Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Tacoma City Council


A welcome escalation in the war on metal thievery

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

If the cats are the police and the mice are metal thieves, the mice are winning.

States, counties and cities have spent years churning out laws to prevent thieves – often drug addicts – from stripping American civilization of its copper.

Much of the enforcement focuses on scrap metal dealers, who – innocently, for the most part – make the thievery profitable. Dealers are now required to meticulously document their purchases and identify the sellers.

It hasn’t worked, or at least it hasn’t worked very well. The continuing damage thieves are doing to buildings, signs, light poles and other metal-rich objects attests to their ingenuity at frustrating the law.

The Tacoma City Council has just taken its own swing at the underground market. A new ordinance authored by councilmembers Marty Campbell and Victoria Woodards would, among other things, require dealers to put distinctively undersized license plates on the trucks they send out to pick up scrap.

It seems an excellent idea.

Lots of people haul loads of old metal around town: small contractors, drivers for construction and demolition companies, ordinary folks getting rid of things that have been sitting in their backyards a couple of decades too long.

They won’t get stopped by police merely because there’s something rusty or shiny in the truck bed.

But if a couple of guys in a truck are driving through a neighborhood, prowling for scrap, and they don’t have the special dealer’s license, the police will have probable cause to stop them for a little chat.

It’s worth a try. So is a broader initiative from the City Council, which aims to create a regional – and ultimately statewide – “no buy” list that would prevent convicted metal thieves from selling anything metallic. State lawmakers, take note.
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Will the Tacoma City Council protect dispensary neighbors?

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The Tacoma City Council appears to have backed down from a plan to enable “medical marijuana” sales in the city’s commercial districts.

Instead, it is contemplating a measure that would call dispensaries and other pot-selling operations what they are: illegal nuisances.

The move suggests that at least some members of the council recognize that the reality of commercial marijuana is far seedier than it seemed in 2010 – when the council more or less told the police to ignore trafficking if the traffickers put up a sign labeling the drug as “medicine.”

That tolerance policy spawned dozens of dispensaries that are not grandly popular with their neighbors.

Dispensaries were originally sold on the notion they exist to serve people dying of cancer and suffering from other severe illnesses.

An increasing public complaint, though, is that many of the “patients” walking through their doors look for all the world like ordinary dopers. Any honest person close to the industry will concede that it caters to a whole lot of recreational drug users.
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Mental health sales tax: Tell Tacoma what it’s buying

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Tacoma City Council is moving quietly and quickly toward an increase in the city’s sales tax. It ought to be moving noisily and slowly.

The tenth-of-a-percent tax, which the council could enact Tuesday, is expected to bring in $2.6 million in 2013 and rising amounts thereafter.

It wouldn’t be a lot at the checkout counter – just a penny on a $10 purchase. Its intentions are good: preserving or expanding programs that improve mental health and reduce addiction. But it is a tax, and it needs more public discussion than it’s gotten so far.

One concern is that the council has no clear plan for spending much of the money. Instead of first identifying priorities, then collecting the tax, city officials want to get the tax on the books ASAP. Then they will launch a process to decide how it gets spent.

The haste is driven by desperation. Past councils and administrations have saddled the city with a scary revenue shortfall that threatens deep cuts to police and fire protection, and other vital public services. City funding for human services – homelessness and mental health programs among them – is endangered.

Half of the new tax – $1.3 million a year – could be used initially to replace existing funding for such programs. If the council moves quickly enough ­– by the end of March – it could start collecting the money this July.

Hence the rush. If the schedule slips past this month, collections would slip to October.
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Why the rush to hire Tacoma’s next city manager?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Slow down, council members. Slow down.

The Tacoma City Council appears poised to hire a city manager Tuesday night – a long-term decision made in a few short weeks. The four finalists might be credible candidates for this immensely challenging job; the council’s apparent hurry to close the deal is not so credible.

This is as important a vote as most members of this council are ever likely to make. The city manager is the CEO of an immense organization with multi-billion-dollar budgets. He – all the finalists are men – could make the difference between a city on the move and a city just hanging on.

Has the council really thought long enough and hard enough about this decision? Would it hurt to do another week or two or three of detective work? Here are some questions that ought to be answered about anyone seeking to run this large and complex city:

• Is he a wide-screen thinker? Does he have a panoramic vision for Tacoma’s future?

• Has he been tested? Has he shown skill and creativity in dealing with a major crisis – like the fiscal crisis the City of Tacoma now faces?

