Thoughts after doorbelling in the rain with my son

I spent the weekend walking around parts of Fircrest, and I feel invigorated and inspired by the conversations I had with voters. People are proud to live here. They love the peace, the pace, and the sense of place you feel when you’ve arrived here.

I walked more than 18,000 steps this weekend, according to the pedestrian tracker app on my phone. The first 8,000 came on Saturday, which was a beautiful day for knocking on doors and talking with neighbors. I started in the southwest corner of the city. Many folks on Weathervane Drive and Woodside Drive said they appreciate my goal of seeking grant funding to add a sidewalk on 44th Street, which is narrow and hilly and dangerous for pedestrians.

After taking a break to watch my son’s U-8 soccer game at Fircrest Park, I stayed in the area and talked to homeowners along Contra Costa adjacent to the park. Among other things, they are interested in the future of the Rec Center and pool. Then I headed over to San Juan and Forrest Park Drive, where I talked to people about my interest in adding an officer to our 9-member police department so we can increase neighborhood patrols. (They were surprised that my opponent opposes this idea).

Wet shoesSunday brought more challenging conditions. It rained. A lot. My feet were soaked by mid-afternoon. (I may have earned a few sympathy votes.) I started out walking along Golden Gate, W Summit, and Harvard. As I headed home for lunch with my family, I saw my opponent visiting homeowners along El Dorado, so I decided to give her (and them) some space and I started my post-lunch tour on Buena Vista, W Mount, and Mar Vista. Then I went back to the north side of town and visited El Dorado, Del Monte, Farallone, and Princeton, before finishing up on Crestwood in the central part of town.

The best part was my 6 ¾-year-old son, Ryan, joined me for the afternoon because Kathleen had to work. He was fascinated by the idea of knocking on doors and asking for support. Ryan and I had fun conversations with voters and with each other as we walked in the rain. His Batman boots were a more sensible choice than my sneakers.

 As of Friday, 10 percent of Fircrest voters have submitted their ballots to the county elections office. Lots of people told me they’ve already voted for meEdit. And this was interesting: I asked nearly everyone if there’s anything concerning them; if there’s anything the city needs to address. Nearly every voter told me the city is doing great and they couldn’t think of anything. Only when I outlined my efforts to increase police staffing so that we can have more patrols in neighborhoods did many voters then say, “yes, that would be great.”

My opponent is trying to make it sound like there are huge problems in our city. That’s from the classic political playbook that says you have to be negative in order to persuade people to vote an incumbent out of office. The reality is people are happy here. We take care of our streets and our parks. We have great programs and events that bring neighbors together. One contractor who owns a home on San Juan even told me our permitting department is the most customer friendly of any he deals with in the region.

A final point: Not surprisingly, a lot of people asked for my position on Fircrest Proposition 1, the liquor-by-the-drink question. I was proud to describe my role in initiating the effort on the City Council, and then going with Councilmember Medley to Olympia to change state law so that we can have this vote without harming businesses in annexed areas that already have liquor licenses. We are also working on the regulations that will clear the way for restaurants to expand their offerings or decide to locate here, while still preserving the charm and integrity of the neighborhood.

Why my opponent is wrong about the city budget (which is in excellent condition)

Despite her criticisms and mockery of my public service, Heather Heiderich has so far indicated opposition to only 1 vote out of hundreds I’ve taken in nearly four years on the Fircrest City Council. And that was the $23.4 million budget for 2015, which the Council voted 5-1 to approve last December.

Heather keeps making variations of this false claim:

“…when Hunter claims he balanced the budget this year, keep in mind it was balanced in an unsustainable fashion utilizing a one-time revenue bonus from the Wainwright Intermediate School construction project on Alameda Ave. This is not sustainable, and leaves the problem to be tackled later in the next budget…”

She’s wrong. And here’s proof: That “next budget” – the proposed 2016 budget that we expect to adopt in early November – is already in the black. Without Wainwright project revenues.

