North Ward race a battle of two councilors and a newcomer

Of the three Bainbridge Island City Council primaries, the North Ward is unique because it features an incumbent facing off against a former councilor.

Debbie Vancil, a councilor for the last eight years, is seeking her third term.

She is running against Bob Scales, who served on the council between 2004 and 2007.

Melanie Keenan, a geologist and hydrologist who believes her scientific background can help the city on decisions relating to some of its water issues, is the newcomer.

Only two of the three candidates will make it past the Aug. 18 primary and to the general election in November.

Ballots were mailed Wednesday. The Kitsap County Auditor’s Office has released its online voters pamphlet.

None of the three candidates consider themselves a career politician, and they each contribute different skills to the proceedings.

Vancil brings extensive experience to the position. Prior to her time on the council, Vancil served on the Planning Commission for seven years.

Vancil believes her biggest edge in the race is tied to her experience. She has been in the community for more than 30 years, and she understands how important it is to consult with her constituents.

“My whole purpose for running for City Council has been to assure that the community leads this government,” she said. “I respond to the people that elect me in small ways and large.”

Scales said he brings an action-oriented attitude to the council.

Scales, who currently works as a policy analyst for the City of Seattle, said when his first term in the council ended, the city appeared to be in good shape.

But, Scales said, he has sat and watched for the last 18 months as the council debated, but didn’t make any progress. Scales, who planned to run for mayor before the voters decided to change the city’s form of government to council-manager, said he will offer more action and less talk.

“I see a lot of obvious problems and no one is dealing with them,” he said.

Keenan has observed council meetings for years, and she believes she can step in and cultivate a new opinion.

Keenan said she will bring expertise on the matters concerning the city’s water, which include shoreline issues, Winslow Way, the Waste Water Treatment Plant and others.

“I am a new talent, a different perspective of background to the council,” she said.

All of the candidates have closely observed, or presided over, the change in government.

Vancil has overseen all the events surrounding the new council-manager formula. She said the transition is ongoing, and ideally it should be finished by the time the new council sits. In preparation for the change, she said, council is discussing conducting Town Hall gatherings and restructuring the content of meetings by splitting business meetings from public workshops and study sessions.

Several months before the government change went on the ballot in May, Scales announced his candidacy to run for mayor. As the campaign for the council-manager system intensified, he suspended his campaign.

Scales said the change of government also came at a bad time for the city.

“The time to change the form of government is not when you’re in a crisis,” he said.

Since the adoption of the new government, Scales has seen no change in operations at City Hall. He is confounded by the lack of an extensive search for a more qualified manager. A strong, organized manager is crucial to the council manager system, and Mark Dombroski doesn’t have the experience necessary to lead city staff, Scales said.

“This is not the kind of job where you want to have on-the-job training,” he said.” This is the kind of job where you want to walk in the door and know what you’re doing.”

Both Keenan and Vancil said more public participation would improve the new government immensely.

Keenan said bringing the community into the new council’s planning process will restore the public’s confidence in the government.

Beyond just listening to the people, the council should make an effort to debate the issues brought to them by their constituents, Keenan said.

Vancil envisions a system where the participation process takes place in the earliest phases of planning as opposed to the decision-making process.

“The reason why I worked so hard to change the government, and why I’m running for reelection, is to make sure that changes,” Vancil said.

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