Listening pays off for council winners
By BRIAN KELLY
Bainbridge Island Review Editor
November 10, 2011 · 4:21 PM
Three of the four newly elected (unofficially) City Council members say their criticisms of the city’s performances in recent years were mostly reflective of what community members told them before and during their campaigns.
Steve Bonkowski, Dave Ward and Sarah Blossom said after Tuesday’s election results were posted that changes needed to be made in the council and city administration, including: assuring that basic services such as road maintenance and equitable utility rates are provided; continuing to improve the city’s financial situation; and the way the council does its own business.
Anne Blair, the fourth winner in the election, was less critical of the council and administration during her campaign but she made it known that she thought the city had lost the trust of much of the community. That was a common theme among the four winners.
Bonkowski, who held a 12 percent lead over incumbent Barry Peters after the latest vote count by Kitsap County, was perhaps the most active campaigner during the primary and general elections. Generally, he said, people want the changes that started with the new form of government to continue.
“That includes a lot of different things,” he said, “including bolstering the city’s financial picture into the future. When I talked to people who are Winslow ratepayers, uniformly they wanted the water utility transferred to Kitsap Public Utility District. It’s not just about rates. Many people I talked to said the city didn’t deserve a second chance. That was the No. 1 issue.”
Bonkowski said he got to know how islanders thought about their government simply by listening to them, whether it was at Safeway, the ferry terminal, on door steps or during the 22 different coffee events he attended on the island. He also sat through a lot of city meetings in order to understand what was occurring.
“What I think happened was that because of a general dissatisfaction with one thing or another, a lot of people who were maybe in different factions at one time sort of came together and voted the same,” Bonkowski said. “That was kind of surprising.”
Blossom, a fifth-generation islander who had a 6 percent advantage over Robert Dashiell, saved most of her criticism for a council that she considers dysfunctional. She put it this way: “After we had a new form of government I thought we were headed in a good direction and then something happened. I’m hoping that with the new council there will be less friction than there has been. I think council members have been coming in with their minds made up. I think they’ve had discussions outside the group as a whole and make up their minds and then come in and don’t pay attention to what others have to say. There needs to be more give and take, and I hope the new council will take the time to work together more.”
Robert Dashiell, who ran against Blossom, said she “ran a good race and is quite a nice person.” But he also thought that she and others who were elected received assistance from the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance.
“The Ratepayers Alliance were for the four and that’s a powerful coalition to go against,” said Dashiell. “There’s a fairly informal group of people that has established a good communication network and they use it effectively. It’s been quite derogatory to a lot of candidates.”
Ward, who has a 15 percent lead over Joe Levan, said most of his campaigning occurred in the Central Ward, where the water utility issue is paramount.
“People are pretty upset about that and they’re really not willing to give the city a new chance,” he said. “They think the city has had plenty of time to clean up their act and giving them two more years is likely to be a waste of time. There’s a risk involved, and they want it transferred (to KPUD) so there isn’t one.”
Ward said he mostly listened to what people had said rather than campaigning for himself, “and what I heard was that they think the change of government was a step in the right direction, but that there are still many similarities by the current city staff and council to the old way things were done. So change needs to continue.”
Peters was disappointed but sounded somewhat relieved after being defeated.
“I tried to reach Steve but couldn’t so I left him a voice mail,” Peters said. “I gave him my congratulations and my complements because he conducted a fair and hard-working campaign.”
Levan, an attorney who is a municipal consultant, said he was surprised by the outcome, but enjoyed the experience.
“I thought I might win because of the response I got from talking to the community,” he said, “but maybe that’s because I was talking mostly to people who supported me. Maybe the low turnout had something to do with it.
Keenan, who lost to Blair, said it was difficult to overcome her opponent’s longevity in the community, “but I made ‘em sweat.”
She believes the council has to become more inclusive of its citizens.
“That’s really lacking, and it’s really unfortunate because there is a large talent pool of educated people on this island that can really do some innovative things if allowed to express themselves. The council should build some trust.”
Peters, who was unopposed when he was elected four years ago, said he was prepared for the outcome to go either way.
“Frankly either way is OK by me because I am happy, and my wife is happy, that we now can get back to our volunteerism for the community that I had to ratchet back because of my work with the council,” Peters said. “My main hope is that the newly elected members will prove to be positive problem-solvers at a time when that is needed.”
He said his one disappointment was that the current council is only halfway through the transition that the voters wanted in approving the council-manager form of government two years ago.
“That’s the main reason I chose to run again,” said Peters. “My main motivation was to try to complete the transition.”
Voters overwhelmingly against port measure
The proposition to create a new Port of Bainbridge Island went down to defeat with 75 percent of the voters casting ballots against it.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 4,176 “no” votes compared to 1,399 in favor of it.
Wini Jones, who was perhaps the driving force behind the attempt, said she’s disappointed but felt the campaign was worth all the hard work by many people.
“I think we’ve raised the level of awareness that a port can do really good things for the entire community,” Jones said.
Sharon Gilpin, who campaigned against it, said it was clear that the community didn’t need another taxing district.
In the commissioners’ races for the Port of Bainbridge Island, the top vote-getters in the five races were Elizabeth Murray, Jim Llewellyn, John Papjani, Darrell McNabb and Andy Peters.
Incumbent Kirk Robinson had a big lead over Ron Luke in the Metropolitan Park & Recreation District Pos. 5 race. And incumbent Chris Dew was re-elected as Pos. 2 commissioner for Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7 over James Olsen.
------------------------Contact Bainbridge Island Review Editor Brian Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-206-842-6613.