Harding Out, Foster In as Yelm Mayor

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City Councilor JW Foster was appointed to the position of interim mayor by a vote of 4-0 with three abstentions Tuesday evening.

He was sworn into office and will serve the remainder of former Mayor Ron Harding’s term, which ends at the end of 2017. Harding officially resigned from his position as mayor 5 p.m. Tuesday. He accepted a position as city administrator in Aumsville, Oregon.

Foster said he wants to work to make Yelm a “safe, healthy, happy home.”

“That’s what Yelm should be,” he said.

Foster also said he wants to bring in more members of the community to be part of the governing process and have more transparency within the city government.

“I want to hear from people who have been heard but feel like they haven’t been listened to,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges Yelm is facing is being able to keep up with growth, Foster said. The city is not only supporting the area within the city limits but the area outside the city limits, as well.

“For Yelm to catch up we need a better tax structure,” he said referring to the portions of unincorporated Thurston County where the city provides services such as law enforcement, but the residents don’t fund those services through property taxes because they are collected by the county. “Growth should pay for growth, it is a well accepted term in community planning.”

Traffic is also another big problem within the city, Foster said. However the 9,000 people who live in Yelm, half of whom don’t have driver’s licences, don’t account for the 90,000 vehicles passing through the city each day.

“I like to say all roads lead through Yelm,” Foster said, adding “people who complain about traffic need to look at their own driving habits and think, ‘Am I part of the problem?’”

Foster suggests carpooling, walking or biking instead of driving. This will reduce the number of cars on the road.

“Everybody needs to be part of the solution,” he said.

Foster also plans on supporting the projects, like the spray park, Harding and past councils have approved and laid out. He is also open to similar improvement projects in the future.

“This is what you do, you build things for the community,” he said. “They are ‘things’ but they are things people want and use.”

Foster added a community such as Yelm that comes together to enjoy things like the parks, spray park — once built — and the skate park are closer as a community.

An executive session was originally on the agenda for the council to discuss the qualifications of candidates for the mayor position. It was removed by a vote of the council at the beginning of the meeting.

Under Washington state law the council can go into executive session to discuss qualifications; however, the council cannot interview the candidate or make any action or motion to appoint the candidate. Those must be done in a meeting open to the public.

Councilors Joe DePinto, Molly Carmody and Tad Stillwell abstained from the vote. Carmody and DePinto both felt the position should have been opened to the public for applications. They also felt the decision was made too hastily, only an hour after Harding officially resigned, and the council should have taken the 90 days allowed under state law to deliberate to fill the position.

“I feel the process was rushed, I feel the city was not properly prepared,” Carmody said. “I have no issue with JW (Foster) being mayor, I think (Foster) will be an excellent mayor.”

She said she believed the council was not required to appoint a councilor to the position and members of the public should have been able to apply for consideration.

Nowhere in the law does it require to appoint one of its members to this position, she said. The law says “candidate” and “individual,” not council member, she said. Therefore the council should not have rushed to appoint one of its own.

Foster said it is normal for city councils to appoint its members to open mayor positions, because members of the council have been involved in the city’s process, thus making them more qualified to immediately fulfill their duties as mayor.

“The reason why a council member is qualified is because they have been involved in the city’s process,” he said.

DePinto abstained from the vote because he felt the process was not open enough for public involvement and should have been open for members of the public to apply.

“The reason why I abstained was because of lack of transparency,” DePinto said. “It is the highest public office in Yelm, there is no reason why it shouldn’t have,” he added about the public being able to apply.

The council also agreed to find a replacement for Foster’s now vacant position at the council study session July 27. Foster said the council cannot take action at study sessions, but they can form a consensus of what they want to see on the agenda for a future council meeting.

“It was agreed to as a council to use this process,” Foster said.

When Councilor Bob Isom nominated Foster for the mayor position, a member of the public in attendance at the meeting chimed in and asked if the public could nominate someone for the position. Mayor Pro Tem Tracy Wood, who was running the meeting at this point, said the public does not get to nominate someone in this process under state law.

After Harding announced his resignation on July 22, DePinto announced on July 24 — via Facebook — he would seek the appointment.

At Tuesday’s meeting he was silent during the nomination process. He said after the meeting he decided not to seek the appointment prior to the meeting because he knew he did not have enough votes on the council.

“These decision have already been made,” DePinto said, referring to one-on-one conversations between council members.

DePinto said he is open to running for the position in 2017 when it will be up for election. He would also like to thank members of the community for their support.

“I would like to thank those who supported me,” he said. “It means a lot to me that you think I am ready.”

Once Foster was sworn in as mayor, DePinto said he would support Foster in his new role and will help anyway he can.

“Mayor Foster is the new mayor and I support him 100 percent,” DePinto said.

Prominent local businesswoman Margaret Clapp submitted a letter to the city council supporting Foster’s appointment as mayor on Aug. 2.

“The city needs a firm hand but an open and seasoned mind,” she said in the letter. “I strongly support the appointment of JW Foster to the position of interim mayor. He has patience, experience and above all the gravitas that the staff of city hall and the citizens of Yelm deserve. I encourage you to do so with no delay.”

The Yelm Business Association submitted a letter to the city council in support of DePinto for interim mayor.

The letter, signed by YBA Executive Director Dan Crowe, President Cynthia Schmier, Vice President Steve Craig and board members Kellie Petersen, Marian Licxandru, Bill Hashim and Steve Klein, endorsed DePinto, citing his experience as executive legislative assistant to Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and his new perspective on the council.

“Yelm voters overwhelmingly chose new councilors last fall over three incumbent public officials, indicative of wanting a new direction, rather than support for leaders and policies of the past,” the letter stated.

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