The Nisqually Valley News sent questions to the candidates for Yelm mayor — Mayor JW Foster and Councilor Joe DePinto. The following are their answers.

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JW Foster

Age: 62

City: Yelm

Family: Married for 33 years to Nicki with four grown children who all graduated from Yelm High School and then completed four-year degrees from Washington state universities.

Education: Graduated from East Greenwich High School, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, 1974 — On Avengers! 4 1/2 years in the United States Marine Corps 1974-79, Paramedic School Los Angeles 1981, 34 years of continuing education in the fire service, 2017 Certified Municipal Leader.

Political Experience:Previously on the Yelm City Council since 2011 and on the Yelm Planning Commission before that for several years.

Work Experience: Yelm resident since 1996, retired firefighter/paramedic, present mayor of Yelm.

Community Involvement: Chair of the General Advisory Committee on Career and Technical Education for Yelm Community Schools, board president of Nisqually Land Trust, secretary to the board for Thurston County Regional Planning Council, Yelm Dollars for Scholars committee member, and active member of Yelm Rotary and Yelm Lions.

Top-Three Priorities If Elected

1. Take care of the employees who take care of Yelm.

2. Encourage and stimulate economic vitality through support of local businesses.

3. Maintain a balanced budget that supports all services we provide the citizens of Yelm and the many who call Yelm their home base.

Why are you running for this office?

I am running to stay on as mayor because we believe it’s the right thing to do for Yelm. We have been through many changes as a city over the past decade and are facing significant challenges that require a steady, experienced leader.

What makes you the best candidate for the position?

My combined experiences in leadership positions from the Marine Corps, through my career in the fire service and community organizations, along with the education I have received through self-study and “on-the-job” training as interim mayor give me a unique ability to address the issues facing our city. I have demonstrated my commitment to our community over the past 21 years, and I now have the time to dedicate to this full-time job.

What is the largest need for infrastructure (excluding Yelm Loop) in the Yelm area as the city continues to grow, and what is your plan to fund it?

The largest infrastructure need is to maintain our water distribution and wastewater treatment facilities. They are vital to the health and economy of our city. Both are expensive and require major upgrades and maintenance. The majority of funding must come from the ratepayers themselves, sharing in the costs equitably between customers. This will be augmented by grants we will apply for from the state and federal government. 

Where does Yelm’s largest traffic problem occur and how would you improve it?

The traffic problem we experience all along Yelm Avenue during peak commuter times comes from the growth that has occurred in Yelm and into Pierce County. We have been successful in moving up the completion date of the state Route 510 Bypass, which will help Yelm Avenue, but are continuing the conversation with our state legislators and the Washington Department of Transportation to work on the capacity of state Route 507 as it crosses the Nisqually River and intersects with state Route 702 in McKenna. Local traffic fixes have been made, like the Stevens Street connector and more will come as grant money makes them possible.

Do you consider Yelm a business-friendly city? What will you do to make it more business friendly?

Yelm is business friendly now and I work with our Community Development team to improve the working relationship we have with our business community. I have money in the 2018 budget to work with specialized organizations to reach out to more businesses and entrepreneurs to improve Yelm’s economic vitality.

What will you do to improve downtown vibrancy?

We created by zoning a “historic downtown” business district to encourage businesses to work toward creating a “Yelm identity.” We have a corridor study underway to help improve vehicle and pedestrian traffic while highlighting the businesses. We have a beautification committee that will reconvene to work on ways we can support the downtown businesses in putting on their “best face.” And our public works employees will continue to work on keeping the streets clean and well maintained.

Do you consider Yelm government to be transparent? How will you improve transparency?

Since taking office in August 2016, I have taken steps to make Yelm’s government much more transparent and open to communication. Starting with a more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere at city council meetings and study sessions, to establishing social media sites and reaching out to residents through our website and a strong working relationship with the local media, we have glass walls on city hall and welcome public participation and comment.

Joe DePinto

Age: 30 

City: Yelm

Family: My mother and father still live in Thurston County as does multiple aunts, uncles and cousins. I have a lovely girlfriend who is a first-grade teacher in Yelm. 

Education: Yelm High School, New Market Vocational Skills Center, Eastern Washington University

Political Experience: Yelm City Councilor

Work Experience: Yelm Pizza Hut, Yelm Dairy Queen, Spokane Airways, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodger’s District Office, State Rep. Paul Harris’ office, Outcomes by Levy Lobbying Firm.

Community Involvement: In Yelm, I have been a Camp Cispus counselor, youth baseball manager/assistant coach/umpire, Prairie Soccer Club volunteer, and I attend/support many local fundraisers and nonprofit events. 

Top-Three Priorities If Elected

1. Restructure water rates to lower the base rate and

focus more on usage that you can control.

2. Improve public safety by creating a plan to ensure we have two police officers at all times and also obtain a narcotics K-9 to help officers find those

dealing meth and heroin.

3. Improve our economy by restructuring our B&O taxes to help small businesses and revitalize/expand our sleepy industrial park by creating incentives for large employ

Why are you running for this office?

I am running for mayor because I love my hometown and truly believe that government exists to serve the people, not the other way around. Yelm still has many of the same issues that were around when I was a kid and they still aren’t being addressed. I will not only be a leader who listens, but I will be a leader who creates common sense solutions.

What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I am the best candidate for this position because not only did I listen to the people and make campaign promises, but I kept those promises. I ask questions and always look at things from the perspective of citizens. I am also well-versed in different types and sizes of government and will bring back those best practices to Yelm.

What is the largest need for infrastructure (excluding Yelm Loop) in the Yelm area as the city continues to grow, and what is your plan to fund it?

Traffic projects that will relieve congestion and increase capacity. We will fund these projects by seeking funding from the next state transportation budget.  

Where does Yelm’s largest traffic problem occur and how would you improve it?

Our largest problem doesn’t even occur in Yelm; it happens at the stoplight in McKenna. We need to work with regional partners including Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Pierce County, Thurston County and the state to not only fix that intersection to increase traffic flow, but to also plan for the future like creating a new bridge into McKenna and creating new road projects.  

Do you consider Yelm a business-friendly city? What will you do to make it more business friendly?

Yelm is only friendly in regards to affordable property to build on. After that, the costs and regulations are hindering business growth. I will propose changes to our sign code to allow businesses to attract customers. I will also ask for an increase in the threshold for a business to pay B&O tax, which will help small businesses that are struggling to break even and create incentives for bigger businesses to attract higher wage jobs and diversify our economy. Lastly, I will immediately put on our website a page dedicated for new businesses coming to Yelm, which will include all the required permits, costs, and demographics of our community and workforce.   

What will you do to improve downtown vibrancy?

I will work with businesses to create a branding campaign not only for our downtown, but Yelm in general to highlight our great businesses and amazing community. We have funds designed for this that have never been utilized.

Do you consider Yelm government to be transparent? How will you improve transparency? 

We haven’t been in the past. We have banned using certain words in council meetings, we never used to video record our study sessions until last year, held closed door discussions when appointing two councilmembers and the mayor last year, and there were some on the council who recently tried to make study sessions at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, which would prevent most people who work from attending them. I would make Yelm more transparent by utilizing social media more and ensuring that we always record meetings and allow for public comment. I plan to hold regular Facebook Live Chats to increase transparency and public engagement.

 

 

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