Public service has been an interesting and worthwhile responsibility, said Tumwater City Councilperson Tom Oliva, but that time is winding to a close after the three-time elected councilor announced his last day will be Feb. 17.
Oliva announced his decision to step down during the council’s Feb. 2 meeting.
His reason for leaving now, he told The JOLT in a telephone interview, was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s provided more perspective, he said, and helped him realize there are other things he’d like to get around to.
“When the pandemic hit in late March, that’s what forced me and probably everyone else to just reevaluate things. It occurred to me that we could all be dead in two weeks, and maybe there was more to life than work,” he said.
Last year, Oliva retired from his job at the state parks department, where he’s worked for the past 24 years within the department’s business office. Prior to that, he worked for years in the Missouri state park’s department.
Not long after retirement, he decided that he would step down from the city council, too.
“As much as I love the work, I’ve got another at least three years on the term, and I realize there are too many other things that I want to try while I still can.”
Oliva was appointed to the Tumwater City Council position 2 for a short term in 2010. He was elected to serve a full term in 2012, and was reelected again in 2016 and 2020. His current term would have run to the end of 2023.
Throughout those 11 years, Oliva served on numerous committees and boards, including the general government, public works, budget and finance, and public health and safety committees. Additionally, he’s represented Tumwater on county-wide organizations like the LOTT Clean Water Alliance, Medic One and the Thurston Regional Planning Council.
Oliva said that during his time as a council member, he’s taken pride in presenting voters with various initiatives that were then voted into effect, saying he feels that proves the trust the council has built with the community. One of those initiatives lifted a public safety levy lid, improving funding to the city police and fire departments. Another was a sales tax that improved local roads and sidewalks. Recently, the council created a parks district, expanding local parks.
It’s a role that’s changed in the last decade, said Oliva, noting that many issues that are at the top of the list now weren’t on the radar back in 2010. Issues like climate change, homelessness and social justice have taken front and center in many government meetings and actions.
And while none of these issues are close to being solved, Oliva said he’s glad that they’re being addressed now.
“[These issues] have burst forth, and with a vengeance. … And unfortunately, they come at a time when our budgets are very strained because of the coronavirus pandemic, so I am encouraged that the community has organized to address these crises that have emerged,” he said.
Most recently, on Jan. 19, Tumwater became the first local jurisdiction to pass the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan, a sweeping plan to greatly reduce local greenhouse gas emissions. Oliva cited this as another accomplishment he was glad to have completed before stepping down.
“It’s just been a real honor and highlight of my life to be an elected official and serve the citizens of Tumwater for the past decade or so. It’s been a real education. And if you like to learn, this is a really good gig, because you’re learning stuff every day,” he said. “… I hope that my successor will bring an interest in helping the community, in terms of protecting the environment and people.”
While Oliva’s final council meeting will be on Feb. 16, the other council members will discuss the process of replacing him during a work session on Feb. 23, said Tumwater Communications Manager Ann Cook. People interested in applying for the role aren’t allowed to submit applications just yet, nor have the deadlines been set. Those items will all be discussed during the upcoming meeting on Feb. 23. Cook noted that while the council has made appointments to fill vacant seats in the past, this time there will be an added twist. Interviews and other processes won’t be in person.
The appointment would last until November and will then be up for election next fall.
“I’d like to thank Tom for his 11 years of elected service to our community, especially his work on promoting diversity, environmental sustainability and Brewhouse Tower preservation actions,” said Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet, in a statement.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Oliva's last meeting would be on Feb. 17 and that his successor would hold the term until 2023.