Yelm’s new councilor James Blair interviewed Jan. 2nd
- Editor’s note: I interviewed Yelm’s new Position 1 Councilor James Blair on January 2nd, following his swearing-in on December 30th. Blair defeated incumbent E. J. Curry by 30 votes.
Blogger: Congratulations on your win and officially becoming a city councilor. Your persistence has been impressive. In 2017, you lost to Position 6 opponent Terry Kaminski by 71 votes, yet received 47% of ballots cast. In 2019, you ran against a very well-known and long-time community activist, defeating her. What was the difference this time?
Councilor Blair: A combination of factors: I stayed involved in things [in the community] and developed name recognition, which I didn’t have in 2017, becasue I only lived here a year then. I did not have experience and did what I thought was expected. Two years later, I had experience and was myself this time on social media and in public.
Blogger: You ran on a platform as a fiscal conservative. How will you integrate that with a majority of the council that allows unbridled spending and has done little to hold city hall to expenditures over $35,000 having to be approved by council, according to the Yelm Municipal Code? Prime example: the city went over-budget on the Splash Park and Playground Equipment by $363,000+ without council approval.
Councilor Blair: The people love it [Splash Park], however this is unacceptable and a huge waste of money in the big picture – when roads, sidewalks and the public water plant should have priority and take precedent. I will speak up about these issues.
Blogger: Mayor Foster went around the council and citizens in signing a real estate contract in late 2017 on 640 acres for a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure, without consulting or obtaining council’s consent, as required by city law. What would you do to require the mayor to adhere to the Yelm Municipal Code?
Councilor Blair: I do not like the Executive side [mayor, city administrator, dept. heads] coming up with their ideas, starting the process [to initiate those ideas], then only come to the city council for final approvals. I am not cool with that. Take the new building proposal [corner of 3rd & Yelm Ave. E.] – the city has no business building a structure for renters, as city government is not a landlord. [In this case] the city should lease the land for a discount to attract SPSCC to build their own building, instead of the city being like an HOA for downtown.
Blogger: Let’s address the “elephant in the room,” the Public Works water and sewer systems requiring up to $27 million in deferred maintenance upgrades. Recently, the city administrator asked the council for $350,000 to be set aside in Public Works “Triage Funding” to be readily available for the certain, coming emergency. Residents may face ever-increasing water/sewer rate increases. What is your view on this situation?
Councilor Blair: I think we’re going to have to put our tail between our legs and ask the state for help. Seems like there hasn’t been upkeep.
Blogger: What else would you like to share with Yelm Blog readers I have not asked?
Councilor Blair: What’s going to be different for me is that I am not coming into this position trying to make things my way, rather will set a different tone from newly electeds who usually want to makes things their way.
Yet I will work in keeping city government within its bounds, keeping it open and transparent. The biggest thing I don’t like is [the] closed door [keeping things from the public], though this is better than it used to be.
Blogger: Thank you Councilor Blair, and best wishes! Any last thoughts?
Councilor Blair: If anyone wants to ask me anything, they can e-mail or call me. And if I don’t know the answer to their question, they will not get a “b.s.” answer – I will find out.
Blogger: Councilor Blair’s direct e-mail at city hall = Jamesb@yelmwa.gov