Who represents your interests?

February 20th, 2023 by Ken

The recent disagreement on the Lacey City Council is over the revision of an interlocal agreement with the Regional Housing Council over the use of government funds to address homeless issues in the community, brings up a greater issue than just the expenditure of money or the administration of that money.

This disagreement is over community representation.  Who do elected officials represent?  Do they represent those who elected them, or do they represent a larger constituency.  In the 4-2 vote of the Lacey Council,  Councilmemer Lacey Greenstein argued that the agreement gave too much control over the money to the City of Olympia.  Councilmember Carolyn Cox argued that most of the homeless issues are in Olympia and that is why Olympia should have greater representation.

OK – I simplified the issue.  But the bottom line is clear.  Who do members of the Lacey City Council represent?  Do they represent the citizens of Lacey or do they also represent the greater community which lives adjacent to the city of Lacey?

In the mid-1970’s,  the three cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater formed the Regional Planning Commission to do planning that is outside the boundaries of the three cities.  That was the first of the more than 20 regional boards and commissions that now represent the greater interest.  Some of those regional bodies include 911 Communications, Medic One, Animal Control, Intercity Transit, LOTT, and the Regional Housing Council – – just to name a few.

Each of these regional bodies have a different governing board, but they all contain a representative of the signing government agency such as the cities, the port and in some case even other government groups.   I have been opposed to these regional groups because there is no way a citizen can change the direction of that body by non-elected board members.  (They are appointed by their respective cities, but those of us outside that particular city, cannot vote to dismiss them.)  For example, Carolyn Cox has been Lacey’s housing rep for eight years.  She was particularly attached to this issue when she was first elected to the Lacey City Council.  Voters in Olympia or Tumwater cannot remove her from her regional position.

This holds true for all the regional boards.  They answer to no particular citizen’s election opportunity.  These regional boards operate semi-independently with no reason to answer to the public.

I’ve been opposed from the very beginning and still opposed – – but – it seems to work.  For the most part, the citizens of Thurston County and the greater urban area seem to favor such bodies.

But – the homeless issue, which has been with us for more than a decade, has brought a regional problem that is different in each community.   The homeless issue affects all three cities to some extent, but since 99 percent of the services for the homeless are located in Olympia, the problem seems to be more Olympia-centric.

Lenny Greenstein was just representing the views of many of his Lacey constituents when he pointed out that Lacey has been doing a good job of taking care of the homeless in the confines of the Lacey City Limits.  And the dichotomy between Lacey and Olympia’s way of dealing with the homeless, is spelled out very clearly at the corner of Sleater-Kinney and I-5.  Lacey’s side is clean of homeless encampments.  Olympia’s side is a shameful mess and is a clear example of how the two communities view the solution to the homeless issue.

Does Carolyn Cox’s view of the homeless – or Lenny Greestein’s view, echo the feelings of the Lacey community.   By a 4-2 vote the Lacey Council sided with Cox.  By the way – where was our mayor during this controversial vote?

Posted in Government, History, Informational, Local Politics, The Real News

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