• Has he run open governments? Does he hide the public’s business from the public? Is his first impulse to include or exclude citizens?

• How broad and deep is his executive experience?
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Public sector, meet private sector economic reality

Update: The raises recommended for Tacoma Fire Chief Ronald Stephens and Police Chief Don Ramsdell have been withdrawn in light of Tacoma’s budget shortfall, according to city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff.

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Onward and upward goes the compensation of some government employees, even during the deepest economic distress in generations.

The latest bit of government largess – 5 percent pay increases – has gone to Tacoma Fire Chief Ronald Stephens and Police Chief Don Ramsdell. Their salaries will now be, respectively, $181,534 and $180,551.

That may or may not be too much in a city the size of Tacoma. What’s interesting is the thinking behind the raise: These two had to be paid more because they were in danger of being overtaken by their subordinates.

Without the increase, the city’s deputy fire chiefs and assistant police chiefs – all unionized, despite their high-management status – stood to make more money than their bosses.

Government compensation is rife with that kind of logic: Someone else gets more, so our guys ought to get even more than them. What clobbers taxpayers are the constant rounds of leap-frogging between one jurisdiction’s pay schedule and the pay schedules of “comparable” jurisdictions.

Public officials have a quaint notion of “market” pay. In the private sector, “market” is roughly defined as what you have to pay good employees to make them want to stick around. Otherwise, they complain with their feet.

In government, market pay is generally defined as what someone in a similar position in another government makes – regardless of whether attrition is a threat.

The City of Tacoma recently passed out millions of dollars worth of raises to its employees on the basis of such market comparisons, even as a $26 million hole has opened in its current biennial budget. The raises reflect the city council’s expensive policy of paying workers at least 70 percent of the highest pay given to their counterparts in similar cities.
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Smitherman, Boe, Walker, Mello for Tacoma City Council

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.


Four seats on the Tacoma City Council are up for election Nov. 8. Three are easy calls for the incumbents; the fourth – to fill the open District 1 seat – is a little tougher.

The race is between recently retired educator Karen Smitherman and Anders Ibsen, the office manager of his wife’s law practice. Both are smart, active in local Democratic politics and likely would vote very similarly on issues coming before the council.

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It’s a little late to plead ignorance about pot shops

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Looks like another round of dithering from the Tacoma City Council on medical marijuana.

At the council’s behest, Mayor Marilyn Strickland is assembling a “task force” of citizens tasked with helping council members shirk accountability for letting a commercial marijuana industry fester illegally in the city.

The group is supposed to advise the council on whether it should tolerate marijuana stores, also known as dispensaries. It’s hard to see this as anything but an attempt to outsource the question to people who bear no public accountability for it.

The issue came before the council last year and has been hotly debated ever since; any council member who actually needed more facts on the matter at this point would do well to confess a case of terminal obtuseness and resign.

The council has had time to study the issue ad nauseum. It knows that every competent legal authority, from the city attorney on up to the county prosecutor and the state attorney general, says that the sale of marijuana is illegal under state law, including the initiative that legalized medical marijuana in 1998.

The law does allow collective gardens of no more than 45 plants shared by a maximum of 10 patients, who can hire a skilled marijuana gardener (no shortage of those) on a strictly nonprofit basis.

The Seattle City Council has decided to pretend that this explicit restriction somehow allows dispensaries to sell pot to unlimited numbers of customers.

For the Tacoma City Council, the question is whether to mimic Seattle’s toleration policy or actually honor the law. It ought to close Tacoma’s roughly 50 marijuana stores – which for some strange reason far outnumber the city’s pharmacies – and stick to genuine collective gardens.
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Atkinson for Tacoma council; Nye for UPlace

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Two candidates rise to the top in the primary elections for Tacoma and University Place city councils.

In the four-way race for Tacoma’s Position 1 – now held by departing council member Spiro Manthou – Joe Atkinson is the candidate most likely to help shore up the city’s shaky finances and focus on job creation in the private sector.

Position 1 represents a district that covers Tacoma’s West End and part of the North End; it reaches south to University Place and east to North Proctor Street. Seeking the seat, along with Atkinson, are Karen Smitherman, Anders Ibsen and Carl Alexander.

Alexander, a small business owner, isn’t running hard. Smitherman and Ibsen, in contrast, have mounted well-funded campaigns replete with endorsements from organized labor and the Democratic establishment.
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