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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 17
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tacoma City Council's Ryan Mello
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tacoma City Council's Ryan Mello

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Ryan Mello is running for his first full term on the Tacoma City Council. He was appointed to his at-large Council seat in January of 2010.

This is not his first political campaign, however.

'I ran citywide for Parks Commissioner in 2005,' he tells SGN, 'and I beat an 18-year incumbent. I was also the Pierce County Referendum 71 chair.'

'Campaigning's in my blood,' he adds.

In his 15 months on the City Council, Mello has built an impressive record of public service, taking on some of the most difficult committee assignments.

He is currently vice chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Puyallup River Watershed Executive Task Force.

Mello has also served on the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Government Performance and Finance Committee, and the Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee.

'Those are the meaty committees,' Mello says, 'the heart and soul of local government - the basic services.'

Doing a good job of delivering basic services is key to Mello's philosophy of government.

'I really strongly believe that if local government gets a longer leash from taxpayers it will be because they're satisfied that the basics are well managed,' he insists.

'It resonates with people. People expect those things. Then they'll be willing to pay for social services, or mass transit. We can't do it if we don't do the bare bones.'

While he acknowledges that national political issues like the country's budget deficit often occupy the media's attention, Mello insists that local government is vitally important.

'City government touches people's lives the most. I guess it's sexier to talk about trillions of dollars & but the choices made by the city council - our energy sources, our city buses - these are the things that affect people's daily lives,' he tells SGN.

'I like being on the inside,' Mello adds. 'I absolutely, absolutely believe it's important who's in these chairs. The values they bring to the table decide their priorities at the end of the day.'

As examples, Mello cites a number of environmental policy changes he spearheaded as a council member.

In Tacoma's transportation policy, Mello says, 'We turned the funding triangle on its head. The old master plan put single-occupancy vehicles first. Now we focus funding on pedestrians, bikes, and mass transit.

'Of course we still have to fund roads, but we give equal attention to bike lanes, crosswalks, bus shelters&.'

Mello also speaks proudly about Tacoma's urban forestry policy.

'We now have plans to implement a 30% tree canopy by 2030. It makes the city more livable,' he says.

Mello is no stranger to environmental planning. He has served on the Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Policy Board, and in 2008 and 2009 he was co-chair of Tacoma's Green Ribbon Task Force on Climate Change, which produced the city's plan for addressing global climate change.

'We want to use energy wisely,' he says, 'and we want to mange growth wisely, not sprawling over farm lands and forests.'

'I grew up on a cattle ranch in Hawaii,' he adds. 'Where I grew up, the land paid our bills.'

While Mello has yet to draw an opponent for his seat, he says he has been campaigning nonstop.

Asked if he has learned anything from talking to voters, he replies, 'I've learned it's shocking the number of people who are hurting - and remain invisible. People who are unemployed, or under-employed. Shocking and humbling.'

While economic recovery will have to be managed at the federal level, Mello says there are things that local governments can do to help their residents.

'Encouraging jobs close to home - clean energy and clean technology jobs,' he says. 'We can also keep utility bills low. Fortunately we have public ownership [of the city's power company].'

'We've also increased the B&O threshold,' he says, referring to the Business and Occupation tax on gross business receipts.

'It's now the highest of any Puget Sound county - $250,000. B&O is a regressive tax, and keeping the threshold high helps our competitive advantage' in attracting new investments in Tacoma.

Mello lives with his partner Jerry - a small-business owner - and 'three dogs and two cats,' as his website says proudly.

'I was really proud to chair the Pierce County Referendum 71 campaign and to serve on ERW's Board,' he says. 'I want to be sure LGBT people don't get forgotten - and people with HIV/AIDS don't get forgotten.'

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