Eight Tacomans will go before the City Council on Tuesday afternoon in hopes of being chosen to fill a vacant council seat for the rest of 2017.
The interviews, which will take place during the council’s noon study session, will help the group decide who should succeed former Councilwoman Victoria Woodards, who left her seat in December to run for mayor.
Council members have differed on whether they want to appoint someone who plans to serve only for the remainder of the term or who will commit to running for a full term in November.
The finalists hail from every council district except District 5, the city’s southernmost district. They emerged from a pool of 55 applicants, which was culled last week by the City Council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee.
Katie Baird, 58, is an economics professor at University of Washington Tacoma and former member of the Pierce County Charter Review Commission. She is a former News Tribune op-ed columnist and served as the economic adviser for the city’s minimum wage task force in 2015.
Baird said she is a quick learner and would hit the ground running, both of which she said are assets that the council needs. “I really like the work the City Council has been doing the last several years. I think they’ve made some really big improvements in the city, and I think I have the right skills to contribute to their vision of where Tacoma is going,” Baird said, highlighting the city’s support for the Lincoln and South Tacoma business districts as well as its work to revitalize downtown.
Baird, who lives in the North End, said she is a pragmatic problem-solver who gets along well with others. As the city works to implement its vision for 2025, she said the council will need help prioritizing its goals. “I’m very good at thinking about solutions and thinking carefully about the tradeoffs involved in all various possible ways you can spend public funds,” she said.
Baird said if appointed she would consider running for a full term, but it would require taking a leave from her job.
Eric Hahn, 65, is a vice president at South Tacoma manufacturer General Plastics and chairman of the Tacoma-Pierce County Workforce Development Council. He’s on the board of trustees for the Boys & Girls Club, a board member of United Way Pierce County and a past member of the city’s Charter Review Committee.
Hahn said he has a keen understanding of how city government can help business and vice versa. “I’ve been very active in civic groups and organizations as well as workforce development … and you know it just seemed to me that we need someone on the council that has both a good business acumen and a sense of civic pride,” Hahn said. “The combination of those two things I think lends itself to a viewpoint that I think would work very well on the City Council.”
Hahn, who lives in the North End, said the biggest issues facing the council are Tacoma’s homelessness, mental health and substance abuse issues, which he called three legs of a stool. Having once managed an adolescent treatment facility, “I think I have a unique understanding of the mental health and substance abuse issues plaguing our community, as well as the business needs and the needs of the community at large.”
He said it was possible he would run for a full term, but “having never served in office before I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
Hayes, 41, is a member appeals supervisor at Regence BlueShield and the head of a foundation dedicated to violence prevention, formed in memory of her son who was shot and killed in 2011. She declined to be interviewed for this story.
Hayes is credited with being the lightning rod behind the movement to get a community center for Tacoma’s East Side, which is expected to break ground this spring. In her cover letter for the council opening, Hayes said her experience as a community organizer on that project and others has given her the ability to collaborate with and understand the community the council serves. Her work as a supervisor for a health insurance company and her role in hiring and providing performance reviews will assist her in the search for a new city manager, she said.
Hayes, who lives on the East Side, said some of her priorities would include work toward housing the homeless, fighting for women’s rights, and empowering local youths while preventing violence. She is also a board member of the Feminist Women’s Health Center and has served on the East Side Neighborhood Advisory Council.
Hunter, 61, is the director of alternative learning for the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction and is a trustee for Bates Technical College and a former trustee for the Tacoma Public Library. She has been in Tacoma since 1968 and has resided in all five council districts.
Hunter said she’s long been involved with volunteer activities. She said her decades of knowledge of Tacoma would help bring perspective to the City Council, and she said she would seek to run for a full term in November. “I’m very interested in giving back to my community as a member of the City Council, with that as my primary focus and not using the City Council to advance myself for another position either as mayor or county council or state Legislature,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who lives in the South End, said the work of finding a new city manager should be a top priority for the person appointed. “The city, like many urban cities, is facing challenges with regard to infrastructure, housing, transportation and the human condition with regard to homelessness and mental health issues,” Hunter said.
Jossy, 45, is a property manager for the Hotel Olympus apartments in downtown Tacoma. She serves as vice chairwoman of the Metro Parks Tacoma Culture and Heritage Advisory Council and an event coordinator for the Sixth Avenue Business District.
Jossy also is an associate editor at the Weekly Volcano. She has been active in promoting the arts and local businesses throughout Tacoma and is a festival organizer. “I have kind of a unique 360-degree viewpoint on a lot of the issues that face Tacoma just because I’ve been involved with so many projects and met and talked to so many people, and been to so many business district meetings and have heard the issues they have been facing,” Jossy said.
Jossy said the council needs a quick study during a year of transition. “We have to pick a new city manager, and next year several council members are going to term limit out, so we’re going to have new people coming in,” she said. “If I’m on the council, one of the things I need to do is learn as fast as I can how to do that job, and then help the new people coming in to overcome that steep learning curve as well.”
Jossy said she hadn’t decided yet whether she would seek a full term.
Neal, 38, is a project manager for MRF Construction, a Tacoma remodeling company, and an urban planner by training. She is on the city’s planning commission, the Washington Elementary PTA board and the board of the YWCA Pierce County.
Neal said she applied in part because she saw the need for more female representation on the council and said her experience in the development community would be an asset, especially as affordable housing becomes more of a concern regionally and locally. “I also work for a small business, so I have some background in some of the issues small businesses face,” Neal said. “And as a mom, mothers bring a really different point-of-view.”
Neal, who lives in the Proctor District, said there is a feeling among Tacomans that they’re left out of the city’s planning process in projects big and small. “We need more opportunities for people to get involved earlier in the process, when things can still be changed, and I think that there is also a need for more transparency and more communication with people,” she said. “I think (the city) could do a much better job in telling people, ‘Here are the decisions getting made, and this is how it impacts you.’ ”
Neal said she would seek a full term.
Rodriguez, 42, is a program manager at Providence Health & Services who has worked extensively on Tacoma’s East Side and was one of the founders of Summit Olympus High School, a Tacoma charter school. She is a former member of the East Side Neighborhood Council.
Rodriguez said her experience working throughout Tacoma and with its youths and building relationships among community organizations would serve the council well. “I’ve never been in a political position, and I think that bringing that set of fresh eyes to the table would be an asset,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very knowledgeable of the needs throughout the city — I’ve worked very closely with all walks of life, with families and children and folks who are really struggling. … I really believe in advocating for folks in the city who don’t normally have a voice.”
Rodriguez, who now lives in the West End, said the city faces many significant social issues, including those around immigration and equity. “I think there needs to be different ways at looking at opportunities for the whole community,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said she isn’t sure yet whether she would run for a full term.
Walker, 59, is executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Washington and a two-term council member who served until the end of 2015. She serves on the Hilltop Engagement Committee and the National Fair Housing Alliance board of directors.
Walker said her experience as a councilwoman would allow her to hit the ground running and help the City Council as it works to hire a new city manager, a process with which she’s familiar, having been a councilwoman when the council hired the last city manager, T.C. Broadnax. “It felt like I could lend my experience and abilities to work with the City Council and the city staff in a year of transition,” Walker said.
Walker, who lives in the Hilltop, said she would not plan to run for a full term if appointed and that she’s just looking to step in and help out since she’s familiar with many of the issues the City Council is facing. “It’s not something that has been on my radar to do, and I’m not interested in that at this time. I’d like to just help out in as much of a full-time capacity as I can,” she said. “I’m known for my diplomacy and being able to work well with the council members on controversial issues.”