Gateway: Opinion

The price of being an ‘activist’ these days

Anyone who lives in Gig Harbor or the Key Peninsula and is involved with or follows local politics likely knows the name Jerry Gibbs.

Gibbs, who partnered with Ken Manning to form the activist group Citizens for Responsible Spending, has been all over newspapers, television and even radio over the last few weeks after he decided to file papers with Pierce County to get a referendum on the November ballot challenging the county’s actions to build a new county administration building in Tacoma.

The county responded to Gibbs’ referendum request by filing a lawsuit to stop him. On Feb. 27, the county executive directed the county prosecutor to file a lawsuit asking a judge to decide whether Gibbs’ referendum to bring the new general services building proposal before a vote of the people met the County Charter’s requirements.

Members of the council eventually passed a resolution asking the county prosecutor to drop the suit, which he eventually did a little more than a week later.

I got the chance to chat a bit with Gibbs last week during a Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce trip to Olympia (he attended as a concerned citizen, of course) to visit with lawmakers and talk about issues pertaining to our region. Gibbs told me that the county’s lawsuit against him put him in hot water with his wife.

“I had to sleep on the couch for four nights after my wife found out I was being sued,” Gibbs said with a chuckle.

But the towering (he’s got to be at least 6-foot-7, by my estimate) and strong-willed Gibbs refuses to be stopped in his effort to stand up for the taxpayers — even those who don’t live in his backyard. He has a lot of people who agree with him — mainly Pierce County Councilman Dan Roach, who wants to give people a say in the proposed building as well.

“This process has been muddied every step of the way, but through it all one thing has remained crystal clear…the people want their voices heard,” Roach said in a county release sent out Monday. “The ordinance I’m proposing will hopefully settle this matter for the time being and restore for citizens their right to participate in County government without fear of being sued to keep silent.”

Roach’s ordinance would likely call for an advisory vote on the building project to be on the ballot later this year, according to the release.

Despite Gibbs’ legal bills and sleepless nights, he knows that his activism is something that is worth all the effort and stress.

“There is a price you pay for activism,” Gibbs told me last week.

Although it has been tough on him at times, Gibbs has enjoyed the process.

“I’m making a lot of new friends,” he said with a smile.

After Pierce County dropped its lawsuit against him, Gibbs’ supporters called, sent emails and even attended a rally in Tacoma in support of the effort.

“Our army of volunteers can now focus on moving forward with the signature campaign,” Gibbs wrote in a March 11 email to voters after the lawsuit was dropped. “A campaign that will allow ‘We The People’ to vote on going into debt for $230 million so Pierce County can build themselves a new Tax Palace for bureaucrats in Tacoma. If you see us out in the various communities gathering signatures please sign so the voters can either accept or reject this new building and the debt incurred for the next 30 years.”

Gibbs plans to follow through with his mission to get 24,427 signatures before July 1. He has volunteers lining up all over Pierce County to carry a clipboard and hit the streets.

“(Those at the county) know that if there is anybody that can do it, it’s Gibbs and his group,” Gibbs said last week.

But he will need to overcome another obstacle in the meantime. A mere 12 hours after I met with Gibbs, he was served with a second lawsuit concerning the filing of a referendum, this time from a pair of private citizens, Leslie Young and Anthony Miller.

I guess the price of activism just went up again.