It was filing deadline night at the Pierce County Election Bureau, and Tracie Markley was waiting nervously to see who would file against her for Gig Harbor City Council.
The deadline came at 4:30 p.m. And at 4:31, Markley realized she was going to be unopposed.
“I was shocked,” she recalled. “I was absolutely stunned. With all the talk about the City Council, I thought we would have candidates stacked three deep.”
A few minutes later, she said, a second realization hit her.
“Omigosh! I’m going to actually have to do this job.”
So Markley, already a member of the city’s park commission, has spent the last few months learning the ropes of council position four. She’s met with city staff, studied the budget and gone to endless meetings.
“People tell me, ‘I hope you’re enjoying your free ride,’ “ she said. “But it hasn’t been free. I’ve been working really hard.”
Like all four of the other candidates running, she zeroes in on residential growth as the city’s biggest problem. But she’s not hard-liner, she says.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” she said over coffee at Cutter’s Point. “I’m definitely not anti-growth — we need economic development downtown, for instance. But we need to balance our growth, and we need to prepare better for the growth we’re going to have.”
“I think we need to slow down and do it right the first time,” she added.
Markley is 43, a former real-estate agent with closed-cropped blond hair, dangly earings and a ready smile that masks a fierce intensity when she talks about bad actors in development — or government.
She grew up in Gig Harbor after her family moved here in 1982. She graduated from Peninsula High School in 1994.
John Picinich, another council candidate, was her 6th-grade math teacher at Kopachuck Middle School.
“I can’t think of him as anything other than Mister Picinich,” she laughed.
Her father, the Rev. Christopher Bayer, founded the Church on the Rock, later called Gig Harbor Four Square Church. “He was a man who knew no strangers,” she said fondly.
At age 19, she suffered a tiny stress fracture in one foot that led to a rare neurological condition which has kept her “in and out wheelchairs” for 20 years. It causes her intense pain at times, and she is working on a book about “how to keep joy in the middle of pain.”
Her husband, Joshua Markley, a Naval Reserve commander, works as a civilian project manager at the Keyport naval facility. They have two daughters, Hailey, 15, and Sarah, 12.
Homesick for the harbor
The family moved away in 2008 for Navy deployments in Virginia and California and came home again in 2017.
“We lived in Virginia Beach and Imperial Beach, outside San Diego,” she said. “I was so homesick for Gig Harbor the whole time, but I got to see how other cities handled their problems.”
Markley got into local politics during a long-running dispute with the developer of her North Gig Harbor neighborhood, McCormick Creek. It’s a long story, and don’t get her started. But it whetted her appetite for getting things done.
On the park board, she said, she learned “the people love our parks and they really want more.”
But she also learned, she added, to pay attention the details, like whether the playing field lights would shine in people’s windows, or volleyball parking would back up onto residential streets.
Gig Harbor suffers from a lack of amenities, she feels. Not just grocery stores, but places to gather.
“When I first moved here, we went to Rosedale Hall,” she recalled. “That was our social center. The Paradise Theater, the outdoor amphitheater — we lost those things. We need a senior center. We need indoor activities for youth.
“I like having grocery stores, but maybe could have a skating rink in one of those big buildings.”
She thinks the city should be more wary of negotiated development agreements, which she feels builders often use to game the system. But she also thinks the present council’s approach to controlling growth is arbitrary and often illegal..
“If a person comes in and they meet all the zoning requirements and they are doing things by the book, you can’t just tell them, ‘No, you can’t do that, because we don’t like it.’ “
The council’s moratorium on residential building permits in 2018 “didn’t do a lot of good,” she said, because “they didn’t work on any of the underlying problems during the six months it was in force.”
“They thought it would deter the big developers, but it didn’t. Instead it hurt small property owners who just want to build on their family lots.”
Herding council cats
She thinks city staff are dedicated and professional. But she has been less impressed by the city council.
“A circus!” she declares. “They grandstand. They have personal agendas. They have no respect for each other. And the public senses that disrespect.”
“They have a staff that prepares them a week in advance, laying it all out for them, and they ignore them,” she said. “They’ll spend an hour on one agenda item that should have taken 10 minutes.”
“I attended a council study session, and I was appalled,” she said. “The mayor did his best to keep things on track, but it was like herding cats.”
She notes there will be three women on the seven-member council after the election, and hopes that will change the tone.
“I think it will make a difference,” she said. “Women know a thing or two. We like to talk, but can also listen. When I hear my daughters, I have to listen between the words. That’s what women can bring to the council.”
One of her goals, she said, will be to encourage people to come to council meetings and speak up.
“I have seen people come to speak and actually change the council’s minds,” she said. “I have seen them change votes. People don’t know they can do that.”
“I want to give people a voice,” she said, “and show them how to use it.”