Return to sender

In 1980, 62% of Pierce County voters chose to eliminate our county commission and replace it with a seven-member county council and elected county executive. When the council and executive disagree, things can get a little messy.

Two cases in point: this week’s disagreement over who gets to choose which flags are flown at County buildings, and my veto today of an ordinance permitting homeless parking at civic sites.

First some background and context. I represent everyone in Pierce County. A council district might not be very ideologically diverse, but across the county we have a whole spectrum of ideas, opinions, values, and attitudes. It’s my job to ensure that everyone is included, and no one is excluded. That’s not always possible, of course, but I do my best to be mindful of this principle.

I try to bring people together, which is why I am very hesitant to allow our county flagpole to become a political battleground. My preference would be to simply fly the U.S. flag and county flag.

As I mentioned to the Tacoma News Tribune, I’m well aware that there are residents who would strongly resent the County flying the “thin blue line” flag over our buildings. That flag may signify to me a strong respect for law enforcement, but I know others see it as a hurtful symbol.

Think about if for a moment and I’m sure you can also come up with a list of organizations or groups that might prompt upset or anger: should we fly a Right to Life flag? Black Lives Matter? Boy Scouts? Heck, I’m sure there are people who would object to us flying a Daffodil Festival flag.

Because flags mean different things to different people, I think it makes sense to have broad consensus to fly a new flag. Some Councilmembers think if any four of them can agree on a flag, that’s good enough. I respectfully disagree. I like our current policy, which says the executive may authorize a special flag in response to a unanimous request from the Council. That’s why I vetoed the measure.

Some people are mischaracterizing this disagreement as a fight over a particular flag—the Pride flag. As an elected official, I signed up to face criticism, but what’s upsetting to me is the possibility any LGBTQ+ County employee might feel hurt by this. My veto isn’t about the Pride flag. I want to underscore as strongly as I can all employees should feel free to be their full selves when they are serving the people of Pierce County. In fact, I’m pleased to let you know that we’re getting ready to launch new affinity groups for County employees, and one of the first ones to begin is for LGBTQ+ employees. This has been in the planning stages for months and I’m grateful to Mary Ransier and her colleagues in Human Resources for their leadership on this.

This week, I also vetoed an ordinance that would have permitted homeless parking sites associated with civic uses virtually anywhere in unincorporated Pierce County. “Civic uses” in Pierce County Code includes locations like government offices, schools, day cares, parks, libraries, community centers, senior centers, medical offices, and parking garages.

I am concerned about the impact on public trust if the county were to take this action using interim regulations that short-circuit the normal public engagement process. We have a lot of work to do on this issue, and cutting corners erodes the public trust necessary to make long-term, sustainable progress on homelessness.

I do think temporary safe parking — if done in the right way — is a valuable option for some homeless individuals. Human Services is moving forward with a contract to expand an existing safe parking program supported by Pierce County. Safe parking is already allowed at churches and other religious facilities. My veto does not change that.

As I wrap up this week’s blog, I hope you will join me in wearing red on Thursday, May 5.  It is the day set aside for national recognition for murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW). As I’ve mentioned before, the Puget Sound area is one of the worst places for those who would harm Native women.  We will join the rest of the nation in raising awareness to end this scourge in our community.

Thanks for reading,