Bainbridge council candidates face more questions at second forum

Candidates in the running for the Bainbridge Island City Council attended their second candidate forum this week, hosted by the League of Women Voters.

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 last day to turn in ballots is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

In this week’s forum, the candidates had the opportunity to answer some hard questions. The event was moderated by Catherine Ahl. Some Review-selected questions brought up at the forum are as follows.

After a few years of a rocky start, how do you think the city manager form of government versus a mayor form is working?

Tollefson - It has been rocky, but it hasn’t been too rocky during the last year. I think that it appears that we have been very fortunate in hiring Doug Schulze and that he is doing what we expected of him. He has been systematically improving the performance of the various departments of the city. The next city council is going to be the first city council on which no member of the council served under a mayor. I think that the transition for members of the council has probably been not as smooth as it could be. But I think that we’ve seen over the last year … a steady improvement not only in the performance of the city manager but in the functioning of the city council with the city manager. And I’m looking forward to being part of that.

Haugan - My way of looking at this is sort of like a business. The city council acts like the board of directors and the city manager, Doug, is the CEO. He’s been here barely a year. He’s got a lot on his plate. He’s had a lot of people in the revolving door going before him. It’s up to the council to support him and give clear direction; and not try to micro manage him. But in the beginning stages his span of control might be shorter as he becomes more familiar with the people on the council and as that starts working better, his span of control becomes bigger. So I’m all for it.

Townsend - I do support the city manager form of government. I think that it is a work in progress, seeing it functioning on Bainbridge Island. But I think it is improving. Doug Schulze is doing a fine job. He’s got a difficult job. I know that when he took the job, other city managers told him he was crazy. … But you know he’s got the right temperament. He can handle these issues. And I think it’s appropriate that we have a professional, trained individual who understands the inner workings of a city government as opposed to the members of the council who would sit like a board of directors and will. It’s important that they take a critical view of the performance of the city and be engaged, but not micro manage the work. … I think it has been a bit of a rocky transition, and a work in progress. But I look forward to participating in making it function well.

McComb - As an island we voted, closely or not, to move to the city manager form of government. And it hasn’t had an opportunity to be able to play itself out. And Val is correct, we’re going to wind up being the first council that will be councilors … altogether under the city manager form of government. And they have chosen well in Doug. And the council needs to work forward on that position and look at getting the bugs worked out in the kind of transition that we have been working through.

Roth - I strongly support the council-manager form of government. I worked and supported the initiative when it came forward. It was an overwhelming vote in favor. The council has to step it up now and be the council, and under our code of conduct, under the things we’ve worked out the last two years about how we operate as a council. And we must give the manager room to build the city staff, moral, all of those things that in the end that will be the measurement of our success. Now it’s not going to happen quickly, but we need to let it happen.

Buetow - I too agree that the change to the city manager form of government was a positive step. I think that there’s a lot to be done to improve the process. And I think that will help as we move on to the new council. I think that the performance or the activities in this form of government will improve over time with clear guidance being provided to the city manager and measurable goals and performance standards. I think that there’s been contradictory guidance provided by different members of the council. I think that politics have been interjected into the activities the city’s doing, and it’s made his job quite difficult. But the new city manager has a lot to learn about our community, about how we got to where we are and where we really want to go. And the Comprehensive Plan is a little big to really get specific enough on that. And so I think we’ve taken a positive step in changing to this form of government and I think we will succeed in the year ahead.

What are your thoughts about managing development in the Winslow area, as it relates to water, sewer, traffic and pollution, etc.?

Haugan - What I’ve done since I’ve gotten into this race, one of the things is going around to talk to some of the business people in the central area to try to find where they’re coming from. I am hearing two things: One is there is some grumbling about consistency getting things through city hall in a timely fashion. And the other is parking in terms of developing things downtown. With Winslow Tomorrow, I think we took out 19 spots. We were supposed to have other kinds of parking. It never happened. I don’t have a solution in hand, but those are the two things that I hear.

Townsend - Well first of all, I support the density development and encouraging the density in Winslow and designated areas of Winslow and Lynwood Center and Island Center and Rolling Bay. I think we need to be careful in the role of the government is not to make … determinations as to what good development is or bad development is, but rather to make a determination to make sure that we are complying with making zoning decisions, making sure that development is handled appropriately from a storm water runoff, from a traffic perspective, from a parking perspective. All these things are important roles for the government to play, and I would also agree that the city needs to handle these issues consistently. And that’s true throughout. I’ve heard that both at the business level and the residential level, that the response times, the results need to be consistent regardless of who you are or who you’re dealing with with the city.