In fact, some of our funds have such healthy reserves that I’ve voted with the other members of the Fircrest Investment Committee to invest some of the balances in municipal bonds that earn in the neighborhood of 1.4 percent interest. That doesn’t sound like much at first, but it’s nearly 10 times the 0.16 percent interest paid by the state-run Local Government Investment Pool. (By law, those are the only options for investing municipal funds.) Those investments are generating tens of thousands of dollars in interest, which goes right back into city programs and services.

Moreover, we used some of those one-time Wainwright permit revenues this year to replace a police car that was experiencing too many mechanical problems to justify spending more money on it. And we’ve got $3.5 million in what’s officially known as Cumulative Reserve but might be better known as the rainy day fund.

So it’s silly to claim that we adopted an unsustainable budget last year when it turns out we will have funds left over at the end of the year (even after buying that police car), and next year’s proposed budget is perfectly sound.

The truth is we are always conservative when estimating incoming revenues. No one I’ve asked can recall a time in recent years when we had to make mid-year cuts to the budget because revenues weren’t matching expenditures. That conservative approach is a key reason why Fircrest’s budget is in better shape than other municipal budgets in the area.

Heather’s false claims make me wonder if she’s even read our budget. When I first signed up to run for the Council four years ago, I attended several Council meetings and made an appointment with the city manager so I could come in and get a copy of the budget and other policies and learn more about the organization. We have yet to see Heather at City Hall since she filed for office in May.

Heather claims her experience of starting – and closing – two “successful” businesses makes her better qualified to manage the city’s finances. But she refuses to provide any relevant context, such as the size of payroll (especially non-family payroll), revenues, expenditures, capital planning, etc.

How can voters judge her qualifications to manage their money based on vague claims about the successful marijuana candy business she closed?

Your seven-member City Council has gone through the proposed $22.1 million 2016 budget page by page during five public meetings over the past month. (Note: it’s $1.3 million less than last year because the sewer projects are nearly complete.) This is my fourth budget cycle with the city. We scrutinize every department and we ask a lot of questions of staff to make sure that every request is justified.

We are on track to vote on the budget Nov. 10. Feel free to contact councilmembers and/or attend that meeting. It’s your money, and we’re working hard to stretch every dollar as far as it will go.

October 25 update: Heather keeps writing long posts that don’t actually say anything. Her response to this piece about the budget makes false threats that we’ll have to cut the budget because of unsustainable spending. She again fails to acknowledge that the 2016 budget is already balanced without Wainwright money, so obviously we didn’t overspend in 2015.

And regarding her criticism that $3.5 million in Cumulative Reserve isn’t enough: She still doesn’t understand our city budget. Those aren’t the only undesignated funds. I only used the very healthy Cumulative Reserve as an example.

Supporting a better 911 system

I’ve long told friends that serving on the U.S. Open Operating Committee was the coolest experience of my 6 ½-year career as Pierce County’s Communications director, but being on the innovative team that created South Sound 911 ranks as the most important.

When you call 9-1-1, you expect a cop, firefighter or ambulance to arrive – or some combination of the three – as fast as possible. But problems with the 911 system had festered below the radar for years. The problem was largely one of silos – over the decades, various public safety agencies built their own radio systems, and some had their own dispatch facilities with their own systems. Cops, firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers often could not communicate directly with each other – even while working at the same scene.

In stepped Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, my boss at the time, with a solution.

South Sound 911 logoSeveral agencies, including the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, needed to upgrade their radio systems (some of which were still analog) to meet new FCC requirements to reduce frequency bandwidth. There was no sense in each agency spending millions of dollars to buy new digital radios and systems, McCarthy argued, if they were going to keep operating independently of each other. She proposed that the biggest systems combine their resources under one umbrella.

Thus, the idea of South Sound 911 was born.

