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Lakewood’s City Councilors: Half-year report

Lakewood City Hall

The year kicked off with a new mayor – Donald Anderson stepped down, to be replaced by his deputy, Jason Whalen. Mary Moss became the deputy mayor.

Mayor Jason Whalen is less abrasive than his predecessor. He certainly wouldn’t do what Donald Anderson did, and describe public attendees at council meetings as “the peanut gallery”.

It’s also true that Jason Whalen likes to give the impression that he is a believer in compromise and consensus. Or as new deputy mayor Mary Moss put it, “Jason doesn’t have a partisan agenda; he works on behalf of the people – not of special interests or Party ideology”.

In reality Jason Whalen represents a section of Lakewood, and he doesn’t seem too bothered by the destruction wrought on other sections of the community by the development of warehouses. Indeed from his comments at Council meetings, he actually seems proud that warehouse developers are locating in Lakewood.

Mary Moss, the deputy mayor, has contributed little of value to council meetings, and her communications often take the form of anodyne pleasantries.

Furthermore, she often follows the lead of Jason Whalen and former mayor Donald Anderson. To my knowledge the last time she contradicted them was in 2018, when she voted against Ordinance 683, which prohibited marijuana businesses in Lakewood.

Nonetheless, one should give Mary Moss the benefit of the doubt. From her reports, she attends a lot of events, and much of her work seems to happen behind the scenes.

It should also be noted that on June 21 Mary Moss, as deputy mayor, chaired her first council meeting. This was because the mayor was in Hawaii. It was a high-risk meeting, because there is a lot of anger in the community about the closure of Lakewood’s library.

As far as I could see, Mary Moss’s chairing of the meeting was competent, and she passed her first test. She did take a risk by directly responding to one public commentator, who implied that the City was responsible for preparing cost estimates for the library. However, nothing bad happened.

Donald Anderson might no longer be mayor, but that doesn’t mean he has gone away. He exercises control and influence, and we saw this when Michael Brandstetter suggested that the Garry oak becomes the City tree. Straight away Donald Anderson opposed the suggestion, and the other council members meekly followed suit.

Donald Anderson’s authority comes not just from his personality, but from the fact that he has been in this game a long time. He knows everything about Pierce County, he has contacts all over the place, including with the military on JBLM. And when he comments on the local transport system, or City funding, or a host of other topics, there always seems to be the sub-text: “I know this stuff backwards, I understand the limits of council-manager government, and you can’t do a better job than me”.

If there is one council member who genuinely and selflessly serves his community it is Michael Brandstetter. He is a hard-working council member, who is prepared to wade through bureaucratic detail and ask questions. Further, he is accessible, and is prepared to discuss at length issues that are worrying Lakewood residents.

Michael Brandstetter is capable of acting independently, for example his attempt to make the Garry oak the City tree. And like the other Republican council members, Donald Anderson and Jason Whalen, he is not afraid of expressing his opinions. Yet Michael Brandstetter appears to be a fatalist, in the sense of believing that once something has been decided, there is little you can do it stop it.

There are certain similarities between Michael Brandstetter and Paul Bocchi. Paul Bocchi wants to serve his community, and he has a good grasp of detail. I also get the impression that he is not comfortable with some of the things going on in Lakewood. He was certainly taken aback by the Pierce County Library System’s decision to close Lakewood’s library. And while he might have some views about tree preservation, being a Democrat he keeps a low profile.

Maybe Linda Farmer would actually just rather be somewhere else – I assume that if she is elected as Pierce County Auditor in November she will leave the City Council. And she hasn’t even completed her first four-year term!

Overall, Linda Farmer occupies a similar position to Mary Moss, in the sense that she tends to follow Jason Whalen’s and Donald Anderson’s lead. We saw this most clearly when she agreed with Donald Anderson’s opposition to making the Garry oak the City tree, saying

I would like a little bit more information about what it would mean to designate a city tree, to Council member Anderson’s point. What would happen if we needed to cut one down…?

Yet we shouldn’t forget that Linda Farmer, along with Paul Bocchi and Donald Anderson, was responsible for selecting members of the Ad Hoc Tree Committee.

Many people were suspicious of this selection process, and thought the committee would be stacked, so that the status quo would be maintained. Yet as it happened the committee supported increased protections for Lakewood’s trees, helped by the fact that representatives from real estate interests stopped turning up. So maybe Linda Farmer managed to work some magic after all?

Then there’s Patti Belle. I have already discussed the flawed process by which she was appointed, and her performance has been unimpressive. She has not shown any real leadership, and she often echoes the words of other council members. Matters aren’t helped by her body language – she often slouches to one side, sipping from a large drink occasionally, while holding up her head with one hand, as if she is bored, tired or both.

I understand that Patti Belle might be worn out after a hard day’s work, but City Councilors are not just volunteers – they are paid for their time. Patti Belle earns a six-figure salary at the City of Kent, and maybe she should ask herself whether she needs really the extra aggravation of being a Lakewood City councilor.

And here are the grades. They reflect council members’ performance, and the extent to which they serve their constituents’ interests. They are not a comment on their politics and ideology.

Council Member grades
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