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Best Olympian 2015: Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson's job - and passion - is to support and nurture downtown Olympia

BRIAN WILSON: He hugs downtown Olympia every day. Photo credit: Winter Teems

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"I have a weird job," says Brian Wilson.

His title is "code enforcement officer," but Wilson's job - and passion - is to support and nurture downtown Olympia.

A better title, he says, is "downtown liaison." He's part project manager, part recruiter, part cheerleader and part salesman - and what he's selling is the joys and opportunities of urban life in Olympia.

He's had a hand in the downtown ambassador program, the rainbow-colored "Love and Respect Olympia" mural on Fourth and the Artesian Commons park, to name just a few.

This year, he'll be working on projects including creating a downtown welcome center; preventing crime through environmental design, including better lighting, security cameras and gates across the entryways of buildings; getting more buildings painted downtown; and working on a strategic plan for downtown.

Wilson has an office at City Hall but doesn't even have his office number on his business card. "I'm never at my desk, ever, because what am I doing for the city if I'm at my desk?" he says. "How do you get stuff done when your resources are out there?"

Instead, he's out making connections, getting people who love downtown involved with making it a better place.

"We all owe a lot to Brian," says Sarah Adams, who owns Psychic Sister, which offers readings, vintage clothes and alterations. "Communities succeed in accomplishing great things when they are working together and participating in the process. Brian has opened up the process. People are participating."

And Wilson makes it a point to connect with people who complain about downtown as well from those who love it. In fact, he says, the complainers are one of the city's greatest assets.

"Sure, we have a lot of naysayers about downtown," he says, "but that's a positive, because people actually care.

"There are so many places where they struggle to get one person to show up to a city council meeting and voice their opinion. People may not all agree about different elements of downtown, but they have one thing in common: They actually care.

"If you can find a way to engage them in the process, you can turn arguments into victories."

How does Wilson know just about everything that's happening downtown and just about everyone who lives, works and plays there?

Well, after he's done walking the streets of Olympia for work, Wilson takes some time out for fun. "I get off work and I hang out down here," he says over tea at Obsidian. "This is where I'm at."

And then he goes home - downtown - where he likes to cook and spend time with wife, Elizabeth Jenkins, a freelance journalist.

"I'm one of two (city of Olympia) employees who actually live downtown," he says. "I see it from a completely different perspective, just from living here and feeling safe here, knowing the people who might look a little different and knowing that those are the people I want by my side if something bad happens."

And, important city job aside, he has more or less the lifestyle of the typical (stereotypical?) Olympia resident - except that typical resident has a lot more free time.

Besides his coffee-shop habit, he's serious about local, sustainable food. He's one of the founders of the Olympia Meat Collective, which teaches people about what it takes to get meat from farm to table (olymeat.com).

And he's a longtime musician, currently recording an album with Skrill Meadow on K Records.

He grew up in Olympia, the son of an Olympia police officer, attending Olympia High School and playing bass, most notably with teen metal band Power Castle.

"It was the freaking coolest band of all time," Wilson says. "Long hair flying. High energy. Jumping over monitors. That's what a lot of people know about me from growing up here.

"It's weird to see me walking around in a red tie, but in many ways, I'm still that same person." (Proof? He's all dressed up to address the City Council, but on his feet are his standard sneakers. "Always Nikes," he says. "Never dress shoes.")

And what he's doing for the city of Olympia is more or less the same thing he does when he's playing bass: making connections.

"Everyone thinks playing bass is the easiest, but it's the hardest, because your job is to bridge the guitar and the drums in a meaningful way. You have to balance both." 

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