The Tenino mayorship — the gift that keeps on giving, at least for us journalist types.
Thankfully, this sordid tale of woe ends in the brightest of notes, with kudos to the current mayor of the Sandstone City.
We start with Tenino’s own Mayorjuana — Eric Strawn, who was first voted in as mayor of Tenino in 2011. Two short years later, he resigned following several pratfalls.
It started bad for Strawn at the get-go. Perhaps the city wasn’t ready for a “long-haired, casually-dressed” mayor who was “unabashed about issuing colorful soundbites,” as detailed in a Chronicle story. They certainly weren’t ready for a mayor who allegedly intimidated councilors and denied public information requests. The city council as a unit expressed their dissatisfaction with their new mayor.
Then, in the summer of 2012, Strawn was caught parked in front of the Christian-based Health Wiz Gym in Lacey in a “compromising position” with a female. A police report stated Strawn was receiving oral sex, a charge he denied.
“The truth is I kissed a girl that wasn’t my wife,” Strawn said. He was never charged for any crime.
Just a month later, Strawn took his burgeoning stand-up comedian act to the road, using the stage name “Mayorjuana.” T-shirts soon appeared across Tenino with Strawn’s face next to the words “Mayorjuana,” two pot leaves and the Hawaiian flag. Strawn had previously talked about his use of medicinal marijuana.
The city council did not find Strawn a funny man. Councilors Wayne Fournier, David Watterson, Robert Scribner and Frank Anderson said they were embarrassed.
To top it off, a citizen of Tacoma, in what he called an April Fool’s prank, erected a sign on his downtown property that stated the soon-to-be opening of the “Mayor Marijuana Dispensary and Clinic.” The sign was soon stolen, and surveillance camera footage taken in the middle of the night from the Jackpot Food Mart across the street showed a Strawn-like person stealing the sign. A police complaint followed. Strawn never admitted nor denied the theft.
Strawn had enough of the public-figure attention and resigned just a year and a half into his term.
Fast forward several years to the reign of current Mayor Fournier. He was allegedly caught manhandling an employee of the Tenino Eagles Club in the summer of 2019. Specifically, according to a Thurston County Sheriff’s Office report, Fournier was part of a group of men standing next to the bar in a place off limits for nonemployees. A female employee asked them to move, and a while later, a security guard asked them to leave. The employee started to call 911 at one point and picked up the phone. Fournier allegedly slapped the phone out of her hand, “forcefully striking her hand,” according to the police report.
Fournier denied assault allegations and eventually entered into a diversion agreement where if he does not get in trouble for the next two years and undergoes an alcohol drug information class, his charge would be dismissed. A prosecuting attorney said part of the reason to agree with the diversion program was due to Fournier’s lack of a serious adult criminal history.
Fournier’s time as mayor, however, would soon land him in more controversy. The city of Tenino, in 2020, at the innocent direction of a staffer, loaned the Washington Municipal Clerks Association $23,000. Somehow, likely from overseas operatives using fake email accounts and stolen personal information, that “loan” ended up as $270,000 going out of city coffers and into the hands of some cyber hooligans.
The FBI and State Patrol investigated. The staffer resigned. The city placed a claim with their insurance agency. The agency fought the claim.
Fournier speculated the massive worldwide attention from the city’s reenergized wooden money program put Tenino on the map via Russian media, Al Jazeera and the British Broadcasting Corporation, getting someone’s attention. But, to Fournier’s and the council’s credit, they signed up earlier last year for cyber-fraud insurance, a wise move in hindsight. The city government led by Fournier also had socked enough money away in reserves to weather the loss of funds.
To make matters more difficult for Fournier, a citizen started a recall effort against Fournier, listing past discretions as noted above with some other allegations, capped by the loss of $270,00. Fournier called the recall effort “lacking in substance and facts,” “kind of silly” and “easy to disprove.”
A judge agreed, and last month ruled the recall charges were “factually and legally insufficient.”
Finally, this past week, the insurance company capitulated and agreed to pay the $270,000.
Unlike the former “Mayorjuana” Strawn, who stated at the time of his resignation, “I am not the solution to Tenino’s problems,” I believe Mayor Fournier is a solid mayor who is wiser for all he has gone through and has much to offer in his continued leadership of Tenino.
I believe Fournier is a good man and a good mayor, but like many of us, we can all use life lessons to improve our lot as we move through life.
Michael Wagar is a former president, publisher and editor of The Chronicle.