Council taps Camarata for interim post

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Tacoma City Council has appointed Justin Camarata to serve as the interim District 2 council member through the rest of the year, or until Councilmember Robert Thoms returns from his military deployment, whichever comes first. The appointment came in a six-to-two vote, with Councilmembers Conor McCarthy and Lillian Hunter voting no. Thoms was absent. He had nominated Doyle’s Public House owner Russ Heaton to serve in his stead during a selection of finalists that included a field of nine nominations, one from each council member.

District 2 covers much of the North End, Northeast Tacoma, the Tideflats and downtown. Thoms has been deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan as part of Operation Resolute Support. He is a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves.

Camarata’s appointment came with no debate or nominations Tuesday night after the council postponed a vote on March 7 to allow for more review of the applicants. His nomination was fronted by Deputy Mayor Anders Ibsen. No other council member championed his or her original nominee. McCarthy, however, attempted to further debate the appointment during the council’s unfinished business section because the council didn’t publicly debate the merits of the candidates.

“What we didn’t have is any dialogue, any public dialogue, at this meeting, of who we were going to select, and I have a problem with that,” he said in an attempt to suspend council rules to reopen discussion about Camarata’s appointment resolution.

Hunter seconded his motion but the effort failed to sway the balance of the council.

Camarata brings to the interim post more than a decade of business experience that ranges from Fortune 500 companies to technology startups. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington and is involved in the Forterra Regional Leadership Council and the podcasting venture Channel 253. He also served stints on the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Technical Advisory Group and Board of Ethics, Bicycle Pedestrian Technical Advisory Group, the Transportation Commission Streetcar Subcommittee and the North End Neighborhood Council.

“Tacoma is at an exciting point in its history,” Camarata wrote in his appointment application. “Demand is growing, more people are moving here, and we have an opportunity to chart a new direction as a city when it comes to housing, transportation, fossil fuels, and equity…”

One of the first political statements Camarata made Tuesday came by way of a Facebook post regarding the idea of siting a homeless youth shelter and service center a group is proposing for the former Rite Aid store on the Hilltop.

“It’s the wrong approach for the neighborhood, it’s the wrong approach for the youth being served, and it’s best to go back to the drawing board with a plan that isn’t led by people who’ve spent substantial time, energy, and money on trying to institute discrimination into law,” he wrote the night of his appointment, when the council held a public hearing on temporary shelter regulations.

He could not be reached for further comment.

The group Collaborate Tacoma wants to convert the former Rite Aid storefront along Martin Luther King Jr. Way into a one-stop shop for teens battling with homelessness by providing spaces for service providers that would offer everything from job training and counseling to places to display art, hold performances and borrow books. Mini houses within the building could also serve as shelters for up to a dozen 16- to 20-year-old homeless young adults. The anchor tenant of the site would be a Tacoma branch of Coffee Oasis, a 20-year-old, Christian-focused effort based in Kitsap County that operates coffee roasters and java shops to provide job training and services for homeless youth.

Many members of the neighborhood, including Councilmember Keith Blocker, oppose the idea out of concern that it would create yet another draw for social services, hurt economic opportunities in the growing neighborhood and is being proposed without community or city review.

The other appointment finalists for Thoms’ seat were: Sitecrafting CFO and Tacoma Pierce County Chamber Executive Board Member Allen James “AJ” Gordon; former Tacoma Fire Chief Ron Stephens; technology executive adjunct faculty member at Pacific Lutheran University Bradd Busick; psychotherapist Janey Mattson; nonprofit fundraiser/campaigner Sarah Rumbaugh; retired business executive and consultant Ann Locsin; and Tacoma Schools Communications Director Dan Voelpel.

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