Tumwater city administrator takes responsibility for process that led to plans to cut down the Davis-Meeker tree


At last night’s Tumwater City Council meeting, City Administrator Lisa Parks said that she takes responsibility for the “confusion” surrounding the process that led to Mayor Debbie Sullivan’s decision to remove the historic Davis-Meeker Garry Oak tree near the Olympia Regional Airport.

The city council discussed the future of the historic 400-year-old tree at its May 21 meeting. The tree has been deemed a hazard by the city’s consultant urban forester; other arborists disagree.

Councilmember Kelly Von Holtz requested that they include the discussion on their agenda mainly to talk about the timeline of the issue. The councilmember explained that the council received an email from arborist Beowulf Brower who, through a public disclosure request, learned that city staff already applied for a tree removal permit in February even before the council was informed about the issue.

Von Holtz also mentioned that the mayor and city administrator declined her initial request to add the tree to this week’s agenda. Parks explained that the topic was not added as they did not have enough time to put together all the dates to create the timeline.

Regarding Brower’s email, Parks said that the permit he referred to was a filled-up application form for a tree removal permit which was not reviewed and approved. Parks added that it was around the same timeframe that city staff realized that it was possible to remove the tree as an administrative action.

Councilmember Leatta Dahlhoff responded that she had trouble understanding why city staff asked for their input when the removal of the tree was going to be an administrative decision.

Parks acknowledged that the process has been “extremely confusing” as the city staff too had to learn what the appropriate approach should be.

“I will take the responsibility for the confusion associated with this issue. It was extremely complicated. We didn't know all of the different components that fed into meeting to make a decision,” Parks said.

City Attorney Karen Kirkpatrick also mentioned that the Davis-Meeker oak is the only tree on the city’s historic register, which includes mostly buildings. She said that the code surrounding the historic register was not drafted to deal with trees, which made the Davis-Meeker oak situation unique.

Some council members request city staff to take another look at the tree

During the discussion, Von Holtz and Councilmember Joan Cathey both mentioned that the city needs to pause and take another look at the tree.

“This is not just a dangerous tree in Tumwater. This is first and foremost, a historical living being that has been here for 400 years. And I think it deserves another look,” Cathey said.

The mayor later joined the discussion to assert that she cannot let the tree endanger human life.

“There's only so much you can do. People look healthy on the outside and they're terminally ill on the inside, and I this is how I view this tree,” Sullivan said adding, “The tree cannot take out other human life. I cannot allow that to happen.”

Parks mentioned that a study from Kent State University found that there were 407 deaths from wind-related tree failures in the country between 1995 and 2007. She added that the most common scenario for such accidents involved a tree part striking a vehicle or a vehicle crashing into a downed tree part on the roadway.

The incident that incited city staff to investigate the tree involved an 18-inch diameter branch of the Davis Meeker oak that partially fell on Old Highway 99.

Dahlhoff, as she was closing the discussion, said that she did not agree with the mayor’s decision but that she respected her authority.

“I understand the process, and I understand that difficult decision you have, and I don't envy you. I also don't have to agree with it. But the end of the day, I respect your position and respect your authority,” Dahlhoff said.


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  • TheGreatAnon

    Oh for God's sake. Every living thing dies including trees & recently my 93 yo Father. This is an ancient Garry Oak which has reproduced and now is in the twilight of its existence. Take it down before it takes a human life prematurely.

    The thing about trees is they grow back. Have done so millions of years before our species climbed down from them and began sprinting across the African savannah.

    Wednesday, May 22 Report this

  • pheong

    Somebody is eyeing the property on which it presently stands. The chicanery of the undisclosed permit suggests malfeasance.

    Wednesday, May 22 Report this

  • JJmama

    This, Is. Bullsh**!!

    The whole situation smacks of hidden agendas, strong-arm authority, a TOTAL lack of willingness to use science and data and expert testimony on the decision about this beloved and historical tree.

