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Category: Political turmoil in Ruston


Pickett’s view of the Ruston situation

Karen Pickett met me at Shari’s, and her soft-spoken voice belies a ton of passion for Ruston and its political scene. Pickett, a former councilwoman, recently launched the Ruston Home blog.

"It wasn’t anything too preplanned. I just wanted something where we could have some online dialogue – like a bulletin board or something," she said. "It just popped in my head in November to start a blog."

It’s not meant to go head-to-head with Ruston Connection.

"Some people said it’s like picking a fight – or continuing a fight – against the Ruston Connection," she said. "I don’t see it that way. I just wanted to get people talking."

She believes there is good reason for the anger in town.

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The view from Don’s Market

I sat down at Don’s Market & Deli in Ruston to chat about the town’s politics. The first person I talked to was Craig Fletcher, who offered up this theory on why Ruston politics are so sticky:

"It’s a bit more vicious because we know these people intimately," he said. "Some of them are former friends. Some are current friends."

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‘I believe I have a different perspective on things’

It was a black decaf coffee for Ruston Mayor Michael Transue when we sat down yesterday to talk about the political tensions in his small town north of Tacoma. We were sitting in a booth at the Ruston Inn, where others made sure to head out of their way to praise Transue for his work.

Transue is an unpopular guy with some members of the council. Bob Everding resigned his seat in protest of the mayor’s style. Councilman Bradley Huson calls Transue "lazy and a micromanager." Wayne Stebner accused Transue, a lobbyist, of using the mayor’s chair to advance his clients’ interests.

The situation seems to have hit critical mass.

"I don’t know if I’d say it’s the worst it’s ever been, but it’s close," Transue said. "Folks have very definite opinions on issues – you can see that in the meetings – and they’re well-dug-in positions. I think having folks with those diverse opinions makes it tough sometimes. I think there are 5, 10 15 percent take one view, then 5, 10, 15 percent take the other view. And then everybody else is in the middle. It’s the bell curve. When those polarizations occur, that’s when tempers flare."

Several councilmen have been critical of Transue for letting outbursts at town council meetings continue. The mayor’s unrepentant.

"I know some criticize me for being too lenient, but it doesn’t feel right to me to kick people out of meetings, to have a police officer there to boot people out," he said. "I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it’s helpful."

A Ruston police officer used to attend the meetings for security, but there hasn’t been one there lately. That’s riled some of Transue’s opponents. He says he handles it on a case-by-case basis.

"It’s a resource issue," he said. "I’m going to always weigh whether someone should be doing law enforcement work like DUIs, bar checks, speeding tickets, other public-safety things or working at the council meeting. I’ll let my officers make that call. When the council approved the budget, they removed a significant amount of overtime. One of the areas was in the police department."

He’s well aware of the criticism by members of the council.

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Hedrick sounds off on Ruston’s political woes

I met with Ruston Councilman Jim Hedrick today at the Pritchard cafeteria in Olympia (where, in a completely unrelated story, Trib legislature guru Joe Turner was holding court). He expressed concern with how Ruston’s government functions, and the tensions among citizens.

He said he’s in an "obvious political minority" on the council. The other three councilmembers – Bradley Huson, Wayne Stebner and Dan Albertson – vote as a bloc, he said, and they love to flaunt their power.

"They clearly have contempt for the mayor," he said. "And not because of the mayor’s stance on the Commencement as far as I can tell, but it’s because Michael isn’t going to sit in a group and let a few neighbors control everything."

Divisive issues have split the town, including the Commencement condo building, the possibility of phasing out the fire department, other development and possible annexation to Tacoma. He believes some who oppose further development don’t see the future implications.

"I don’t think people realize the town is 100 years old, but it was tied to a huge industry connected to it," he said. "The industry’s gone, and it has been for 23 years now. We’re not going to survive as a town unless we replace Stack. There’s no sales there, and we’re basically living on the property tax."

He has big visions for the future of Ruston.

"I see the town kind of like how people talk about Fremont in Seattle," he said. "It could be a really great thing, a destination spot where professionals want to move there. An urban village. At least I want to try to do that.

"But if we fail and we run the developers off, we’ll have to unincorporate. We can’t sustain ourselves on $3 million that we got from the Commencement."

Some of the anger is justifiable, he said.

"There’s just a lot of contempt about how people are running the town," he said. "It’s like an opera. Even before I got on the council, I was sitting in the audience and think, ‘All we’re trying to do is run a million-dollar enterprise.’ And nobody has the vision of what the future should be, and the this group that doesn’t want the Commencement, they don’t have a vision other than being against the Establishment. Except they are the Establishment now."

Dan Albertson’s appointment to the council – he replaced Bob Pudlo, who resigned with two years left on his term – created doubt.

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Letter scolds residents, calls for change

I was reading over a letter Ruston Councilman Bradley Huson distributed after last night’s town council meeting, which was tense and at times chaotic.

Here are a few highlights, lowlights and mediumlights:

Huson says "the inmates of a women’s penitentiary have more of an idea of how to conduct themselves at a public meeting than the majority of citizens who regularly attend our town council meetings." Ouch.

He labels public-records requests – one of the fundamental laws that helps citizens keep the government in check – as "fishing expeditions," and said because of the law, he won’t be responding to e-mails or writing any letters.

He’ll be skipping all future council study sessions until "rules of engagement" have been established.

And he calls for a change in government from the strong-mayor system to one run by a city manager. "The form of the government in Ruston is broken," he said. "There is too much going on in too many different areas to expect the mayor to be able to manage the town effectively or even just keep up."

Click below to read the full letter:

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Fireworks at Ruston council meeting

I’m sitting at the Ruston town council meeting, and if you’re looking for an example of how contentious politics has become in this town, here’s a good one:

Councilman Bradley Huson submitted a motion to change the rules of meetings, and a big part limited the amount of public comment on motions. Audience member Jim Wingard stood up and yelled, "We still have a constitution in the United States that guarantees freedom of speech!" He pointed to Mayor Michael Transue. "I’ll see you in Superior Court next week!" He then turned to the council.

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Catch up on Ruston news

This week I’ll be digging a little bit into what makes Ruston’s politics so vicious. Here are other Web sites to check out from people who follow this stuff much more closely:

Ruston Home: "A space where everyone is welcome to share about Ruston ~ small town America surrounded by urban Tacoma," the site says. A forum for folks to publish their takes on Ruston news.

Ruston Connection: It’s "a community advocacy for Ruston, Washington." The site, which is registered to the wife of former Councilman Bob Everding, posts news and monthly newsletters.


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