Mayor Ron Harding expressed concern [Jan. 21, 2015] to Army leadership
about potential force reductions at JBLM. At left, Yelm Councilor JW Foster.
More reductions were announced in January 2016.
Photo credit: Steven Wyble, Nisqually Valley News
– The 2015 Yelm Community Blog’s “Year in Review”
2015 began with major resignations City Hall, which continued snowballing with challenges to Yelm’s leadership status quo, leading to three-term Councilor Joe Baker up for re-election being decisively unseated. The major “earthquake” out of city hall was the unionization of 12 city staffers at their request, indicative that their workplace conditions required representation.
A partial listing of key stories is as follows:
* Former Project Manager Stephanie Ray resigned from her city post effective December 31, 2014, with no explanation given by officials. A warm, personable and very responsive city staffer, Ray had oversight on several key projects then in-process, which became delayed for various reasons, including her departure: the Mossman realignment intersection, Yelm Ave. W. sidewalks, and the Yelm Community Center. Her replacement was not named until the latter part of 2015.
* Survey about Yelm business-friendliness
In response to several high-profile remarks from key business owners that Yelm was “non-business-friendly,” Yelm businesses received a survey sent out by Mayor Ron Harding to determine how they view the City of Yelm’s “business-friendliness.” The Mayor’s survey required the respondents to list their names. Yet, as described by business owners at Yelm Business Assn. (YBA) Town Hall Forums, they are fearful of adverse city practices in reprisal and therefore, would not return a survey with their true observations without redacting their business’s name. The results of the survey was not publicly announced.
* City Administrator Shelly Badger announced her resignation
After a stellar 30 year career in various positions at City Hall, former City Administrator Shelly Badger publicly announced June 5th she wa leaving the city effective September 1st. Badger was so well-respected in representing Yelm on the city’s economic development and water resource planning efforts, the South Thurston Economic Development Initiative (STEDI) committee and participated in the South Sound Military & Communities Partnership Steering Committee. The City Administrator post paid her an outstanding salary ($131,220/year, Yelm’s highest) plus fringe benefits, yet she resigned. This led to questions that something may be amiss at City Hall with 2 key resignations within 6 months. The City Administrator job was not posted for 6 months from notice of then-coming vacancy and still has not been filled. Mayor Ron Harding has been handling some of the City Administrator duties unpaid.
* The White Horse Tavern told patriotic banners do not meet YMC
The White Horse Tavern received a letter from the City of Yelm saying their patriotic flag banners for Prairie Days and July 4th were not in compliance with the Yelm Municipal Code (YMC). The Facebook story went viral and was seen by over 190,000 people worldwide, with over a thousand shares, and hundreds of comments. Mayor Harding finally said that the letter was sent in error by a city staff person, essentially “throwing them under the bus.”
* Yelm Police under-staffing becomes hot-button campaign issue
The September City Council Candidates Forum underscored the differences between candidates: three incumbents and a planning Commissioner heralded their achievements and maintaining the status quo, while three City Council challenges all ran on platforms of open government, public interaction through Town Hall Forums, supporting locally-owned businesses and public safety.
* City conducts intense Police Dept. contract negotiations
Open Public Safety positions still not filled.
* Mayor Harding’s Yelm growth plans impeded by water case
With the October 8th decision by the WA Supreme Court to rescind Ecology’s more-than-doubling of Yelm’s water rights, Yelm’s huge population growth from almost 10 years of Mayor Harding’s relentless quest has finally been impeded. “Yelm Mayor Harding painted a more somber picture, but expressed optimism the city would be granted water rights in the future,” quoting the NVN.
* City Hall employees form a Labor Union
In late October, publicly announced was that ‘at least 70 percent of the [12 employees] members signed authorization cards, which means they will not hold an election [as they exceeded the number to ratify a union here]’ and is indicative that city employees must have felt they require representation in the workplace to address their needs and concerns.
* Voters step-up to demand change – 3 new City Councilors elected
Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall certified the November 3rd election results on November 24th. Tad Stillwell beat Jen Littlefield for unexpired term of Yelm Council Position 4. Mayor Harding gave him the oath at the following Council meeting because he is filling the unexpired term of Mike McGowan, who resigned when he moved outside of Yelm. Council winners Molly Carmody and Joe DePinto to be sworn-in December 29th by Auditor Hall.
* City’s newest union members address City Council in December
Associate planner Tami Merriman representing her 11 city staff colleagues addressed the council asking consideration to reinstate their cost of living adjustment (COLA) granted to non-exempt, city employees not represented by a union. Their point was about a 2.25 percent (COLA) granted to public works employees as part of their 2015-17 collective bargaining agreement and not to this new union.
* 2 new City Councilors sworn-in, one gives speech calling Yelm an “oligarchy”
Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall gave the oath of office to elected officials throughout the County, which included Yelm’s Molly Carmody (Pos 2) and Joe DePinto (Pos 6). Councilor Carmody’s address was an eloquent, honest and sincere portrayal of what motivated her to run for public office, including what she called the “oligarchy” in Yelm she said was run by a small of group of people that have their own agendas.
* 2016 begins with same concerns as 2015 began – JBLM cuts potentially affecting Yelm
“JBLM’s civilian workforce to take next big hit” – Effects trickle-down to Yelm’s JBLM-dependent economy
* NVN Poll January 4th, bolstering police top public priority for 2016
“What is the No. 1 thing you want to see changed in 2016 in the city of Yelm?”
“Bolstering the police department/public safety” garnered 58% of the vote.
– For the future – A Listening Exercise
With 3 new Councilors committed to open government and in listening to their constituents, this listening exercise from the new University of Miami (FL) President is a terrific model of what can be incorporated here.