It was another busy day last week for Nick Bozarth, who at 22 years old is this town's youngest mayor in its 95-year history. Bozarth isn't looking for...

Share story

NAPAVINE, Lewis County — It was another busy day last week for Nick Bozarth, who at 22 years old is this town’s youngest mayor in its 95-year history.

Bozarth isn’t looking for controversy. But since he took the unsalaried office in January, somehow it has just seemed to find him.

Napavine, 35 miles south of Olympia, is a conservative place. In the last presidential election, 65 percent went for George W. Bush.

So perhaps it was a bit unusual that when he ran for mayor last year, Bozarth borrowed from Gandhi for his campaign theme: “Be the change that you want to see.”

But change is what this town of 1,400 wanted. Now six months into a four-year term, he certainly has shaken things up.

First he ordered city workers to quit hanging out at local watering holes during work hours.

Last week, he suspended the controversial police chief. And now he has managed to get into a tiff with the local fire district.

But by and large, it seems folks around here have been giving him a chance.

“I think maybe some people were a little worried about his age, but some people are excited,” said Shawna Hannum, who runs Get A Haircut, a local hair salon that charges 14 bucks for a haircut.

“He brings new ideas into our little town.”

Learning and growing

Making change in the city has been, as they say, a learning experience for Bozarth. But learning is something he loves.

After graduating from Napavine High School in 2004, Bozarth worked at a supermarket and attended Centralia Community College for a year and a half to study management and marketing.

He says he gets his influences from books and reads about history online.

Lately he’s been reading Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” which might be the most influential tract of the American Revolution. He picked it up for $6 from the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble.

Bozarth’s outward demeanor is low-key. He is unfailingly polite. He works long hours as an emergency-room technician at Providence Centralia Hospital, where his girlfriend works as a nurse.

Nonetheless, Bozarth says he didn’t want to be one of those people “sitting around the kitchen table,” complaining about an increase in water rates or something. So he decided to run for mayor.

He spent about $1,300 of his own money — refusing any contributions — to buy 200 yard signs and to place ads on the local country-music station.

He knocked on the doors of nearly every one of the roughly 450 households in Napavine.

When they opened their doors, voters saw a young man who seemed more like he’s in his 30s, a volunteer for the local fire district who spent a month helping victims of Hurricane Katrina. He had even helped deliver a baby when a woman went into labor at a freeway offramp.

By contrast, opponent Jim Haslett was a 66-year-old longtime city councilman and community leader.

Looking back, Haslett says that for voters, maybe it was a matter of, “I’ve got old ideas. He’s got new ideas.”

Bozarth got about three-quarters of the vote.

Haslett, also a history buff, thinks Bozarth will do a good job.

“In the Revolution, some of the generals were 28 years old,” he says.

No free lunch

Then it was time to govern.

Back in April, Bozarth sent out a memo ordering city employees that while on the job, they couldn’t go to establishments that were “recognized” as bars.

He specifically named a venerable local hangout, Frosty’s Saloon & Grill, which proudly proclaims it was established in 1901. It is a bar but also has an extensive food menu.

Nobody was accusing city employees of drinking on the job, Bozarth says. But he had gotten complaints from citizens that employees were taking extended lunches and breaks there. Like maybe an hour and a half or so.

This is Napavine, after all. Everybody seems to know everybody else’s business.

Of course, the restaurant’s owner wasn’t very happy. She said she was being picked on.

A letter to the editor written by a Napavine man to The Chronicle, Lewis County’s daily paper, had the headline, “What does mayor have against Frosty’s?”

Bozarth apologized and rescinded the memo.

Now he says he has learned something from the episode: that a differently worded memo could have accomplished the same goal. He issued a new one that said that on a temporary basis, city employees would have to file a daily log listing what they did all day — and include when they took their lunch breaks.

“The kid” and the chief

Then there was the police chief, Shelby Clements.

In the summer of 2006, the chief was a main character in what grew to be known around here as “Pattigate.” Clements, along with at least 10 other law-enforcement officers all over the area, got caught having racy text-message sessions with Patti Prouty, who happened to be a county manager in charge of hooking up computers in police cruisers.

One exchange between Clements and Prouty went like this:

Clements: “so are ya nakie?” He added :-P, an emoticon for a tongue hanging out of a mouth.

Prouty: “top on no lower.”

Someone printed up T-shirts that said, “Are You Nakie?” They sold like hotcakes.

Clements received a brief suspension. Prouty was fired.

Then, just last week, Clements again was in the news.

Bozarth had to rush back to town from his job at the hospital in Centralia. He conferred with the City Council, then placed Clements on paid administrative leave. The chief’s city-issued Chevy Tahoe now is parked in Bozarth’s driveway.

Bozarth says he can’t talk about the specifics. He has asked the city’s insurance provider and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to look into the situation. He says it’s because he wants to be fair to the chief.

That hasn’t stopped the chatter.

On Lewis County Buzz, an online public forum hosted by The Chronicle’s Web site, someone commented: “Sort of a gutsy move by ‘the kid.’ ”

One more firestorm

But that isn’t the last of the controversies for Bozarth.

More than a month ago, he sent a letter to Fire District 5, asking how much manpower and how many vehicles the fire district has. The district had shut down one of the four fire stations in the area, posting a large sign: “STATION CLOSED DUE TO LACK OF VOLUNTEERS!”

This concerns Bozarth because he wonders about response time to emergencies. He wonders if it’s time for Napavine to form its own fire department.

But he got no reply from the fire district. So he sent an e-mail and another letter.

This time, he says, he was faxed back a blank public-records request form.

Bozarth says he couldn’t understand why one public agency was being so uncooperative with another one. He has read up on state laws about public records, and his conclusion is that his letter was good enough.

As Bozarth tells it, the fire district’s secretary, Linda Wolfe, told him, “Nick, why don’t you fill out the damn form?”

Well, Bozarth says, it’s a matter of principle. Why should he — or his constituents — have to fill out unnecessary forms and make government even more complicated?

Bozarth says Wolfe called him “pathetic and sad.” He says he then stepped outside of the fire district’s headquarters in Napavine and called one of the fire commissioners, who promised that Bozarth would get the documents. Bozarth says he got them last Friday.

Meanwhile, Wolfe responds by saying she is filing a complaint with the Napavine City Council that Bozarth harassed her.

“This will probably go to legal action,” Wolfe says.

Bozarth still has 42 months left on his four-year term. He says he’s staying the course.

Luckily, there are plenty of calming Gandhi quotes to be found online.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or