Candidates for the Bainbridge Island City Council were faced with the heavy hitters — questions, that is — at the first candidate forum for the November elections.
Hosted by the American Legion on Oct. 3, the forum presented the six candidates with the chance to answer some of the public’s biggest questions.
In the running for the North Ward seat are Dick Haugan and Val Tollefson; for the Central Ward, Arlene Buetow and Wayne Roth; and for the South Ward, Dee McComb and Roger Townsend. Though the candidates are elected through their wards, all Bainbridge voters will be able to cast ballots in all of the races.
The candidates were presented questions by panelists Virginia Paul and Robbie Sitzman.
Among those questions, Paul and Sitzman covered everything from the Shoreline Master Program to the city’s reputation as a “dysfunctional city.”
“When I decided to do this, and announced, discussed it with friends, almost universally was the question, ‘Are you crazy?’” Roth said in his introduction.
A chuckle rolled across the room.
“And I know it’s funny, and it’s the kind of thing people say,” he continued. “But it does reflect a little, doesn’t it, about our city and our government?”
Several of the candidates vowed that with a seat on council they would work to restore confidence in the city and its leaders.
Restoring confidence, however, can only come with answers on big issues.
“Arlene, do you support the draft Shoreline Master [Program] in its present form?” Sitzman asked.
Buetow said she would not have voted for it if she had been on council at the time.
“I wish that the council would have paid more attention to the scientific basis to the facts,” she said. “I wish that they would have considered fairness and equity so that all property owners would bear equal portion of the costs of protecting our shorelines.”
Buetow further clarified that one of the things she hopes to implement as a council member is a risk management filter on all the regulations the city adopts.
McComb also said she would not have voted on the draft had she been on council.
“On a go-forward basis, it’s going to take some care, concern and real listening,” McComb said. “What we don’t want to do is have the city have to spend its resources fighting lawsuits as opposed to using the funds to a much better purpose, which would be stormwater.”
Haugan agreed with several points made by Buetow.
“I think we’re chasing the wrong criminal, where we’re looking, what the real issue is with protecting
Puget Sound,” Haugan said.
Haugan pointed out that the city has staff and funds available to work on stormwater runoff issues, and this is where they should put there efforts.
Townsend had a differing response that neither said if he supported it or not.
“I will disagree with one of the things that Arlene said, which is this is a simple question,” Townsend said. “It’s a short question, but it is not a simple question.”
“The city is required to comply with state law,” Townsend continued. “The parade of horribles that you hear about that somehow the shoreline master plan is going to bring us back to a pre-development stage is an overstatement.”
Tollefson and Roth both agreed that they supported the updated shoreline program.
“If you think that there’s fire where there’s heat, it’s been a hot issue,” Tollefson said.
“I question, based on my discussion with shoreline homeowners as I’ve been going around the island, exactly how widespread the dissatisfaction is. I believe that there’s been a lot of misinformation promulgated that has people unnecessarily frightened about what’s going to happen.”
Tollefson added that he hoped the job of the next council would be to work with the city manager and the planning director to make sure the SMP is implemented in the “common sense and fair way.”
“I support the draft.
I support the process; how it came to the council and how it’s proceeding,” Roth said. “There’s still plenty of opportunity, (for) back and forths, amendments.”
Just before the end of the forum, Sitzman asked the candidates for a “yes or no” if they objected to the present council approving changes to the SMP draft before the new members take their seat in 2014.
All of the candidates responded that they did not object.
“And it’s irrelevant,” Tollefson added on the end of his ‘no.’
Another hot question brought up was if the candidates agreed with the public perception that the city is dysfunctional.
Tollefson responded by explaining that the public perception was the reason he decided to run for council. He pointed out that since the city has adopted a city manager form of government the council has been inconsistent in understanding his role.
“Having talked to all of the members of the current city council … I have no doubt in my mind that they all want to do the right thing,” Tollefson said.
However, he continued, there is still some training to be had and having someone who is committed to keeping duties on course, would be something he hopes to bring to the council.
Haugan said that the accessibility to government for public input and questions is limited and it could improve. However, he said, he would fall short of calling the city government dysfunctional.
Similarly, Townsend said that the amount of involvement by the community in local government has at times amounted to high tension.
“There’s a lot of really intelligent, involved, dedicated people and sometimes the process of democracy is contentious and can be ugly,” Townsend said. “Which isn’t to say that it’s dysfunctional, because I think that the end result isn’t necessarily dysfunctional.”
Tollefson concluded that the path the city is taking seems to be the right one. It’s just a matter of making sure the appointed staff and committees continue to work together.
A lasting question to the forum was whether the candidates would favor a public vote on the disincorporation of Bainbridge Island as a city. Only one candidate partially entertained the idea.
“Would I personally be in favor of it? Not yet,” Haugan said. “I want to see the course that we’re doing now take hold.”