    The application to remove the tree was made in February--BEFORE this 'public process' (completely abandoned as it has been) even started. Meetings with the Tree Board, City Council and Historic Preservation Commission concerning this rare and unique elder among us, did not start until MARCH.

    That City Manager Parks, MAYOR SULLIVAN, city staff and the city attorney would waste SO MUCH OF OUR TIME, OUR ATTENTION, OUR ENERGY, OUR LOVE....to literally string us all along and play us, when their intention was ALWAYS to butcher this majestic Oak....I am so spitting mad.

    I've spent over three months now of my own precious time organizing to save this beauty, as have countless community members and public figures--including Historic Preservation Commission members, City Councilmembers, Tree Board members--WA Native Plant Society members, expert arborists and those who have worked extensively with the unique properties of the long-lived Garry Oak.

    Many have given generously and lovingly to honor this community's wishes that the tree be treated with respect, and with reverence.

    Yet zero pleas to abandon this misguided and selfish hidden agenda have been successful....as they had already made the decision and faked us through all the rest.

    We know it is NOT about safety, Ms. Mayor--or we'd have cut down a heck of a lot of other trees which have dropped branches. She's never answered to that one....

    Now, City Manager Lisa Parks is trying to cover her tracks, their tracks.

    She should be fired. The Mayor should be thrown out of office.

    This whole situation hasn't been 'confusing', Ms. Parks...it's been 100% CORRUPT.

    You should be ashamed of the way you've treated your commissions and councils, and your public.

    Let's hope something, someone, somewhere....can save this beleaguered and misunderstood

    majestic arboreal miracle among us, and that justice will be served.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • BevBassett

    I agree with JJmama that this is BS.

    The real reason this tree is threatened is because it is an impediment to expansion of the Airport.

    Many of us who have watched this issue over time understand that we are in the PROCESS of having something that is ABSOLUTELY UNWANTED BY THE MAJORITY OF THE CITIZENS OF TUMWATER AND THURSTON COUNTY RAMMED DOWN OR UP AN ORIFICE ONE MORE TIME AGAIN!



    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • JulesJames

    Having a tough time accepting cutting down one tree makes a municipal governance “corrupt to the core”. Having seen the innards of that tree, I’ll be keeping my eyes up driving under it until it is down.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    I don't live in Tumwater, but I do live in Thurston County and admire that great oak. I'm appalled by the maneuvers that the Tumwater mayor went through to hide her intentions to remove this lovely oak tree in order to make way for the expansion of commercial business. All of us in the county have seen that the citizens have repeatedly rejected the concept of an expanded airport as well as the very idea of widening the highway to remove that gorgeous oak tree. The majority has always expressed its affection for the tree. That's why it was put on the historic register in the first place: to keep it safe from development. Thurston County's citizens have rallied around saving that tree as a public benefit. Now one elected official is abusing her authority by finding administrative regulations that allow her to circumvent the will of her counsel and the will of her constituents. Her actions were sneaky or she would have been honest and up front about every intention since last February. Who's contributing to her election campaign fund? She's listening to big money instead of her public. No wonder the public has lost faith in elected officials who no longer respond to the will of their constituents.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • longtimeresident

    There are hundreds of trees overhanging the roadways in Thurston County. Some of you must not get out very often to travel our rural areas. Such a silly excuse for taking down this one particular tree; of course there is a hidden agenda.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    These types of oaks live to about 500 years. So, it is nearing the end of its life. Their wood is great to use for aging whiskey though. So, maybe honor the many trees that have most likely been given life by this tree, and celebrate them in a few years with some good whiskey aged in barrels made from the wood of this tree.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • PamelaJHanson