McComb - My experience from the real estate settlement side has certainly been of value in looking at the way that development has occurred in many communities… And density is the factor in trying to see that there are going to be more people in smaller areas that are going to have a greater impact on our infrastructure. And the key for city council is to look at those impacts and be able to understand the long-term benefits, the long-term situation as opposed to just right now. So for me, handling it means looking at the way it’s going to impact the infrastructure and how it’s going to be mitigated either through the development costs or through how we’re going to handle the growth as it occurs.

Roth - The question asks, “managing.” And I would say this is about the council’s role in developing the Comprehensive Plan and all those things; the ecology development, all of it, transportation, water quality, natural resources, all of those things that have to do with development on the island. So the council is really having an opportunity now as we plunge on the update of the Comprehensive Plan to look at those elements that need strengthening, look at those that are doing well, involve a lot of people in it, and come down with a reaffirmation of those things that are set in motion already with density growth in downtown, working with all of the people at the table. That’s our role.

Buetow - Well I don’t think that managing development for water, sewer, traffic, pollution is a Winslow issue alone. I think it’s an island-wide issue, and I think we’re all equally concerned about it. … This council will work on the new comprehensive plan and we will revisit the zone and density in Winslow and decide whether or not they’re appropriate. I’m personally very frustrated by the fact that the past council put forward the HDDP Ordinance that allows two to three times the zone density in Winslow without ever getting measurable performance on the past HDDP ordinance, which I think is changing the face of Winslow.

Tollefson - (The city) made a decision that 50 percent of the population of the island should be concentrated in the core area. And so obviously managing that growth is going to be an important consideration going forward. A number of people have mentioned the comp plan and the fact that starting next year, I guess late next year, we’ll start reviewing the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is, among other things, a statement of our values as a community. The current Comprehensive Plan puts a high value on environment, and the current uproar over the Visconsi development is going to be a real primer, a real teaching tool as the comp plan review takes place.

If city revenues continue to decline, what services do you think the citizens would least object to eliminating, or what revenue increases would they find least objection to increase revenue?

Townsend - Well I think that the city needs to be very careful whenever it looks to increase revenue.  In terms of revenues, we have seen the decrease, we’ve seen a lessening of the size of government. It’s been asked frequently, do we have the right number of employees in our city government? I think the solution to these issues are often to look for efficiencies, look for opportunities that we can do to do things more effectively with the resources that we have.

McComb - I agree with what Roger said with regard to efficiencies in the sense that we need to look at how money’s being utilized and whether or not there are places within the system … that maybe we can utilize different ways that people can be contributing. Also, we can look at alternative forms of revenue and not just always have a thinking cap on about going to certain places that those dollars should come from. The recession certainly had some hard lessons in it and always the source of funds won’t be the same. I’m looking at a bake sale every third Saturday. It can happen.

Roth - The real question is about fiscal management. With good fiscal management is looking down the road … Several years ago the city got itself into terrible financial mismanagement. Got to the end of the year, couldn’t get the budget together, it was terrible confusion and waste. This is part of the role of the city manager, this is something the council has to hold him accountable for and has to set some very specific goals, measurable objectives. And I think the issue of choices is made by the priorities we set.

Buetow - I think rather than talking about what to cut and what to tax, we should talk about what we can do with what we have today to use it more efficiently and effectively so that we can … increase revenues available for the projects that are our highest community priorities using the revenues that are coming in. So to achieve that, I think we need to identify efficiencies within our old organization; to invest in collaborative opportunities with surrounding jurisdictions where we might be able to provide a higher level of service for a lower price; and to really encourage economic diversification within our community so that all our revenue isn’t coming from property taxes.

Tollefson - I think that one thing that we need to concentrate on is realizing that we can affect that revenue stream by thinking creatively about business development. Business development doesn’t necessarily mean new business licenses. It means providing affordable housing so that people can afford to live on Bainbridge Island, work on Bainbridge Island, buy things on Bainbridge Island and support the tax base. It is capitalizing on our incredibly rich cultural life in ways that bring revenue to Bainbridge businesses.

Haugan - Fiscal control is number one on my radar screen and looking at the cost side of the equation versus increasing revenue is easier. Historically, we’ve wasted a lot of money; millions of dollars on projects, and that’s where I would look first. We have to get the core business done. Those things which we can’t do for ourselves, roads. We’ve neglected roads for a long time.


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