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Hopefuls clash on growth at forum

‘Decisiveness’ emerges as a theme in the race for Bainbridge mayor.

Managing growth, transportation, protecting the environment and maintaining the island’s quality of life were themes that ran throughout an evening of debates at the high school Monday, featuring all local candidates in November’s general election.

In the mayoral debate, Councilman Nezam Tooloee characterized incumbent Darlene Kordonowy as “all about process” while he was “all about results.”

He said this differing approach toward the city’s most critical issues, including balancing growth between downtown and less-developed areas, makes him the stronger candidate.

“We need a new breed of leadership to bring us results and act on the community’s will,” Tooloee said.

Kordonowy countered that she initiated the Winslow Tomorrow project, which she said was “at the cusp of developing an exciting new plan for downtown.”

Tooloee challenged Kordonowy on her ability to manage the city’s budget, arguing that the “situation is dire” and that the mayor had not dealt with impending shortfalls. Kordonowy disagreed, pointing to over $800,000 in the city’s contingency fund and a general conservative approach to city finances.

“I have dealt with this and we are good stewards of the city’s finances,” she said.

Kordonowy, who moved to the island 20 years ago, questioned Tooloee’s grasp of the community’s values, having lived here since the early 1990s and serving just over a year on the City Council.

“After being elected 18 months ago, how can you understand what it takes to be mayor of this community?” she asked.

Tooloee said his business management experience and quick learning abilities make him the prime candidate.

“God gave me a certain amount of brain power to climb learning curves rapidly,” he said. Tooloee also compared the mayor’s office to that of a chief executive officer.

“That’s been my career,” he said. “I know how to play that role.”

Questioned by a member of the audience on their positions on preserving agricultural land, both candidates said they are supporters of island farms.

“We need to be busy creating incentives” for farmers to plant crops on city-owned lands reserved for agriculture, said Tooloee. He also said some aspects of the Critical Areas Ordinance may be overly restrictive on agriculture.

Kordonowy said the city can assist farmers by fostering infrastructure that supports them, including the farmers market and a vibrant downtown that will attract customers. Loosening restrictions on areas designated for processing farm products could also give growers a boost, she said.

Both candidates expressed support for more public transportation downtown.

Kordonowy said Kitsap Transit was part of the solution but that funneling growth into downtown and neighborhoods, such as Island Center and Rolling Bay, would make public transportation run more efficiently. She also expressed support for park-and-rides and a bus circulating around downtown.

Tooloee called Kitsap Transit “far from effective” and Kordonowy’s proposals “a good start but not enough.”

He proposed shuttle services between downtown and outlying areas and a new traffic study. “Absolutely nothing has been done to manage traffic since I’ve been here,” he said.

Council

In the council debates, candidates laid out their positions on a variety of issues, especially on downtown growth.

Doug Smith, a former marketing vice president running for Councilwoman Deborah Vann’s soon-to-be vacant Central Ward position 5 seat, said he was committed to implementing Winslow Tomorrow. He also expressed concern over the disappearance of trees around the island, council ethics guidelines and planning for Waterfront Park.

Kjell Stoknes, a retired planning director and commercial property appraiser also running for position 5, set Winslow Tomorrow at the helm of his campaign, too. Transportation issues are a key element in downtown development, he said, including easing traffic on Highway 305 and around the ferry terminal.

Councilman Bill Knobloch, who is running for reelection to the Central Ward’s position 4 seat, said Bainbridge is at a “critical moment in the island’s history” and that he “didn’t want to abandon ship when there are so many things to work on.”

He mentioned infrastructure improvements he hopes to lead in the city’s Public Works Committee, of which he is chair, and not allowing Washington State Ferries to treat the island as the “doormat of mass transportation” for the region.

His challenger, John Doerschuk, a longtime real estate manager and consultant, said he hopes to enact many tenets of Winslow Tomorrow. He said that Winslow Hardware’s demise is the “canary in our mine,” necessitating significant changes downtown to maintain and encourage business before more anchor retailers disappear.

Incumbent councilwoman Debbie Vancil, who represents the North Ward in position 7, stressed her listening skills and her 25 years of involvement in the community, including seven years on the city Planning Commission and as a teacher.

Her challenger, retired utilities manager Frank Renna, also cited his resume, including various high-level business positions and service on a New Jersey school board, which he said was the state’s best-rated.

Parks

Kirk Robinson, running for reelection to the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District Board, said he’s seen “major changes” during the recent conversion to a metro district.

“I’d like to see these changes through because there’s an awful lot yet to be done,” he said.

Robinson said he will give the board consistency as it integrates lands purchased with the open space bond and begins significant planning.

His challenger, Bainbridge School District occupational therapist Mary Fearey, foresees “huge issues as the department changes to a district,” including budgeting and the integration of new open space lands.

Robinson said the district will likely pursue more public/private partnerships to upgrade park amenities, including the planned improvements to Battle Point Park’s soccer fields.

Fearey said she’d push for more environmentally friendly practices, including lower pesticide use on park grasses. Robinson said he favors a “do no harm approach,” but that the control of many invasive plant species may require minimal pesticide use.

Fearey expressed strong opposition to field lighting at Battle Point Park and concerns over the environmental impact of artificial turf.

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More talk

The Chamber of Commerce will host a mayoral and city council debate focused on economic issues today at Wing Point Golf Club. The debate begins at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $12-14.

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