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Few political environments test public officials like Puyallup City Hall, a red-hot crucible with high risk of burnout. Bitter infighting has plagued the City Council for most of the last decade, present time included.
Chronic homelessness has magnified the tension, and a long standoff with the city’s only adult day shelter has made Puyallup government a poster child for dysfunction. Adding to the turmoil, day-to-day city operations were shaken up this month when the embattled city manager resigned with a nearly $220,000 payout.
But there’s hope for a more productive and cohesive group of leaders, with four of seven Puyallup City Council seats up for election this year. It starts with a three-person contest on the Aug. 6 primary ballot.
One candidate distinguishes himself with unabashed hometown enthusiasm and fresh energy; he’s also more likely than his opponents to build bridges between factions.
We endorse Curtis Thiel for Puyallup Council District 1.
Thiel didn’t win our endorsement when he ran for a different council seat two years ago. But we recognize the same positive spirit in the lifelong Puyallup resident that we identified in 2016 — and the city could benefit from it now.
He’s also worked to make himself a more complete candidate, as illustrated by his graduation from the Police Citizens Academy last year.
Owner of a local computer business, the 48-year-old has a wide array of community service and Chamber leadership honors. In 2015, Thiel’s instinct for bringing people together led him to launch Service Clubs of Puyallup, which coordinates efforts between Rotary, Kiwanis and other groups.
Thiel isn’t a policy wonk, but he’s eager to join conversations, such as a homelessness roundtable convened by state Sen. Hans Zeiger a few years ago. When it comes to New Hope Resource Center and the people trying to shut it down, Thiel sees himself as an agent of compromise.
Robin Farris, the District 1 incumbent, makes a reasonably good case for reelection. But voters may rightly wonder how much she’s been worn down by her first term.
Farris, 58, is knowledgeable about the legal complexities of combating homelessness and wants the city to provide a “continuum of care.” The Puyallup native and retired Navy officer wisely cast one of only two votes last year against an ordinance that slammed the door on new homeless facilities. A state board recently found the zoning change unlawful.
Before her election in 2015, Farris led an admirable, though unsuccessful, campaign to recall Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam from office.
Farris clearly has a heart for principled government, but we question whether there’s enough fuel in her tank for another four-year term. Stressed by rancor on the council, she went public with a threat to resign last summer; she also told us she had reservations about running for reelection.
The third candidate in this race, Matt Cuyle, is a former Marine and small-business owner now working as a public school plumber. He grew up in Ellensburg and moved to Puyallup in 2008 to raise his family.
Cuyle, 40, says local businesses are overregulated and utility rates too high. But public safety is his No. 1 issue, driven by experience with transients trespassing on his property near the Puyallup River.
While Cuyle’s concerns are understandable, he’s not cut out to be a moderate voice on Puyallup’s homelessness problem — not after he and another man, both armed, confronted New Hope’s previous director and some of the center’s clients over claims of neighborhood thefts. Cuyle was barred from New Hope after the April 2016 incident, an order apparently still in effect this year.
Puyallup has enough polarizing figures on City Council already.
What it needs is someone with an open mind and consensus-building qualities. That candidate is Curtis Thiel.