Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sharon Coontz's application letter for county commission seat

Some thoughts after reading Susan's letter.

Her success with Friends of Rocky Prairie is admirable, but using a sentence like "I've learned a tremendous amount about the region, including the roles of many committees and commissions I didn't even know existed before" under qualifications is troubling. It just points out she's new at this.

Maybe a few years on the county planning commission is more fitting than a county commission seat.

Also, her idea about using interns from Evergreen (you know they have a Public Admin masters program) is interesting. I don't know if managing unpaid or lowly paid interns is more expensive than actually hiring someone. But, its an interesting idea.

Via email:
TO: Thurston County Democrats
FROM: Sharron Coontz
RE: Board of County Commissioners, District 3

I have decided, at the urging of many county residents, to apply for this position. My recent work with the Friends of Rocky Prairie to keep the Port of Tacoma from building a huge cargo transfer center just south of Millersylvania State Park has convinced me that I need to do more. My success in making contacts and building alliances with public officials, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations shows that I would be an effective country commissioner. I believe that I could make a significant contribution to the county and its needs in that office.


As a fourth generation Olympian whose great-grandparents homesteaded here, I have a deep and abiding love for Thurston County. Lately, I've also had a deep sadness as I've seen some of the county changed forever in negative ways. I've been fighting what I considered a potentially catastrophic change to the county with the South Sound Logistics Center issue, and now I feel it's important to carry that struggle further and find ways to protect our county's precious resources, stop irresponsible growth, and make sure that Thurston County remains a lovely and compassionate place to live.


I've been spearheading the efforts to save Rocky Prairie for a year now, and was active with the group for months before that. During this time, I've learned a tremendous amount about the region, including the roles of many committees and commissions I didn't even know existed before, and I've learned about the relationships between the county and several other state and local agencies and how they interact. I still have a great deal to learn, but having successfully mastered a huge array of very complex information quickly, I feel certain I can continue to do so.

While I lack the arrogance to claim I have the best qualifications for the job, I am convinced that my success in gaining the ears and active support of many important leaders shows an ability to both persuade and unify when working with others, even those with very different politics from mine. (For example, many people were stunned when I managed to convince Rep. Richard DeBolt to make a public statement critical of the Port of Tacoma's decision to site the South Sound Logistics Center at Rocky Prairie.) I have had, and continue to have, a great deal of interaction with the county staff and officials, and have been developing relationships there as I've worked on this issue. Although much of my experience has dealt with land use, I doubt that there is any one candidate who is well versed in all of the county's activities, and I am committed to learning what I need to know quickly.

I would bring with me to the position a successful record of working with many areas of government, having organized, for example, the participation of several state agency directors and managers in a coalition with federal and n.g.o. leaders to work together in our dealings with the Port of Tacoma. These and the other contacts I've made could be very helpful to the county.

I also feel certain that my experience as a teacher will prove valuable in my work for the county, as it has shown me how to ask the needed questions of others and explain my position to them. My sense of humor and an ability to defuse tense situations are qualities that have helped me in all my endeavors.


Since the solutions to many of the county's problems are long term, so must my commitment to the position be. I am only undertaking this challenge having considered the ramifications of such an extremely serious commitment. If chosen, I would draw on my grass-roots organizing experience to mount a campaign and run for election as requested. I see this as critical, since many of the accomplishments I'd be working toward would of course take time to achieve.


There are many issues I'd like to address as commissioner, and I hope there will be time to discuss them more fully in an interview. But I've listed some priorities below.

1. We need a sensible long-range funding system for the county, one not so susceptible to the vagaries of the economy that the budget needs frequent drastic changes. This is especially important in the social services, courts, and enforcement areas. The fact is, not having enough staff to address a policy decision when it needs addressing becomes a policy decision. (An example of what I mean by that is what happened with the proposed rezone of Rocky Prairie. The county said they hadn't enough staff to address the rezone this year and, intentional or not, that became a decision to leave the property unprotected.) This can seriously affect the health, safety and welfare of citizens and land.

The current economic crisis has demonstrated the danger of trying to run government services on a business model -- that model has failed rather dramatically. So while I have a huge amount of respect for the county staff members with whom I've worked, one of my first actions would be to reach far beyond them to voices not always heard by government agencies, setting up meetings with many economists, seeking those with new, fresh perspectives to brainstorm creative solutions to this chronic problem.

2. While addressing the long-term solutions for the budget, I would like to encourage some short term ones, such as: a more aggressive recruitment and use of interns from the local and nearby colleges and universities to help in areas where staffing has been cut; and encouraging a creative look at community service options to help lower incarceration costs where latitude exists in the sentencing regulations of "victimless" criminals.

3. I believe that growth needs to pay for itself instead of burdening the current citizens with the huge infrastructure costs associated with it. Impact fees need to be increased to reflect actual impacts. Also, developers often buy land that is zoned for low-density use, and accordingly pay less for it. They then turn around and ask for a variance or a rezone that allows for much heavier development. If the land had already been zoned at that level it would have cost much more. There should be a mechanism in place whereby if rezoned, the land is immediately re-appraised and the developer pays the county for the difference in land cost.

4. Our county needs much more emphasis on the enforcement of county regulations. Builders and county staff have made clear to me that the heavy emphasis on the permitting process, while helpful to the county financially, leaves little room for enforcement, and since the builders know that there's very little enforcement, many of them simply ignore the regulations once they've received the permits, often with serious safety and environmental consequences. I've also heard many citizens complain about faulty or failing septic systems they've seen on neighbors' land and the lack of the county's ability to initiate action.

5. We need to end the practice of trying to support the Development Services Department solely by development fees. This practice leads, in my opinion, to a certain acceptance of undesirable projects by a staff that knows such action represents job security. You can turn a desperate firefighter into an arsonist if s/he has been told the job will soon disappear if there aren't more blazes to fight.

6. Currently, there's a fox-guarding-the-hen-house-
policy of allowing developers to do their own Environmental Impact Statements. They're allowed to hire their own scientists and essentially come up with their own "best" solution to problems they find. It's necessary to work with other agencies and n.g.o.'s to fix this problem, and in the meantime, find a temporary solution for the county.

7. I would like to see more interaction with the public at commission meetings. Concerns shouldn't just be listened to, in my opinion, they should be discussed.

In conclusion, it's my opinion that with the recent election, not just Thurston County, but the whole nation has a renewed sense of hope and energy, a willingness to change the way we've done things. I've been reinvigorated by Obama's victory, and feel that others around here have too. So perhaps the fact that I'm not a known political insider, and am not politically ambitious, can be seen as a plus as I offer to work hard to help the county I love. I hope so.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sharron Coontz


Anonymous said...

God help us all if she gets in.

Anonymous said...

Please don't hide your light under a bushel basket. Democracy is an open process.