Four people are competing for the open District 4 seat on Pierce County Council. It is being vacated by Tim Farrell, who must step down due to term limits. Two have considerable experience holding elected office. Democrat Connie Ladenburg served eight years on Tacoma City Council and two years in the State House of Representatives from the 29th Legislative District. Republican Ken Grassi has served for 16 years on University Place City Council, currently as mayor. He is co-owner of two locations of Grassi’s Flowers and Gifts. Republican Chris Nye is in his first term on University City Council. He is founder of www.MLS4owners.com. Democrat Sharon Benson is making her first run for political office. She has been a realtor for 17 years.
Q) What makes you the best candidate for this position?
BENSON: We need civic leaders with real world experience and knowledge in land use and small business to put us on the path to economic recovery. I currently serve on the Pierce County Planning Commission for District 4, and as a realtor, operate a small business in University Place. I have more experience than any other candidate on the critical issues that the County Council faces.
GRASSI: My longevity in Pierce County, tireless work ethic, determination and a belief that it is always all about the people, is why I am the strongest candidate for this position. My wife Kim and I have owned a small business in Pierce County for 36 years, I have faithfully served on the University Place City Council for 16 years, currently in my second term as mayor and helped create the City of University Place from the ground up since incorporation in 1995. I am dedicated to the people of Pierce County and my goal is to ensure that our community is the very best that it can be.
LADENBURG: My experience in the community, on the Tacoma City Council and the State Legislature enables me to work with and through political systems, to represent people, to listen to their issues and concerns and to work collaboratively toward solutions. I have policy and budget development experience and skills in developing key partnerships, coalition building and developing collaborative efforts. My experience will support my focus on sound economic development; efficient transportation systems; safe, livable communities; and healthy environments.
NYE: In this strong field I am uniquely qualified. As a Joint Base Lewis McChord veteran, I am committed to supporting our largest employer and the economic engine it creates. Having earned a degree in criminal justice, I am well educated in issues of public safety (the largest component of our budget). As a council member I have helped us stay focused on provision of core services that are rightfully within the scope of local government. As a third-generation entrepreneur, I have brought ideas from the garage to the marketplace
Q) The county government has done much to reduce spending in the last few years as a result of the recession. Do you think there will be more significant cuts in the near future? What would you cut?
BENSON: The County Council has done a fairly good job of balancing its budget in a sustainable way. The best way to avoid the need for further cuts is to build our tax base by attracting new employers. We can do that by building a business-friendly environment and leverage our unused industrial areas. If more cuts are needed, I would make sure to prioritize public safety funding. We can do this by looking for cost-saving measures such as investing in preventative programs that help cut sending overall. We can also identify overlapping services within the county or with local governments and seek to combine departments.
GRASSI: The current County Council has done an excellent job maintaining a lean and balanced budget. If further cuts become necessary all areas are subject for review with the exception of public safety. We must keep public safety our number one priority.
LADENBURG: I would attempt to find savings through reduced staffing, delay in implementing cost of living adjustments for all levels of employees and cost sharing for employee health care. I would consider program cuts in operations/maintenance of parks and community centers and planning and land use services (reflecting the decrease in building development due to the recession.)
NYE: Public safety currently represents about 78 percent of county government spending, and in my opinion it should remain the number one priority of local government. All other programs come second, and each should be evaluated as to whether they are essential core services within the scope of county government.
Q) Are there ways county government can work more closely with other local and regional governments?
BENSON: Yes. First, we need to make sure that people feel safe in their neighborhoods. That means that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department needs to do a better job of maintaining a visible presence in communities without their own police force such as Parkland. Currently many small towns are struggling to fund basic public safety staff, and the county can help reduce costs and increase service by better partnering with local government. Second, many agencies such as the Economic Development Board can increase cooperation with local small business incubators and chambers of commerce to either combine overlapping functions and cut costs or improve service through cooperation. Instead of fighting with each other to attract employers to each city, we should be working collaboratively to bring new jobs to Pierce County and have a system for leveraging each municipality’s advantages.
GRASSI: Yes. Reinventing the wheel can be expensive to our citizens. It is very likely that other jurisdictions have or are exploring similar ideas and projects. In my 16 years of experience working on complex zoning issues, city infrastructure, housing options and traffic safety I have found a strong willingness from other entities to share their information, costs and other valuable resources.
