– “Mayor Harding Longtime City Leader Puts ‘Things’ Before ‘People’”
Published in the Nisqually Valley News online edition June 2, 2016
People do not leave good paying jobs when they’re happy and satisfied in their labors.
I am deeply saddened at reading in your newspaper that the city of Yelm is losing a man of Ryan Johnstone’s integrity, experience, genuineness and public likeability. Public Works Director Johnstone joins former City Administrator Shelley Badger in leaving a talented pool of Yelm’s department heads, with the city administrator position still unfilled a year since Badger gave notice. Department heads are a vital team for any city. They share ideas, work through issues, discuss solutions and lean on one another to “blow off steam.” Their experience, talents and expertise are invaluable to the mayor and city administrator under whom they serve, their city hall colleagues reporting to them, councilors and, most of all, the public who benefits from their leadership.
Johnstone wore two hats in also acting as sewer manager, so he leaves huge shoes to fill. Coupled with other important staff who have resigned, plus city employees voting overwhelmingly to unionize last year, morale of Yelm’s public employees must be near all-time lows.
At the height of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, respected CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite believed that the war was “unwinnable and indefensible” after reporting on what was known as the Tet Offensive. President Johnson reportedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.” Riots and protests ensued to end the war forcing Johnson not to seek another term.
My point? Mr. Harding has now lost the “war” because way too many employees are leaving amid the city’s lack of proper staffing for public safety, public works and at city hall, which has become “unwinnable and indefensible.” Like President Johnson, will the mayor be a “lame duck” because of all of the outcry against his policies on social media, causing him not to seek re-election to a fourth term in 2017? The Yelm “Cabal” and old-timer councilors have been complicit with Mr. Harding and their time is at hand, too, demonstrated by three new councilors defeating incumbent and city hall candidates in 2015.
Mayor Harding’s priority has been to attract “things” to Yelm: housing developments, big box and multi-national stores, grants for sidewalks and a community center.
While those are nice, he lost sight of what must be his prime objective — “people” and the upliftment of the morale of his city employees in providing services to his constituents.
Yelm is able to fund operational and maintenance expenses for a community center, skatepark, a new water feature, and sidewalk landscaping, yet not for adequate police personnel, as an example.
“People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. Not the other way around,” quoting the movie, “Minimalism.”
Mayor Harding’s legacy will be in loving and acquiring “things” and using his “people,” rather than investing in them, the soul of a community and why so many talented staff are fleeing Yelm. That’s why former Mayor Kathy Wolf [deceased] and her son, departing Yelm Schools Superintendent Andy Wolf, are so beloved — because they understood that “people come first.”
Councilor Molly Carmody noted on her Facebook page, “Building Official Gary Carlson will be retiring in September, and Human Resources Director Janine Schnepf is leaving in October.” These positions have not yet been posted in seeking their replacements to get qualified personnel hired and in position for training prior to Carlson & Schnepf leaving.