    I think many may agree, especially after Tuesday evening's Tumwater City Council meeting, that there has been too many steps backward in this administration - and past administrations. The obvious accomplishment of Dutch Brothers not being condemned and taken through City of Tumwater action for the larger roundabout that was planned does somewhat describe the landscape of destruction that still remains toward the mighty oak that is depending on people for its survival. We cannot forget the first person's very succinct and technical public testimony at this past Tuesday's Tumwater City Council meeting, and we should not forget Kelly Von Holtz, Leatta Dahlhoff and Joan Cathey's determination. I have to say that even in person during that meeting, Leatta Dahlhoff's comments sounded defeatist - but they were not. She stated the very obvious fact of disagreement. And, Leatta provided deference, meaning courteous regard - while making it very obvious that the Mayor and her administration's tree controversy still remains. Most of us probably would have appreciated much more than that effort from the whole of the Tumwater City Council, meaning more than only a courteous line drawn in the Dais and at the meeting. The No on the RFA effort (against colaborative overspending) and the business survival of Dutch Brothers (against the City of Tumwater's court action via city ordinance, meaning their ability to take property) are just two examples of efforts that the people of Tumwater made, big and small, against the continual backward steps of the City of Tumwater's decisions and actions. If I had money for a lawyer for the people, I would spend it on this mighty Garry Oak tree effort and would have spent it on the two previous issues. I didn't have money then and don't have it now. I can, however, offer this lived wisdom: 1) Do not let politics destroy your life. 2) Every vote matters and every vote builds the inner strength of not just one person, but many persons, to make an effort every day for at least themselves and then possibly others. 3) It is obvious that battle lines are and will continue to be drawn until a better future is elected. And, 4) We are great people that support saving that precious Davis Meeker Garry Oak Tree. Thank you, media, for your efforts. Have an awesome day everyone!

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • FirstOtter

    If you drive past the Meeker Oak, you will see it in FULL LEAF. It doesn't look diseased, nor dying.

    The simple answer is to redirect Hwy 99 to the east, on the land that parallels the highway. The airport has approach lights there and nothing else. Tumwater has already shown they're more than willing to 'move' roadways, like Hwy 99. Look at the three ring circus (aka roundabouts) they created at the intersection of Trosper and Capitol. Trees were cut down to accomodate the roundabouts, and several businesses went broke trying to do business during the ONGOING construction. Did the City think to forgive those businesses their business taxes while they were struggling to deal with the roundabout construction/ No.

    Someone is making money, someone is lining her pockets with all these darned roundabouts.

    Again, this tree has become a lifeline for the mayor and the Port. They tried killing it sneakily. Again. It is an obvious plan to once again, baffle us with BS. They want to expand the airport, no matter that everyone is objecting to it. The Mayor saying she has an obligation to save lives. Does she not understand that air pollution, especially caused by aviation operations and regular ol' car traffic has killed more people than a tree?

    There is no proof that the Meeker oak has "reproduced". I don't ever remember seeing acorns at it's base or on the road. And just because it's 'old' doesn't mean it's 'bad'. This tree will never 'grow back' because once she manages to get it cut down it will be paved over for aviation. I truly think one of these nights, she'll send out a team with a couple of chain saws, cut it down, and then she'll say , oh my goodness, who did that? I promise I'll get to the bottom of this! Sort like OJ SImpson saying he was going to find the 'real killer' of his ex wife and her boyfriend. When it was obvious he butchered them like they were pigs. Sure you're right, OJ.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • TheGreatAnon

    The conspiracy non-sense of JJmama, FirstOtter, Bevbasset et. al. over a dying tree is jaw-droppingly MAGAish, None of them are certified Arborist, none of them know what they are blathering on about but they have strong held, heartfelt opinions. These folk will be the same ones shrieking about gomint maleficence when said tree kills someone unlucky to be underneath when nature & gravity take their eventual course.