LADENBURG: Absolutely. The county has become more of a presence at the Puget Sound Regional Council and must continue in order for us to have a voice in decision-making at the regional level. A local example of government working together is the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership, a consortium of South Sound governments, local business and community groups, and the leadership at Joint Base Lewis McChord to ensure coordination of the base’s growth. Providing leadership through this type of partnership will establish Pierce County as the leader of the South Sound – a direction that I believe is the future for Pierce County.
NYE: Pierce County is currently a member of the Puget Sound Regional Council, which encompasses many cities, towns, counties, ports and state agencies. This council serves as a forum for developing policies and coordinating efforts between different municipalities.
Q) What else should voters know about you?
BENSON: I am proud to have a broad base of support in this campaign. To get Pierce County back on track, we will need someone who can work with others to accomplish solutions. I have been endorsed by labor organizations and businesses, Democrats and Republicans, and I have a track record of building a collaborative approach.
GRASSI: For me, it is all about serving people! Small business is in my DNA. It is critical to have a strong business mind on the County Council, as small business is the backbone of our community. My 16 years of experience in city government and 36 years of business ownership have prepared me to be a valued team member who is committed to work beyond party lines to ensure you will be represented and respected on the County Council.
I have been very deliberate in which endorsements I have sought after or accepted believing regardless of affiliations, everyone deserves to be heard and treated fairly. Good decisions should never be influenced by special interest groups. I have no hidden agenda; just a sincere desire to ensure your county government is responsive, transparent and honest.
With your vote I pledge to be a positive, persistent and powerful advocate for the people of Pierce County. Please visit my website at
LADENBURG: I have the experience of working with stakeholders and constituents to develop policies that have resulted in improved transportation corridors, human service delivery, economic development outcomes and environmental safeguards. These are examples of my ability to work on issues that have broad impact and result in district-wide improvements. My experience has demonstrated my ability to bring vision into action. I see a need, I find a solution and I get it done!
NYE: Good people go to work every day to provide the core services that are rightfully within the scope of local government. They do what their leaders ask, they do it well, and they deserve to be guided by policies set by innovative people who have the leadership experience necessary to make good decisions. I have demonstrated that I am committed to keeping local government focused on the provision of core services, specifically public safety and infrastructure. For more information please visit my website at Vote4Nye.com.
Q) What is Pierce County Council’s biggest challenge?
BENSON: The state’s Growth Management Act requires Pierce County to update our Comprehensive Plan by June 30, 2015 and it needs to be in compliance with Vision 2040, which is the multi-county planning policy for all of the central Puget Sound. These regional growth policies will shape our local growth for our future citizens and generations beyond. The purpose of the comprehensive plan is not just land use and planning, but all facets of county government operations and this is a major undertaking. It is our road map for building successful, safe communities and providing a high quality of life now and into the future. I have the experience and skills to help guide Pierce County through this challenge.
GRASSI: One of Pierce County’s biggest challenges is keeping people moving. Transportation is critical for the economic growth of Pierce County. Highway 167, Interstate 5 at Joint Base Lewis McChord and the cross base project must remain a priority. These projects will require local, state and federal funds to be completed. We will need a County Council that is diligent in seeking these resources.
LADENBURG: Our challenge is to construct a successful path out of the recession through job growth; operative transportation corridors; and an educated and trained workforce. We must take advantage of economic growth opportunities i.e. $2.4 million in construction in the next four years at Joint Base Lewis McChord and the state’s Aerospace Initiative. We must position ourselves as a good place to do business. Appropriate zoning for business and residential development must be planned with stakeholder input. An expeditious process for developers to get permits must be provided. Transportation concurrence must be taken into consideration. There needs to be an appropriate balance of environmental impacts and development. We need a continuous review of available exemptions to incent businesses to our community.
Next, we must ensure that we can move product and people. Freight mobility is crucial to the success of our port and the state. We must work with state leaders to secure funding for the I-5 corridor and the extension of Highway 167 and continue to review cross-base highway.
Additionally, we must produce a workforce by working with our education institutions to strategize how we can move students into the jobs of the future. We also need to encourage more of our residents to explore apprenticeships.
NYE: Public safety (always #1), economic activity and the 2015 U.S. Open. During the U.S. Open the world – and Fortune 500 employers – will be watching Pierce County and making decisions about where they want to live, work, shop, play and conduct business. I have a vision for how we can realize long-term economic benefits from this potentially transformational event.
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