The County Executive assembled a team of partner agencies to work out the details. I had the privilege of joining fire and law enforcement officials and city managers as the plan came together. My role was to coordinate the public outreach. I led the development of presentations like this one to explain the problem and the proposed solution. Our partners made these presentations more than 200 times throughout the community. (The communications group I chaired also came up with the agency name and the logo.)

Pierce County voters overwhelmingly approved the plan in November 2011. Since then, new digital radios have been delivered to nearly every cop and firefighter in the county. And those first responders are talking to each other on a new digital radio network that went live last year. The new network is so strong that an officer in the basement of the Fircrest Police Department heard an officer in the basement of the Police Department in Eatonville as clear as if he was in the next room during testing.

Radios are the lifeline for first responders. Giving them the tools to keep them safe makes us all safer. It was a privilege to work with first responders on an extraordinary regional partnership that provided police officers in Fircrest and elsewhere with new digital radios, a new network, and more peace of mind.

Oct. 23 update: PCTV just produced this short video about the new Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. Fircrest PD is among the agencies using this system now.

Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

Updated endorsement list: local leaders, local firefighters, and lots of your neighbors

Endorsements are one gauge of a candidate’s viability. As you can see from the growing list below, I’ve been endorsed by civic leaders throughout the region, which shows that I work well with others and have professional relationships that benefit the city. I’m also excited to have the endorsement of many of your neighbors in the city. It would be an honor to add your name.

Area Leaders

  • Fircrest Mayor David M. Viafore
  • Fircrest City Councilmember Denny Waltier
  • Fircrest City Councilmember David Goodsell
  • Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy
  • County Councilmember Connie Ladenburg
  • County Councilmember Rick Talbert
  • County Councilmember Derek M. Young
  • State Rep. Christine Kilduff , 28th District
  • State Rep. Dick Muri, 28th District
  • Tacoma School Board Member Karen Vialle
  • Tacoma School Board Member Scott Heinze
  • Tacoma School Board Member Catherine Ushka
  • University Place Mayor Denise McCluskey
  • University Place Councilmember Caroline Bellici
  • Lakewood City Councilmember Paul Bocchi
  • Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello
  • Tacoma City Councilman Marty Campbell
  • Conor McCarthy, Tacoma City Council candidate
  • Dr. Terry Torgenrud, MD
  • IAFF Local 31 (Tacoma Firefighters)
  • Drs. Jeffrey Camm and Stephen Beck, Fircrest Children’s Dentristry
  • Jim Sharp, Fire Chief
  • Ken Sharp, former Fire Chief

Your Neighbors

  • Dean and Regina Theodor
  • Chris and Tonia Ruzyla
  • Nick and Rebecca Welliver
  • Amanda Hobbs
  • Katie Dorsey
  • Carol Randall
  • Jon Rossman
  • Greg and Jennifer Vigoren
  • Scott Clement and Ivy Lee, owners of Spring Lake Café
  • Jamie and Kathryn Nixon
  • Duc Nguyen and Kim Anh Gainey
  • Shirley Schultz
  • Sarah and Brian Viafore
  • Bonnie and Bruce Viafore
  • Mary Ruth Pape
  • Mike and Cindy Brinkerhoff
  • Joey Baker
  • Janice Lynn
  • Heather and Marquis Pounds
  • Connie and Kevin Hara
  • Jerry Foss
  • Lynne Dickson
  • Eric Bergson
  • Brent Tornquist
  • Gary McVay
  • Tony and Nancy Randall
  • Erik and Nikki Neumann

Heather doesn’t refute fluoride’s safe usage, except when she does

I recently pointed to evidence that my opponent, Heather Heiderich, opposes municipal fluoridation. Her husband posted a comment on my campaign’s Facebook page saying “this is not Heather’s position,” and promising a full reply from the candidate herself. So let’s compare the things Heather said on Oct. 12 with things she said on Facebook before and after the City Council’s 5-2 vote on this issue last year.

