Who would run the proposed regional fire authority?

RFA committee votes for 7 seats; union representatives prefer options with no city council members


If voters approve the proposed Regional Fire Authority (RFA) of Olympia and Tumwater, its governing board would likely be composed of one individual appointed by each city council and five citizens elected to new RFA board positions.

At the RFA committee meeting yesterday, council members from each city voted to recommend the fire authority's governing board structure, with the results to be presented to Olympia and Tumwater city councils on Tuesday, August 9.

In the previous meetings, consultant Karen Reed presented six governance options:

  • Option 1: five seats, one appointed by Olympia, one appointed by Tumwater, three directly elected by district
  • Option 2: six seats, three appointed each by Olympia and Tumwater
  • Option 3: seven seats, two appointed each by Olympia and Tumwater, three directly elected – at-large
  • Option 4: seven seats, one appointed each by Olympia and Tumwater, five directly elected – at-large
  • Option 5: seven seats, one appointed each by Olympia and Tumwater, five directly elected by district
  • Option 6: seven seats, two appointed by each Olympia and Tumwater, three directly elected by district

The voting committee members agreed to have seven seats on the fire board but preferred options 3 and 4.

The committee is currently composed of three council members from each Olympia and Tumwater council, with the participation of fire chiefs from each community and fire labor leaders.

The voting committee members are councilmembers Jim Cooper, Yen Huynh and Lisa Parshley from Olympia; and councilmembers Leatta Dahlhoff, Eileen Swarthout and Michael Althauser from Tumwater.

Dahlhoff, who currently serves as committee chairman, said she is sticking with the idea that the majority of representation should be fire commissioners. She recognized Althauser's concern about better representation which may not be reflected if the majority of at-large positions came from Olympia or Tumwater.

"I am looking down the road of there is no Olympia, Tumwater. It is the Regional Fire Authority, Dahlhoff said."

Althauser believed that options 3 and 4 are "recipes for success." He said having more council members is suitable for the developing organization. He added city council members have worked on policy, budget, and all related to the current fire service.

"I think people will be more comfortable by guaranteeing that there will be at least two seats for each city to represent that kind of regional interest,” said Althauser.

"I feel like Option 3 is a better sell to our voters, who in this time are generally not supportive of more government. We have to be careful about what we create. I think it will do better at the ballot box with option 3 and better served long term," Cooper said, adding he is willing to go with the consensus of the majority and support the final recommendation.

Huynh expressed hope that the RFA would be represented by more people with experience in fire service. "What better folks to make decisions than people in the fire service."

In the end, the majority of the voting committee members voted to recommend option 4.

No councilmembers

Firefighter union presidents Steven Busz of Olympia and James Osberg of Tumwater settled for option 4, but with reservations.

"I would say from a labor perspective, I have been in favor of an option that is zero councilmembers and all elected [for seven seats]," Osberg said.

Osberg said that the “voters trust” is “a poor reason” to include council members in the RFA governing board.

"I recognize the councilmembers want people on the board,” Osberg explained. “I hear a lot from councilmembers about voters' trust to say that we should go with one option or the other, which is invalid because, for every voter that likes one of our councilmembers, I can find one that doesn't."

Although not his preference, Osberg said he could agree to option 4. "If that is where everyone in this group can land on an agreement, then it is the preferred option."

Busz asked, "what is the point of creating an RFA if we are still going to be governed by a majority of councils?"

Tumwater Fire Chief Brian Hurley said he was leaning towards option 4, adding that it is important to have council members involved at the start.

Olympia Interim Fire Chief Todd Carson expressed concern about the council members' workload.

"There is such a diversity in the things [council members] have to cover. We want folks that are exclusively in tune with what the RFA needs are," Carson said.

Carson relayed the union members' preference that they want somebody to be "very intuitive and present that is not overworked with or burdened with other work."

Both city councils support an initial board with three council members. They would serve from August 2023 to December 2025.

The first election cycle for directly-elected board members would be in 2024.


3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Tractor1

    Looks like a power grab by Olympia and Tumwater. What happened to equity in representation? In other wordsw this proposal needs a ton of work!

    Wednesday, July 27 Report this

  • DanaMadsen

    I thought that combining multiple small entities would theoretically result in leaner administrative cost and more efficient use of resources. The above article illustrates the beginning of the opposite. Clearly the result will be an administrative boondoggle with endless requests for more money and a huge office complex somewhere to house the commissioners, managers, administrative assistants ad nauseum. The bigger the organization and the more bureaucratic the administration the more likely the whole organization will be, like most other government organizations, 100% union....adding more cost. Be careful what you wish for!

    Wednesday, July 27 Report this

  • JWulgaru

    Dana clearly has no reading comprehension. Go to any of your local fire districts and try to find their "huge office complex" for their "administration". How does having fire commissioners for the RFA translate into bureaucratic bloat?

    In any case, the less the city of Olympia has to do with this the better as they've continually shown themselves incompetent managers of the fire department they do have with chronic underfunding for years so they can pay for their pet criminal transient projects. Remember when the mitigation site was only temporary and 100k a year to run? Well now it's 1.2 MILLION to run a fentanyl injection campground. The fire department would be well off to be divested from such a pathetic excuse for leadership that the Olympia city council and city manager are.

    Thursday, July 28 Report this