    Grow up people

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • longtimeresident

    I just drove down 18th Ave., then left on Boulevard Rd., right on 22nd, left on Cain Rd, and then eventually out Littlerock Rd., left on 113th, crossed Tilley Rd. (one scary drive if you think about the trees along that road), ended up on McCorkle Rd. and then down Old 99 to Waldrick Rd. and out to Rainier Rd. Olympia and Thurston County as well as Tumwater? You'd better send out every arborist you can find to check out all those BIG trees. The trees with branches hanging over the road plus trees that are leaning towards the roadways are pretty sketchy.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • DeaneTR

    Lisa Parks is a life-long con-artist that used to be Executive Director of the Port of Olympia. Her entire objective for moving to city manager for Tumwater is to pull strings for the people in the shadows she works for at the port who are determined to expand the airport despite public oppostition. Lisa Parks doesn't serve the public, she serves wealthy oligarchs who steal public resources. If we could see all the illegal work she does behind the scenes, she'd be spending 10-30 years in jail right now!

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • 52237123abc

    Shame on Lisa Parks and Mayor Sullivan and the city council members who sat at the Tuesday meeting looking board to death! Shame on Lisa who shuffled through papers while residents expressed their opinions during the meeting….never once looking up or listening. Her mind is made up. Shame on mayor Sullivan …your comparing the Meeker tree to a person given a stage 4 diagnosis….you say cut down the tree…no treatment….is that what you want for a human given that diagnosis …at least try to save the life!

    Lisa has an agenda….this is step one and she’s gotten the mayor suckered in on it.

    Wake up City Council….listen to your voters….do something before it’s too late. I agree there are dates on the calendar already to take this tree down…..sneaky and shameful!

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • Marianne

    The tree statistics Lisa Parks uses to drive fear in people is ludicrous. More people in the US are hit by lightning every year than a falling tree. Using scare tactics does not work. We’re smarter than that.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • Joy Johnston

    The comments here are deeply disappointing, and even frightening. It's hard to understand how some people can be so loving toward a tree and yet so hateful to human beings - especially human beings who have devoted their careers to public service. The conspiracies are just plain ridiculous. The tree is decaying. Nobody is trying to expand the airport by taking down this tree. Nobody is funneling money to Big Roundabout, whatever that might be. Or oligarchs, whoever those are. And nobody is suggesting we cut down every tree next to a roadway. Just. This. One. Decaying. Tree.

    Losing the oak tree is a huge loss. Losing empathy toward others is a loss far greater.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this

  • Hill_Folk

    This seems a little bit shady. I see a lot of deflection in this situation.

    It’s a 400 year old tree and for some reason, people are willing to destroy it. If there’s a 150 year old tortoise that crosses hwy 99 should we euthanize it because it impedes our travel?

    I do not respect the city’s decision.

    Friday, May 24 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    The GreatAnon calling Bbasset MAGA anything is Just SO Halarious :) You have NO Idea Who you speak of.

    As well Your demeaning Style of Banter, smacks of Unreasonable Dialogue, and is inappropriate and Boring.

    In The UK they'd say P*** Off!

    Friday, May 24 Report this

  • JJmama

    That is funny, calling Bev a MAGA!

    But it's just as funny to call me one too....no leanings that direction ;-)

    But an individual spewing such anger doesn't often find their articulations well-researched, nor well-founded.

    Friday, May 24 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    Also, ANON, 400 yr old trees don't grow back. :(

    Friday, May 24 Report this

  • Dtcooper

    I've been following this story and it makes me feel sick thinking that this historical tree is even considered for removal. I agree with many other commenter's there is more about development than safety. You can feed us with safety concerns to convince yourself (mayor & council) but you aren't fooling the people that live and work in this community. I find the city of Tumwater has been proved to make irresponsible decisions before , like the trees recently cut down that lined Israel road along DOH building. Which they planted initially. But used the reason of damage to sidewalk. Who is running the city & making terrible choices like planting a tree knowing the roots do grow? Waste of time & money. I say use supports on the Oak, or move the road this tree has value over & above the needs of industrial expansion. And make better choices at the ballot replace the powers that be they are not representing the community well.

    Saturday, May 25 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    Came back to see how this comment thread went....yep...crazy town over a tree. Jeez people, can we try being good to each other for a change? Relative to the many needs of our community, this seems an odd hill to die on.

    Tuesday, May 28 Report this