Oct. 12, 2015: “Hunter has taken things out of context” (arguing that the original Facebook post I cited was simply congratulating a friend who worked on an anti-fluoride campaign).

However, the context was clear in this August 2014 post on The Crazy World of Fircrest Politics Page (may the page Rest In Peace):

Heather is disgusted with the Council

On Oct. 12, she wrote: “Despite the scientific evidence of its safety, which I accept and do not refute…”

But last August, she said “There is not nearly enough long-term, scientific research showing that it is beneficial. And there’s for sure not enough of that research to tell me what all the other long-term effects such a chemical … will have on other parts of my body or my mind.”

Heather says not enough research about fluoride

And on July 3, 2014, she called it “industrial waste.”

Heather calls fluoride industrial waste

When you serve on a representative body like the City Council, you must stick to your principles as you try to do the most good for the most people.

Fluoridation in Fircrest has worked for 58 years because … science

If there’s a political litmus test in Fircrest these days, fluoride is probably it, even though it shouldn’t be.

The city has added trace amounts of fluoride to the water system since 1957. The federal Centers for Disease Control calls municipal fluoridation one of the top 10 public health initiatives of the 20th Century (along with vaccinations, family planning, motor vehicle safety, etc). Every major medical association supports it.

And yet, last year several chiropractors led a small but vocal group of about a dozen Fircrest citizens (plus quite a few outsiders) to demand that the City Council remove it. They accused the city of poisoning the public, even though the city has been adding it to the water for 58 years and there’s absolutely no evidence of harm. They also claimed linkages to a long list of ailments and conditions, including lower IQ and autism – all of which are debunked by peer-reviewed science.

After months of listening to these claims, the City Council voted 5-2 on August 12, 2014, to continue fluoridating the water. I was on the prevailing side (more on that below). Click here to see what Councilmembers said during the debate.

Two of the five members who voted to maintain fluoridation – Mayor David Viafore and Councilmember David Goodsell – are leaving the Council at the end of this year. The good news is the candidates running unopposed for their positions, Blake Surina and Brett Wittner, support fluoridation. (Blake testified in favor of it during public comments at last year’s meeting, and I called Brett and asked about his position on the issue.)

My opponent, Heather Heiderich, is on record opposing fluoridation. As you can see here, she posted her frustration with the City Council’s decision on the “Fluoride Action Network’s” Facebook page. This is not a mainstream view.

Volumes have been written about this topic. I talked with experts during last year’s debate. I’ve read a lot about fluoridation, as well as the phenomenon of people who ignore science when it doesn’t back up their personal beliefs. (I highly recommend a book called “The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine Autism Controversy,” by MIT professor Seth Mnookin, who includes a chapter on the origins of the fluoride scare campaign.)

The good thing about science is it's true, whether you believe it or notIn addition to all the scientific evidence, consider this: All of the doctors at UP Pediatrics in Fircrest – who have treated children (including my two) in our area for decades – agree that fluoridation is safe, healthy and good for our community. Drs. Jeffrey Camm and Stephen Beck at Fircrest Children’s Dentistry also strongly agree.

In other words, the highly educated and experienced doctors and dentists who have cared for countless Fircrest children over the years say we’re doing the right thing.

Here are excerpts from an op-ed written by Dr. Camm and Dr. Terry Torgenrud, a retired pediatrician who cared for Fircrest children for decades:

“Following the anti-fluoride activists’ lead would be a mistake. The case for community water fluoridation is compelling.

“…nearly every respected professional health organization in the world – including the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization – strongly supports community water fluoridation. These organizations support community water fluoridation because it has been proven to improve oral health for everyone.”

“The decision to fluoridate Fircrest’s water supply is based on solid science that has been validated by six decades of practical application.”

If you’re among the very small number of people who believe the government is poisoning our drinking water, then no doctor, dentist, scientist or neighbor will change your mind. I wrote this post for the majority of people in our community who take for granted that a significant advancement in public health is here to stay. The choice is clear on Nov. 3.

