EDITOR'S NOTE: Contributing writer Ruairi Vaughan reached out to all three candidates running for Eatonville mayor. The third candidate, David Baublitz, did not respond to Vaughan's request for an interview.
Bob Walter has served on Eatonville’s Town Council for seven years but has decided that 2021 is the year to take the step of running for mayor.
Before being elected to the town council in 2013, Walter was the education director for Pierce County’s Humane Society for 27 years.
Walter said he would bring that experience — of “trying to help the most vulnerable” — to the role of town mayor. He is challenging Mayor Mike Schaub and businessman David Baublits in this August's primary election. The top two candidates will advance to the general election.
Walter has experience as a Pierce County firefighter, which he hopes will help the town deal with extreme weather events, such as heat waves and wildfires. Included in his plan to prepare Eatonville for future emergencies is “an education campaign about making sure you have fire breaks around your house and that you’re in touch with the latest news if there’s a fire.” He would also use his position as mayor to “urge people to cut back on use of water” during hot spells.
The heat wave inspired Eatonville’s council to review the town’s emergency measures. As chair of the public safety committee, Walter has been at the center of these efforts.
“One of the things we’re looking at is getting an HVAC system for the community center,” he said. “We’re already moving towards helping people at the cooling centers and helping people with the extreme heat.”
Before the heat wave, the main concern of Eatonville’s leadership was the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walter said that, at first, he thought current Mayor Mike Schaub was “not doing enough to educate the community about steps we could take to protect ourselves and each other.” Walter claimed that he sent Schaub an email about the lack of public education, after which the mayor “did follow up and do that.”
Walter praised the way that Schaub protected the town’s administrative staff during the pandemic.
“I think he’s done a good job keeping the staff safe and overseeing the safety practices in the workplace and having the Town Hall closed,” he said. “I’m glad he protected the clerk staff and planning staff, while still allowing people to do business via phone or drop box or Zoom.”
Walter contrasted Schaub’s approach with that of some members of the Eatonville Town Council, who “poo-pooed the virus.”
Reflecting on the impact of COVID on Eatonville’s businesses, Walter said, “I think quite a few of them did pretty well, given that some of them are small cottage businesses.”
He credited federal government programs — the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan — with saving struggling local businesses.
“Those that needed help and applied for it were able to get quite a bit of financial help,” he said.
Walter sees the role of the town leadership as “getting the word out to shop local and support your local businesses — and to stay safe while you do.”
Walter said one way to help out local businesses — and encourage more investment — is to change the town’s taxes. He has criticized Eatonville for being unfriendly to new businesses.
“I know that there are some municipalities who have been able to waive some of the taxes that have been hard for new businesses who don’t have capital,” he said. “I would try to give them a bonus if they start up and are willing to give it a try for six months or a year.”
As well as startups, Walter would seek to “lure in” businesses that are well-adapted to Eatonville’s unique market.
“I look for the kinds of businesses that are geared towards the traveler market,” he said. “Eatonville needs to have a better appearance for people coming through town, but it also needs to give people a reason to stop. There’s probably millions of people coming through year by year, so there’s definitely an opportunity there that we haven’t tapped into.”
While he acknowledged that there is not a lot of new commercial land available for such enterprises, he said that new businesses could take up vacant lots in town — “places that could be running a thriving business if it was run right, given the chance.”
When asked about the risk that tax breaks could pose to projects that the town is currently financing, Walter said he has always been frugal in financial matters and “would certainly not recommend something to the council with a huge risk.”
“But we do have a reserve fund, although that’s usually only for emergencies like extreme weather, and we have the general fund,” Walter said.
He concluded by saying that he planned to do more research.
“Maybe a community as small as Eatonville would find it more difficult to offer tax incentives,” he said.
Walter can't ignore his passion for preventing animal cruelty. Although he does not believe it is a top priority for the town, he said that he hopes to provide more expert training for officers responsible for animal control. He also brought up the illegal fireworks displays that happened on the Fourth of July.
“I wish we could find a way to enforce the law on illegal fireworks,” he said. “It’s terrifying for animals and people.”
Aside from the occasional noisy fireworks display, Walter said one of his favorite things about life in Eatonville is “the fact that the pace is so much more calm and relaxed compared to the frenzy in downtown Tacoma or Seattle, or even the suburbs!”
Ballots for the primary election were mailed to residents last week and must be returned by Aug. 3.