Heads up, Puyallup City Council, citizens are paying attention. Puyallup’s voter participation in August’s primary election was among the highest in Pierce County. Clearly, folks are interested in what’s happening at City Hall, and with good reason.
The council’s missteps while cracking down on The New Hope Resource Center, the city’s only homeless day shelter, cost taxpayers over $1 million in lawsuits, money that could have been spent alleviating some of the city’s most pressing social problems.
Council blunders even drew attention from the Department of Justice; a federal investigation was eventually dropped, but combine legal troubles with well-known internal strife (including the pushing out of a city manager) and the message is clear: Puyallup leadership could use a refresh.
On Nov. 5, four of the seven council seats are up for grabs, which means Puyallup voters get a real chance to change the culture. One of those seats is open after veteran Councilman Tom Swanson declined to run for reelection, and we think turnover in two other seats could be healthy as well.
What’s indisputable is that all eight candidates have big hearts for the city of nearly 42,000 residents, or they wouldn’t have made a long-term commitment to it; each has lived in Puyallup at least 20 years.
Here are our endorsements for Districts 1, 2, 3 and the at-large position.
As stated in our primary endorsement, District 1 would be well-served by Curtis Thiel, 48, a downtown resident committed to revitalizing and attracting new businesses. Recipient of the John Porter leadership award, Thiel strikes us as a well-connected, boots-on-the-ground problem-solver.
No doubt incumbent Robin Farris, 58, has been a voice of reason in turbulent times; the retired Navy officer voted against the New Hope ordinance that got the city in so much hot water.
She’s well versed in the legal nuances of homelessness policy and is well spoken about the need for Puyallup to provide a continuum of care for folks on the streets, not just ban them from camping in public spaces.
Though Thiel can’t match Farris’ knowledge, he ultimately won us over in the endorsement interview. The small businessman’s fresh energy was a stark contrast to the frustration of Farris; just last year, she considered resigning from her seat, and she gives off an air of burnout.
This district has two competent competitors in John Palmer and Paul Herrera, but voters would be wise to stick with Palmer, an eight-year incumbent.
Palmer, a self-described “pragmatic center” on a divided council, works as an advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle. He currently serves as the city’s mayor, an appointed position with a two-year tenure.
Palmer, 57, cites “advancing the city” and “growing smart” as prime directives, and his track record -- including four years on the city planning commission -- backs it up.
Voters should appreciate that he stood his ground when developers tried to bulldoze Knutson Farms to build a seven-warehouse project on the city’s doorstep. It’s a fight that recently took a positive turn for the city when the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Puyallup, not Pierce County, controls permitting for the 162-acre site.
“I continue to run because I want to see this through with a minimal warehouse footprint,” said Palmer, who worries about traffic of up to 2,000 tractor-trailers through Puyallup daily.
His opponent, Herrera, 48, is an Army veteran and a police officer for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. He says he’s running, in part, because residents are “fed up with the criminal element at homeless encampments.” He defers to Palmer as an expert on issues such as farmland preservation.
Herrera, former director of fish and wildlife enforcement for the tribe, is clear-sighted about many issues facing the city, and diversity is a strong suit. His leadership in Latino legislative affairs combined with strong community ties add up to a bright political future.
But right now, Puyallup could use Palmer’s tenacity and steady hand in city government.
Our choice to replace departing Councilman Tom Swanson is Ned Witting, a retired printing business owner who calls himself a proud “fiscal conservative.”
Witting, 67, says affordable housing and traffic congestion must be addressed quickly to keep up with Puyallup’s growth. “Infrastructure before development” is an oft-repeated theme in his prescription for fixing the city’s congested arterial roads.
Frustrated with the time it’s taking Puyallup to build a new Public Safety building, Witting wants to use his skills as a former chief financial officer to help grease the wheels. Not only could the council use his fiscal advice but his no-nonsense, can-do candor couldn’t hurt.
And when it comes to homelessness, Witting’s answer is spot-on: “We can’t abdicate our local responsibility” to help establish an overnight shelter.
His perspective differs from that of opponent Curt Gimmestad, 56, who says “the city has no business taking on the burden of a shelter.” Instead, Gimmestad makes vague pledges to facilitate more constructive conversations, as if the homelessness problem hasn’t been talked to death already.
An executive for Absher Construction, Gimmestad would no doubt bring knowledge of operation management to future city development projects, and he’d be an asset when it comes to attracting new business and industry to the area. He’s also done two hitches on the city planning commission.
But Witting’s strategic thinking and strong independent streak give him the edge.
Heather Shadko wins our endorsement for a return to the City Council.
Two years ago, Shadko, 56, lost the Position 2 seat to Cynthia Jacobsen by 13 votes, but it’s evident she never lost her drive to serve. Shadko welcomes the less-glamorous work of government. Sidewalks, safe routes to school and better public transit top her list of priorities.
A conservation advocate, she’s committed to curbing sprawl and preserving the green spaces that make Puyallup Puyallup.
A contract analyst for the Port of Tacoma, Shadko knows how to collect information, and frankly, she seemed better informed than incumbent Dean Johnson, 56, who’s serving his first term in the At-Large position.
Johnson, who works as a personal stylist for Nordstrom in Seattle, holds the record for most money raised in a City Council race. But even with nearly three times the treasure, he can’t match the substance Shadko brings to the table.
He touts public safety and economic development as top concerns. He also points out that he’s been the swing vote on a number of issues, and that’s true at times, such as his vote to stop an ill-advised change to a strong-mayor form of government.
On homelessness, Johnson wants to have “courageous conversations.” Shadko is ready for action. “We need to take more than just the fun stuff, like trails. We need to take our fair of the homeless problem.”
She believes Puyallup can do better, and it can.