Thurston County has around 300,000 people. Its neighbor to the south, Lewis County, has around 80,000.
Currently, both have three-person boards of county commissioners, where each elected represents one third of the county’s population. In a move that would have been eventually required due to growth, Thurston County in November proposed a new map, redistricting itself into five chunks and adding two new seats to the board — one representing all of southwest county, the other in the Olympia area. Voters approved it by a 10.38% margin. This year, they will decide who fills the two new seats.
After two four-year terms in his seat, Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier, 42, announced his bid for District 4 county commissioner last week.
Because elections are staggered by district, the seatholder will only serve one year. Fournier said he has his sights set on both the partial term and a full one to follow.
Mayor pro-tem Linda Gotovac announced she will seek the mayoral spot he leaves. Fournier on Facebook wrote that if elected, Gotovac will be “the greatest thing to happen to Tenino since the discovery of sandstone.”
For the commissioner seat, Fournier will run as a Democrat.
“I hate that question,” the mayor said when asked about party affiliation, later adding, “I have no interest in partisan politics. But, as a union member, as a strong believer in labor unions, that is the way I lean.”
The grandson of a former Tenino police chief, Fournier studied philosophy and psychology at WSU. He’s been a professional firefighter for nearly two decades.
Fournier — who refuses to declare whether his last name should be pronounced with an “er” or an “ay” — served a term on city council before running for mayor. When first taking the big job in 2015, Tenino’s budget was in the red and the state auditor’s office had categorized the Stone City as “failing,” he said.
“Things were crazy back then,” he said, adding, “They were basically scared to talk to the public. We didn’t talk to the media. That was a faux pas. I kicked the doors open.”
Sitting in Tenino’s Sandstone Cafe, Fournier reflected on his service as mayor Sunday morning with mostly smiles. It’s not been a cake walk, but he clearly loves it.
But with his term ending and an opportunity to represent a larger chunk of his community, Fournier said he felt the signs were pointing to the county courthouse in Olympia. Sitting as a sliver of the 3rd Congressional and 20th Legislative districts, joining all of Olympia in the county’s District 2, Fournier feels South Thurston County has been underrepresented in government.
Asked if this is the next step toward higher political ambitions, Fournier said, “No. I’m shocked I’m even getting the opportunity to do this.”
As mayor, Fournier said he’s been there as the Stone City went from barren to brimming with new businesses. He’s appointed an official city historian, facilitated a declaration of Tenino as a “creative district,” gained international recognition for a local currency program that provided relief during COVID-19 and secured $750,000 from the state to buy new playground park equipment.
His record as mayor has also included controversy, such as a 2019 fourth-degree assault charge for which he underwent a two-year diversion program, the city being scammed out of $280,000 in 2020 and a recall effort following those events, which was ruled “factually and legally insufficient.”
However, next to his predecessor, Mayor Eric Strawn, who passed away last year, Fournier appears vanilla. During his service, Strawn performed comedy under the moniker “Mayorjuana,” was reportedly caught in a “compromising position” in public in 2012 and reportedly threw a chair at Fournier during a council meeting, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
“There’s a number of things (my opponents) can pick up on. You know, ‘He faltered here. He made a mistake here.’ To me, that makes me human,” Fournier said. “For any mistake that I made, I think I have recovered from it.”
When all was done with the cybersecurity scam, he said for example, the city netted an additional $70,000 for a lawsuit against its insurance provider. Ultimately, Fournier feels he did everything he set out to do as mayor, and hopes to leverage his accomplishments as proof he’s the right choice for the commissioner role.
“Getting to talk about things and getting to listen to other people’s ideas: That jazzes me up,” he said, later adding, “Stuff that we’ve done here in Tenino, that could be mirrored. And that’s working on the cultural assets that we have and turning those into economic opportunities.”
If elected, Fournier will join commissioners Tye Menser and Carolina Mejia, who are both Democrats, and Gary Edwards, an Independent, along with whoever steps up for the other new district.
All three of them, he said, were his friends who he’d be excited to work with. But, due to the Open Public Meetings Act setting that the three-person board has a quorum wherever two commissioners are gathered, Fournier said he felt the five-person board will be more effective. He added he’s excited to set the precedent that could be followed by Southwest Thurston County for decades to come.
“I know how local government works. I know how to get things done ... I'm not afraid to be constructively destructive,” Fournier said. “The spirit of South Thurston County will do well to be lended to the rest of the county.”
Thurston County commissioners make around $11,000 per month.