Thurston County commissioners voted Tuesday evening to remove former Olympia City Council member Joe Hyer as chairman of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.
“The board didn’t feel that he had the perspective of the board,” county manager Ramiro Chavez told The Olympian.
But the decision — or perhaps more so the way it was handled — has left Hyer feeling like he was set out on the curb like trash.
“At this point, I know that that I’ve been fired but nobody at the county has been willing to call me and tell me that,” Hyer said on Wednesday night. “That personally just offends me that as a volunteer you wouldn’t at least show me the door politely.”
“I’m a citizens rep, so I knew last December, that with the change in commissioners, if John Hutchings didn’t want me I would have been happy to resign,” he added.
Hyer’s removal from the committee was an item added to the consent agenda during the last portion of the commissioners’ meeting late Tuesday.
He was appointed to the committee in the fall of 2015. He previously served on it for six years, during his tenure on the Olympia City Council.
SWAC has about 15 members, including citizens, public interest groups, businesses, the waste management industry and elected officials from local cities, towns and the Port of Olympia. Their role is to review issues affecting the county’s solid waste programs, and make recommendations to county commissioners. They also lead the development of a five-year “Solid Waste Comprehensive Management Plan,” which helps guide how the county and its cities manage garbage.
All three of the commissioners ran as political independents, and have vowed to shake up county government, which has been controlled by Democrats for years. Hyer, a Democrat, said he doesn’t believe partisanship was a factor in their decision.
“One of the reasons I think I was fired from the SWAC is that I was told by staff there have been no reductions to any of the waste reduction recycling programs,” Hyer said. “But I was also told by the primary contractor of that program that their contract was suspended indefinitely four months ago and their vehicle was taken to maintenance and not given back.”
He said the county’s solid waste division underwent new leadership last May, and he thinks some of the county’s staff aren’t “in alignment with Ecology or the vast majority of Thurston County residents.”
Hutchings said the Board of County Commissioners is examining all of the county’s boards and committees that fall under its discretion.
“It’s about the person in the role and where they may believe what their role is and what their role is not, and that’s pretty much it, really,” he said.
Hyer served on the Olympia City Council for about six years, and resigned from his elected seat April 2010, nearly two months after being arrested and charged with three felonies for allegedly dealing marijuana. He later pleaded guilty to one felony charge.
Hyer is the first person to be removed from a citizen committee by the new Board of County Commissioners, Chavez said. Since taking the county’s helm in January, the board asked for the resignation of Tom Stuebner, director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services and terminated Thurston County Public Defense Director Daryl Rodrigues.
The county has about 30 boards, committees and commissions made up of members appointed by the Board of County Commissioners, ranging from the Fair Board and Housing Authority Commission to the Public Facilities District and the Storm and Surface Water Advisory Board.
Olympia City Council member Jessica Bateman was elected chair of SWAC during the group’s meeting Thursday.
“The committee was not given an explanation (for Hyer’s removal) and we were encouraged to move forward,’ she said. “... It’s unprecedented, that I’m aware of, to have a chair of a committee removed without communication with the committee.”
Bateman said Hyer was “an effective, passionate leader” of the committee.
She said she hopes county officials will practice effective communication in the future with SWAC members.