Peer review or it didn't happen

Oct. 17 update: Heather posted a reply claiming I took her anti-fluoride statement out of context. But then I found even stronger comments she made on the subject. Click here to see a comparison of what she said this week versus last year.

If elected to the City Council, would she always threaten to move out of the city if she doesn’t get her way?

League of Women Voters asks about economic development, open government, building consensus, and more

The League of Women Voters has an extraordinary history — forming in 1920 as advocates were making the final push to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally giving women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League has been providing valuable information to voters ever since.

My opponent Heather and I both filled out the League’s candidate questionnaire. It’s a generic one designed for all cities, but it still shows some big differences between us.

League of Women Voters logo

League of Women Voters

Once again, Heather offers happy thoughts but no actual plans. She also takes a couple of strange, ill-informed shots at me. The League’s candidate guide is available at You have to drill in by street address, which is handy because you can see our answers side-by-side. I plugged in the address for City Hall and provide the link here. Or, here’s a link to Heather’s answers, and mine are pasted below.

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The facts about crime in Fircrest

Thanks to Facebook, neighbors have the ability to warn each other when a crime or suspicious activity happens on their street. As helpful as those anecdotal posts are, they can also have an unintentional side effect of affecting our overall perception of our community.

That’s been happening lately. Several residents have shared their experiences. And Police Chief John Cheesman has posted a few messages about specific incidents because he wants us to – I’m invoking Jerry Maguire here – help him help us. However, my opponent, Heather Heiderich, is ignoring context – or maybe she just doesn’t have any. Either way, she’s raising alarms in the cynical hope you’ll “throw the bum out,” even though it’s unclear what exactly she’d do once in office.

We all know Fircrest is special. It’s quiet, family-friendly, and safe. We have low crime, but that doesn’t mean we have no crime. City Councilmembers get a memo from the police chief every week. We regularly discuss incidents and issues with him. And once a year, the chief delivers his annual crime report to the Council to share annual data. It’s a valuable update, and he just gave his report on Sept. 21 – which is timely as we start working on the 2016 budget.

Public safety issues, particularly property crime, are important to everyone. I spent a lot of time learning about them when I was a journalist and in my careers with county government and the City of Fircrest. As is the case in every community every year, the crime stats fluctuate, with some going up and some going down. From the chief’s report, here’s a breakdown based on what went up or down in Fircrest from 2013 to 2014 (with additional years for context):

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Here’s how many service calls Tacoma Fire responded to in Fircrest

Fircrest has enjoyed a strong partnership with the Tacoma Fire Department for many years. The firefighters assigned to our city provide excellent, professional service. Plus, they have warmly entertained drop-ins by my family when we wanted to check out the cool fire engines. (By “we,” I obviously mean my son and I.)

This week’s Council packet contains the TFD’s annual report, including a breakdown of calls in Fircrest. We hear the sirens on a regular basis. Here’s some data that shows how much service they provide in our city:

  • TFD responded to 629 incidents in 2014, down slighTFD_logotly from 636 the year before.
  • The average response time was 5:39 from dispatch to arrival on the scene.
  • There were 418 confirmed incidents that required emergency medical services (EMS) response in 2014, an increase of six.
  • There were two confirmed car fires and one confirmed structure fire in 2014.
  • Through the first two quarters of 2015, Tacoma Fire responded to 314 emergency incidents in Fircrest, compared to 280 during the same period in 2014 – a 12.1% increase.

Finally, the report from Tacoma Fire Chief James Duggan thanked Mayor David Viafore, who decided not to seek re-election this year, for his involvement in setting the relationship between the city and the Fire Department.

“On behalf of TFD and the residents of both Fircrest and Tacoma, I want to thank you for your vision and leadership that helped forge and maintain the (Fircrest Services) Agreement, and we look forward to continuing our service to Fircrest in the future,” Chief Duggan wrote.