The Board of Thurston County Commissioners continues to reshape county government through staff firings and changes to boards and committees.
Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita, who is a local farmer, is among those affected. The county commission declined to reappoint her to the county’s agricultural advisory committee, which makes agricultural recommendations to the commission.
Zita said she was first appointed to the committee in 2009, elected vice chairwoman in 2013, and elected chairwoman of the committee in 2015. In 2017, she was again appointed to the committee as one of her intergovernmental assignments as a port commissioner.
But in late July, the county commission sent her a letter about its decision and thanked Zita for her work. The agricultural advisory committee didn’t meet in August, but did last week when Zita called for the election of a new chairman to replace her as chairwoman.
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The commission made the decision because they felt that Zita didn’t “represent their interests,” and they were concerned about conflict of interest issues because she’s an elected official, County Manager Ramiro Chavez said Wednesday.
“I’d be interested to know what I don’t represent,” Zita said Wednesday, adding that she’s been raising organic, grass-fed beef in the county since 1999. She also teaches at The Evergreen State College.
As for the commission’s concerns about Zita being an elected official, she called it a “specious argument,” pointing out that other elected officials hold positions on county boards. For example, Olympia City Councilwoman Jessica Bateman is chairwoman of the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee.
Zita acknowledged tension in the committee after she was reappointed earlier this year because another member also questioned her role as an elected official on the committee. Zita declined to name that other committee member.
Despite the tension, the committee had done some good work, she said, including developing a strategic plan for agriculture in the county.
The commissioners have removed three directors: Former county Public Defense director Darryl Rodrigues was let go in February; former Public Health and Social Services director Tom Stuebner was ousted in January; and Resource Stewardship director Brent Butler was removed last week.
Zita is the second person removed from a committee: Former Olympia City Councilman Joe Hyer was axed from the Solid Waste Advisory Committee in April.
“I am proud to be a member of the Darryl Rodrigues club, and I will continue to serve the farming and food systems community,” Zita said.