parshley

Above: Dr. Lisa Parshley, at her veterinarian clinic in Olympia, won election to the Olympia city council last November. Parshley says the environment, homelessness, and living wage issues are all tied together. “The major message I heard while campaigning was to think outside the box….”

With hometown roots, her clinic is in Kurt Cobain's Lucky 7 House 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Both the massive Women’s March and the March for Science last year mobilized and energized individuals and entire communities to take action on a whole host of issues. 

Highlighting the need for more critical thinking skills and science in policy making, many scientists were inspired to run for public office. Last November, Olympia city voters elected both a scientist and a woman in one person: Dr. Lisa Parshley. 

Parshley handily won her election for Position 5 against candidate Allen Miller with 62.28 percent of the vote.

A veterinarian specializing in oncology, the field of medicine that is devoted to cancer, Parshley, 55, says her training will help her as a city councilmember to look long range while paying attention to today’s risks and threats. 

Receiving her Ph.D. in biochemistry, Parshley employs 40 fulltime and parttime employees on Olympia’s eastside. Her husband, Tim, is also a veterinarian.

The design of her clinic, a “fear free” veterinary practice, is a new concept in veterinary medicine. For Parshley, operating a “fear free” clinic means reducing fear during a consultation for both the animal and family members.  

Her examination rooms look and feel like mini living rooms. Each contains a brown colored, pleather chair and couch set, an end table with a lamp that casts a cozy glow and a box of tissues that undoubtedly comes in handy.

During an interview in one of these rooms with Little Hollywood, Parshley says her scientific training and style toward veterinary medicine will play a big role in how she approaches her council position, priorities, and the issues.

“In the last five to ten years we’ve been looking at ourselves as veterinarians very closely, saying there are some things we can do to reduce fear. The metal table and all the paraphernalia sets them on edge, inducing fear from the beginning. Our behavior changes also – similar to taking your child into a doctor’s office. These exam rooms are meant to try and take that fear away,” says Parshley.

She says this low key setting enables her to take her time through an examination, allowing her to get to know the animal and have a conversation with the family, who is often stressed and upset with their pet’s condition. 

“If I have a conversation with the family, I move slower through my exam with the animal and the family relaxes. When the family relaxes, the animal relaxes, and it tends to be a better relationship all the way through,” said Parshley.

She is working toward obtaining the first Washington State veterinary certification in 2018 for a fear free practice.

Providing Little Hollywood a tour of the facility, which is part old house and part new construction, the clinical area revealed all the equipment and supplies one usually sees in a veterinary office. Walking in, at least eight staff members were actively working on several animals needing care.

The basement of the house portion of the clinic was just as exciting.

According to local law enforcement, the house was part of the underground rock scene in its heyday. Kurt Cobain reportedly had his first concert in the basement of the Lucky 7 House, which is located behind the Lucky 7 convenience store on Fourth Street, kitty corner from the Olympia Fire Department station. 

Parshley is maintaining that portion of the basement as-is, however, much of the history was destroyed when Parshley discovered, to her horror, that carpenters had torn down all the old posters, thinking they were going to sheetrock the area

Above: The Lucky 7 stage where Kurt Cobain reportedly held his first concert in Olympia. The area is in the basement of the house portion of Councilmember Lisa Parshley’s veterinary clinic in Olympia.

Growing up in Portland where her mother was a school teacher, Parshley lived in Olympia during the summers in Boston Harbor.

Parshley earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Oregon Health & Science University, her veterinarian degree from Colorado State University and practiced in Michigan, Houston, Texas, and Los Angeles, California. 

She says she appreciated those stints because they gave her real life experiences in addition to her academic career, providing her the knack for balancing the financial needs of the human family and the needs of their family member who is facing a medical crisis.

After receiving her professional credentials, she returned to Olympia about eight years ago. Her hobbies include woodworking and restoring a 50 year old sailboat.

While she has been active in veterinary politics at the state and national level and has testified before the Washington State Legislature on veterinary issues, it was when Donald Trump won the presidential election that she knew she had to get more involved.

She had also learned a lot about the sometimes frustrating city permitting process and city ordinances in order to build her clinic. 

She was encouraged by Washington State Representative Kathy Haigh (D-35) of Shelton, also a veterinarian, to run for a position that she said would put the fire in you because there would be many challenging days.  

