Yelm City Councilmember Joe DePinto will face Dennise Butler, co-owner of Mr. Doug’s Family Restaurant, in the race for Yelm’s next mayor after current Mayor JW Foster announced last spring that he will not seek another term in office.
DePinto is a contract lobbyist and was an executive legislative assistant in the office of the House Minority Whip, in addition to his time on Yelm City Council, he said. He was elected in 2015 and started his first term in 2016.
While she did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, the Thurston County Voters’ Pamphlet states that Butler is a Yelm High School graduate with no previous elected experience.
In the pamphlet, Butler emphasized leadership experience over elected experience.
“She has led teams, managed employees and balanced budgets,” stated the pamphlet. “Working in customer service has provided Dennise with opportunities to talk to a large cross-section of the community who share the same concerns, complaints and ideas that she does.”
DePinto is also a Yelm High School graduate, but studied government at Eastern Washington University and has received several certificates in municipal leadership, according to the Voters’ Pamphlet.
“I grew up in Yelm,” DePinto told the Nisqually Valley News. “It’s meant a lot to me over the years, and I feel I have a good skill set that I can give back to the city — to give back what it’s given me.”
DePinto moved to Yelm in 1993, when he was about 5 years old, he said.
He’s a two-term city councilmember, and ran for mayor in 2017, an election that he lost to Foster by 14 votes.
“I’ve got the experience and knowledge necessary to lead the city and understand the issues affecting Yelm,” DePinto said. “My priorities are all developed from my experience here.”
He said his top three priorities for Yelm are public safety, transportation and economic growth.
“We have seen, over the past three years, crimes that haven’t really occurred in Yelm,” DePinto said. “Armed robberies in multiple banks and a jewelry store. … I have been advocating for a long time — and it ultimately would be my biggest goal as mayor — to be putting two officers on duty at all times.”
Currently, there are times where there is only one officer on duty, usually during the graveyard shift, he said.
“It’s not only going to increase safety for our citizens, but also for our officers,” DePinto said.
In the realm of transportation, DePinto said he’d like to see the completion of the Yelm Loop bypass.
“But we also need more than just the bypass,” he said. “I’m going to be proposing a lot of infrastructure in the form of roundabouts. I’m a big fan of them. Some people don’t like them, but the truth is, they work.”
He said roundabouts not only improve traffic flow, but are safer than traffic lights.
“People might remember how horrible traffic was on the Nisqually Reservation before they installed those two roundabouts,” DePinto said. “Now, traffic’s a breeze through there.”
He said roundabouts in Yelm and McKenna would be “huge” for reducing traffic in the corridor.
“Regarding economic growth, I think, one of the big priorities for me is going to be partnerships with the Nisqually Tribe,” DePinto said. “I think they’re an entity that we don’t really partner with a lot.”
DePinto said tribal members have come to city council meetings in the past, but he would like to see more from the existing partnership. Projects like construction, shared infrastructure goals and others are also possibilities.
“Besides working with the Nisqually Tribe, I think we should explore other things that haven’t really been considered in Yelm,” DePinto said, detailing how he would like to revitalize the sister city program and partner with them on business endeavors and economic deals.
He also said bringing new small businesses to Yelm would increase revenue and could decrease water rates.
“Yelm means home,” DePinto said. “It’s always been home for me and I’m very proud of it. I always try to help people here if I can. I always have people reach out to me and it’s been really special to me to be able to help them. I know I’m not able to help everybody, but I do my best to. Yelm holds a special place in my heart.”
Ballots were mailed in mid-October and must be postmarked no later than election day or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.