Six Yelm City Council candidates vying for votes in this November’s general election took to a candidate forum and luncheon Tuesday afternoon at the Yelm Community Center.
The annual event was hosted by the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the city of Yelm.
Yelm City Council positions No. 1, 2 and 6 are on the ballot this year.
In addition to meeting roughly 50 chamber members, candidates also answered questions on a variety of topics, from downtown vitality to investments in water utilities. The discussion and question and answer session was moderated by Yelm Community Schools Superintendent Brian Wharton.
The races pit position No. 6 incumbent Joe DePinto against challenger Matthew McLellan, position No. 2 incumbent Molly Carmody against challenger Cameron “Calamity” Jayne and position No. 1 incumbent EJ Curry against challenger James Blair.
All of the candidates were in attendance Tuesday.
(Note: The full forum can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Uk-xZ4m9M&fbclid=IwAR3j86lffJxadhP9ckqYmVOGiNqkfLuFlzUcvBvTq1BDet0-ITGUYDen3UU&app=desktop)
Do you think our “main street,” or downtown area, is healthy and thriving? If not, what would you do to change that?
All candidates agreed the city’s downtown area is thriving.
Carmody said she believes the initiatives in the recently-passed downtown strategy plan will provide a good stimulus to the downtown corridor.
Curry agreed, saying the addition of businesses over the last few months are examples of local growth.
McLellan said while the parks and downtown area are thriving, there is a lot more the city can do to support the health of local businesses.
“Health is a matter of perspective. And I don’t think it’s as healthy as it could be. There are a lot of empty storefronts and sidewalks, regularly, and there are some incredible gems in town that if you could just find them, and find a light to shine on them, would shimmer in a beautiful way,” McLellan said.
If you could change one thing in Yelm’s zoning code, what would it be and why?
DePinto said he’d like to see loosened restrictions with regard to developers and he would like to encourage the use of commercial and residential multi-use buildings.
“I think that would really add to the vibrancy of Yelm and improve the economy,” DePinto said.
Blair said he agrees with DePinto’s idea of incentivizing mixed-use buildings to help the housing shortage being felt in the area.
After reminding candidates that there is a clear distinction between zoning and building regulation code, Carmody said she was satisfied with the general zoning regulations established in the city.
“I think the city is well designed. I agree with a lot of folks who say we need to do more density planning because Yelm is growing. But, other than that, I’m pretty OK with our zoning,” Carmody said.
If someone came to you with a proposal to build a new piece of public infrastructure in the city, how would you evaluate whether that project was worth implementing?
DePinto said he would first take the city’s interest into equation, evaluate the impact to the city’s traffic plan, look at the financials, then look at what the citizens want.
“If people don’t want it, I’m not going to support it. It’s as simple as that,” DePinto said.
Jayne and McLellan echoed most of DePinto’s sentiments.
Carmody said she would base her judgement of the proposal on whether or not it’s within the city’s comprehensive plan. If not, she would bring it up to the council and appropriate committee.
“It’s a process. You can’t just fly by the seat of your pants. You gotta follow the rules,” Carmody said.
Curry said she agreed with Carmody.
“The comprehensive plan is what runs our city. We don’t make a move without looking at it, and if it’s not in there it doesn’t go. If it is in there, we look at the budget analysis, then go from there,” Curry said.
If elected, what three steps would you take to put the city on firmer financial footing?
Jayne said she would double down on events and activities that would draw people into the city. She also said she would focus on publicity in the community.
McLellan said he would focus on city investments that outpace inflation and rising costs, review holdings and work closely with the financial committee to ensure the city is working efficiently.
“Our city should be run and maintained no differently than your car. If something breaks, you fix it immediately. Otherwise, you’re replacing your engine because of a thrown rod because you skipped a simple oil change,” McLellan said.
Blair praised City Administrator Michael Grayum and former-Finance Director Joe Wolfe for the work they did in cleaning up the city budget. He said while he isn’t the most financially-savvy candidate, he would work closely and collaboratively with the experts at the city.
“I think our city’s done a lot better so far and I hope that continues as we move forward,” Blair said.
Carmody said there has been a lot of improvements by the city in recent years. She said she would like to see the council continue to keep each department accountable for the budget its given. In one example, the city saved more than $100,000 annually in bank fees simply by switching banks.
Curry added that the city also saved money recently by switching to a biennium budget cycle.
DePinto said he would create a rainy-day fund that could only be accessed by a 60 percent vote of the council, then put $2 million of its funds in savings, and lastly, advocate for more investments by the city.
On the question of a hypothetical $1 million grant being awarded to the city, most candidates agreed they would invest in the city’s failing water system and make improvements to the city’s infrastructure.
What would your plan be to help the city deal with the issue of homelessness and would you rely on taxpayer dollars to fund it?
Blair said the issue of homelessness is a multifaceted one with no clear-cut solution, but he said the city needs to work on mitigating health hazards that come with the issue of homelessness.
“People still need to be accountable for themselves. And when we have needles laying around, people throwing up tents wherever, harassing people walking by — we have to find a fine line between the people that genuinely need help and the people that need to be held accountable for their actions,” Blair said.
Carmody, who serves on the city’s Homelessness Task Force, agreed, adding that she would like to see garbage cans and portable toilets set up near the denser homeless camps to protect citizens.
DePinto said he would like to see the city partner with organizations and churches that already provide meals. He’d also like to consider opening up the community center once a month to sign homeless people up for resources and social services, while also cracking down on squatting and panhandling.
Curry said she agreed with DePinto’s low-cost, collaborative approach to the issue.
How can the city improve parks and recreation space to best serve the area?
Carmody said she would like to see a dog park and improved parking at Longmire Park.
DePinto said he would like the city to invest in a dedicated parks coordinator position, which could potentially cost about $60,000 annually. He said he’d also like to see the parks department eventually expand.
“It sounds like a huge amount, but if they can improve our parks and recs, get more recreational opportunities for the youth and adults here in Yelm, I think it’d be worth it,” DePinto said.
“That would be really important, but it’s too much money now to be dealing with,” Jayne told DePinto.
She said she’d like to see the city allocate more park property for public events and more annual festivals. She noted the recent expansion of Jazz in the Park and the UFO Festival, which recently moved out to the Thurston County Fairgrounds for its third iteration.
McLellan said he’d like to see a dog park and pool installed.
“I don’t even own a dog and I’d love to see a dog park here in Yelm,” McLellan said.
The general election for these races is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Ballots will be mailed out Oct. 16. Citizens can register to vote up through Oct. 28 online and through mail, and up until Nov. 5 on election day.
For more information on Curry and Blair, read our previous candidate coverage at this link: http://www.yelmonline.com/article_df8b83a0-afee-11e9-9ff5-27f02472b834.html.
For more information on Carmody and Jayne, read our previous candidate coverage at this link: http://www.yelmonline.com/article_ddcc3d8e-c39e-11e9-a3fa-b3b9ee077d27.html.
For more information on DePinto and McLellan, read our previous candidate coverage at this link: http://www.yelmonline.com/article_e920cf8a-bad2-11e9-8bab-bfb630d679d8.html.