“You’ll make people happy and angry, and you have to know you’re in the right place to get you through those times,” Haigh advised her.

Parshley says she is very passionate about the environment and the climate and will work for better relations with the Port of Olympia. Speaking about the need to make plans for sea level rise, she also says she wants to reevaluate the recently completed Downtown Strategy.

The city of Olympia is coordinating sea level rise planning with the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance.

“Rich Hoey, [City of Olympia public works director], needs support from the council – we can’t wait for some other council. I’d like to reevaluate the Downtown Strategy in terms of the current figures for sea level rise. Our climate action plan numbers used old numbers, but the seas are rising at a faster rate…we need to review it with current science. I’m not saying don’t build downtown, because we have a serious housing shortage, but I want to make sure it’s smart and based on science. I like building downtown, but on another level, some data is showing that we could have as many as one hundred king tides a year, as early as 2030.

“King tides don’t mean we’ll flood, but it means we’ll have 100 chances of flooding, so if that data is real, that’s scary to me if we’re not at least asking to put buildings up three or four feet or coming up with ways to deal with this. That means the city and the port - and the people - are going to pay for this. I just want to make sure it’s smart and we have taken into account all the new numbers. We can tap into the state climate action plan experts - we don’t have to do it all ourselves or hire expensive consultants.”

Parsley says she will also be asking questions and not just accepting staff reports at face value.

“I can’t stand it when someone tells me we can’t do something because ‘that’s not how we do it.’ That will lead me to ask, Why are we doing it that way?’ That’s the scientist in me – I will question those things. Tell me why, and then I’ll ask, ‘How do we get around that?’ or, I’ll better understand why that’s how we do it.”

Parshley says she’ll also focus on homelessness issues. Meeting people where they are taught Parshley a lot about the community.

“What I learned in the journey of running for public office has taught me that these are people, first and foremost, that we have put stigmas on that aren’t fair. If you’ve ever had a point in your life that you couldn’t make the rent, much less pay for food, you know how close that is. A very serious illness in our family can put us close to that point…. All of us are vulnerable to this. I came out of this campaign feeling hopeful that the community knows this. 

“The major message I heard while campaigning was to think outside the box – we have to be compassionate. I think, in large part, the reason Renata [Rollins] and I were elected is because the city has to be the leader. We can’t put this off to another jurisdiction. We have to also find legal housing for the houseless, but it won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. The cities that are successful in addressing homelessness are the ones that have a coalition of people sitting at a table that includes small businesses, different political spectrums, and those who are unhoused. Unless you have that whole group together, any solution is not going to be successful. We have to help stop people from getting on the streets.”

Above: Dr. Lisa Parshley, left, and Renata Rollins after they were sworn in as new Olympia city councilmembers on December 28, 2017. Parshley says she will look to Rollins for guidance on homelessness issues. Rollins is a social worker and community advocate with experience working on homelessness and downtown safety issues.

Speaking about planning for growth and a variety of living options, Parshley referred to the Home Fund, which will be on the ballot for a special election in February 2018. With a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase, the Home Fund proposes to build and maintain at least 350 affordable homes over ten years.

“The Home Fund part of the puzzle - it’s a good start. I’m proud of the city for starting this,” she says.

She says she’ll also work for a minimum wage bill, ordinance or initiative which is going to provide adequate living wages with progressive and economic values.

“We have to redirect how we think about our town - it’s a living organism. The work of city staff is phenomenal but what I heard most at the door, repeatedly, was that people want us to look at how we do business as a government including examining voter oversight, how the council interacts with people, and how to better utilize our city advisory committees. I think we need an audit of that.

“I want to look at how we govern with the Port, the Tribes, and electronic advancements that support an open planning process for design review, budget and land use,” she said.

Parshley says likes the idea of Portland, Oregon’s model of holding quarterly town halls on Saturday afternoons around the city. She heard over and over again how people said they wanted to go to meetings but couldn’t because they were working or needing to be with their children.

“You may not get a large turnout but you hear from different people.”

The Olympia City Council’s first council meeting of the year is Tuesday, January 9, 7:00 p.m., at Olympia City Hall, 601 Fourth Avenue. Its council retreat will be January 12 – 13, where members will get to know each other, discuss priorities and divvy up committee assignments. That meeting will be held at the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance, 500 Adams Street, and is open to the public.

Above: Olympia city councilmember Dr. Lisa Parshley checks on her patients.