Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: Council finally gets something right on mental health

Credit where credit’s due.

The Pierce County Council came around on mental health.

At least for a day.

It was a stark contrast in council chambers Tuesday afternoon, a place that not long ago had been filled with the kind of acrimony and resentment usually reserved for divorce proceedings or Donald Trump stump speeches.

Seven days, apparently, made all the difference.

This time around, when Lakewood Councilman Doug Richardson made a motion to reintroduce a resolution authorizing a comprehensive audit of the county’s mental health and behavioral health services – the very same resolution that had brought out the worst in the council just a week earlier – it was all sunshine, rainbows and puppy dogs.

This time, when Richardson moved to amend the resolution and take the assessment out of the performance audit committee that Puyallup Republican Joyce McDonald chairs and give oversight authority to the full council – the very same compromise, in essence, that dissolved in front of our very eyes last week – the move was met with open arms and a 6-1 approval.

And, this time, when it came time to do the right thing and authorize the much-needed mental health audit, the council finally did its job.

The turnaround was dramatic, and watching it all transpire, I kept expecting Gig Harbor councilman Derek Young, who championed the effort along with Tacoma’s Connie Ladenburg, to break out an acoustic guitar and lead a round of “Kumbaya.”

For one meeting at least, this was not a broken council. Let’s hope it’s a trend.

Growing council trust issues had been at the root of the palpable discord, and it would be premature to expect those issues to be completely in the past. The 2016 election is right around the corner, after all, and things are likely to get weirder before they get better.

More on that in a moment.

But for one meeting at least, the council’s ability to pull together and work for the common good prevailed. Discussion of “disingenuous” motives and under-the-breath name calling was abandoned for talk of “good faith efforts” and pledges to work together.

What’s to be made of this abrupt change of heart? Surely, a week of retrospect and contemplation helped.

But last week’s debacle was also embarrassing, and it’s safe to say the council heard plenty about it. Yes, columnists opined (or at least this columnist did), but what truly moved the needle was the disgusted outcry from community members and those in true position to know just how badly the county’s mental health system is malfunctioning.

“We were hearing from a lot of people that this is important,” Young told me. “A lot of people you don’t often hear from.”

He means service providers, judges, police chiefs and a county sheriff.

Oh, and his father, who apparently penned an email to the entire council.

“My dad wrote in saying we should all be ashamed of ourselves,” Young said. “When I saw it, I kind of cringed.

“But, you know what, he did say all of us.”

Which is exactly how our elected political bodies deserve to be judged.

Speaking of elected political bodies, this one could look quite a bit different after next November.

Council chair Dan Roach has announced his intentions to run for County Executive, as has Tacoma Democrat Rick Talbert. There are rumors at least one other County Council member is considering getting in the race. (Republican state Sen. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup is also vying for the gig.)

But the biggest news of the week came courtesy of Dan’s mom Pam, the infamous state senator from Auburn, err, Sumner who told The News Tribune she’ll be running to fill the council seat being vacated next year by County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, the term-limited Republican from Puyallup.

As The News Tribune’s Melissa Santos reported, the elder Roach says she took up residence last fall in Sumner in a home she’s owned for 13 years and had primarily used for campaign purposes. She changed the address on her voter registration in May, just in time to meet the county charter’s deadline for being registered in a district for one year before filing for its seat on the council.

It’s a calculated move, literally, and not the first time Roach has changed her place of residence with political motives in mind. In 2003 Roach moved in with a friend in Enumclaw to run for the King County Council.

For the time being, however, I’ll leave the carpetbagger accusations – and all of Roach’s other baggage – for another day. The 2016 election is still a long way away, and there will be plenty of time to delve into every detail.

Needless to say Pam Roach’s candidacy could make for interesting times for our county.

And probably a good time to be a columnist.

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