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Bainbridge South Ward council candidates have different ideas for funding roads, providing services
Both candidates for the South Ward seat on the Bainbridge Island City Council admit they don’t come from diametrically opposed views.
And in fact, at the forums and events the two attended, the phrase “I agree with…” was common.
However, there are two major distinctions between the candidates.
Dee McComb, 67, comes from a background in real estate closings and escrow relief.
Roger Townsend, 45, runs his own law practice.
McComb said there is still plenty for her to learn about city council issues.
Townsend said he strives to have an independently thought out answer on the issues that may come up in the future.
With this, both say these perspectives will support cooperation and collaboration on the dais.
“I’m not coming in as part of a pre-determined caucus that’s going to get some results,” Townsend said. “That’s part of the legal training again … But it’s important to keep the dialogue respectful because you may be aligned with people in other issues.
Civility starts with personal relationships … not to make pacts or to put yourself too narrowly in a corner that you’re not able to change your vote based on the data as it comes in and facts as they get developed.”
McComb attributes her ability for collaboration to her experience with real estate.
“You don’t leave your business skills at the door. You don’t bring your emotions in and leave the reasonableness of what you’re trying to do,” McComb said. “You recognize your part in being, to me, part of a total partnership.”
Civility will be called upon the elected council members just as it was required of the last elected council in issues ranging from controversial to infrastructural.
One issue that is anticipated to continue into the new year is road improvements. The hot topic for Bainbridge Islanders seems as if it has been ongoing since the Stone Age. The question for the new council is not whether improvements will be made, but how should the city pay for the improvements.
Despite chuckles at the past few forums, McComb stands by the idea of a bake sale every third Saturday or a farmers market booth.
“We have to look at all the sources of revenue,” McComb said. “I think looking at alternative sources plus looking at efficiencies of what we already have, and don’t discount the farmers market thing. Crowd funding has been a good source for a lot of people.”
Townsend offers a somewhat different approach.
“The city needs to spend more of the money it collects for road improvements, on road improvements,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s a matter of increasing the budget for the road as much as it is making sure that money was spent for the purposes it was collected. And that really is the theme that runs through all these utility discussions, is to make sure we are running the city in an efficient way so that when we collect funds from taxpayers it actually gets used for the services.”
As for municipal bonds as a form of funding road improvements, McComb said she has to study the option more.
“Trying to run for city council is you have to become a well-educated council person over night, and that’s physically impossible,” McComb said. “I don’t reject it out of hand, but I need to know more.”
There are two types of municipal bonds issued by the state. General Obligation bonds are unsecured and backed by the city’s credit. They are paid off with funds from taxes or other fees. Revenue bonds, on the other hand, are used to fund projects that incur revenue, such as toll roads or lease payments. The revenue gathered by the project is used to pay off the bond.
“My first reaction isn’t to go to a bonding situation,” McComb said. “You have to repay your bond buyers, and you have to know that you have an economy that’s going to allow you to give them a return on that investment.”
Townsend doesn’t disagree. He points out that there are several other projects anticipated for 2014 that could benefit from bonds, so it comes down to prioritizing.
“It would take a lot of convincing for me to do a bond issue around that,” he said.
“I think the city needs to be cautious about going back to voters for more money and look first that there’s faith in the money that we have is being spent appropriately.”
Along with budgeting comes the discussion of possibly budgeting for restoring city staff positions.
Townsend said that though he does not think the city should go back to its level of employment during the heyday, he is not in favor of gutting the government either. He explains that whether the number of employees is right is not the question, it’s whether the government is working effectively.
“You got to be careful in a government because it’s not subject to market forces, so no one is going to compete with city hall to drive it out of business, so good oversight is important to make sure it works effectively,” Townsend explained.
“It’s up to the city manager to evaluate his staff and to make sure he’s doing it effectively. … We need to be able to have the bandwidth and the resources to make forward-looking decisions in addition to solving the immediate business of government.”
McComb simply responds that this is a subject that is under the jurisdiction of the city manager, but that it is important not to penalize citizens by using funds to increase staffing instead of on projects or by outsourcing on things that can be done in-house.
“I’m not negative about outsourcing,” McComb said. “It’s not as a goal to getting rid of people or downsizing … I think outsourcing should be a benefit to the island, as a whole.”
Townsend refers to the recent water utility issue when discussing outsourcing.
“I don’t support divestiture of the utilities as a general matter,” he said.
“I think the government managing these essential functions close to home is preferable. We are on an island and in the event of a disaster, we’re on our own.”
However, he explains that exploring the efficiency of outsourcing certain functions, like what was done with the water utility, is something the city could benefit from.
“I don’t think it should be a first choice to look to ship out those services outside of city hall,” Townsend said.
“First choice should be to make sure that city hall is doing it effectively and efficiently.”
In keeping with in-house utilities, one of Townsend’s goals going into city council is to implement a plan for emergency preparedness as well as bettering technological connectivity around the island through improved cell coverage and broadband.
Setting their campaign aside, the two have plenty going on in their non-political lives.
“I’d like (voters) to not just look at the answers, but to look at the person,” McComb emphasized. “We are not given much of an opportunity to bring humor into this whole process. I just would like people to look at what else we do. This is not a full-time job.”
Townsend is a civil litigator and is a partner in his own active law practice. He is also the only candidate in the running who has a young family.
McComb is also self-employed and in the real estate business. She is an active member of the rowing and boating community.
McComb and Townsend are running for the South Ward, Position 3 seat on the Bainbridge Island City Council.
There are no incumbents in the 2014 council elections.
Council members Bob Scales, Kirsten Hytopoulos and Debbi Lester have decided not to seek reelection.
In the running for the remaining council positions are Dick Haugan and Val Tollefson for the North Ward, and Arlene Buetow and Wayne Roth for the Central Ward.
Under Bainbridge Island’s council-manager form of government, the elected candidates will serve on the council in a solely legislative manner. Their duties include enacting ordinances during the year and establishing budgetary policies.
Each elected candidate receives a salary of $12,000 annually before taxes. The elected mayor receives slightly more.
Occupation: Self-employed in real estate, escrow relief and consulting
Education: Bachelor of Arts '68 in recreational administration and drama at the University of Washington.
Prior public office: None.
Community involvement: Bainbridge Performing Arts, active member of Bainbridge Island Rowing, U.S. Rowing Referee, former boy and girl scout leader
Fun fact: I try, but I'm a terrible knitter. I'm a very detailed person and that always frustrates me. I have a standing floor loom that I would love to learn to weave.
Occupation: Civil litigator and partner at small firm since 2007.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in economics at Wesleyan University '90, Juris Doctor at Northwestern University '95
Prior public office: None.
Community involvement: Founding member of Reliable and Safe Electricity; assistant director of the Federal Bar Association's Civil Rights Clinic; volunteer director for the Federal Court's "Constitution Day" program where they hold mock trials for 5th graders on Constitution Day.
Fun fact: actively practices yoga