BI council incumbent faces challenger

Two candidates are running for the four-year term of Bainbridge Island City Council District 1 at-large position: incumbent Kirsten Hytopoulos and challenger Dick Haugan.

Both candidates were asked two questions. What are the five biggest issues facing the city and why should voters choose you over your opponent?

Dick Haugan

Five biggest issues

1. Elect a minimum of three council members who have solid business leadership experience and have managed budgets at least as big as the BI budget. Business experience matters. The lack of it has resulted in disastrous financial consequences — the most egregious of which is the Harrison/police station project that cost in excess of $6 million more than necessary. The council did not have the expertise to either identify the problem or fix it. It is well documented and public record.

2. Cultivate a city staff that is well-managed and not allowed to make policy by presuming expertise it may not have. City staff greatly contributed to the police station fiasco by presenting grossly inaccurate costs on the project, such as presenting a viable alternative at $28 million when it actually was significantly less than Harrison. Pertinent staff information was buried and or covered up making investigation difficult. Again, this is not speculation but documented public record and in the hands of all City Council who, as a majority, elected to ignore the facts. The city promised but never delivered on other issues like streamlining the permitting process.

3. Rely on the Planning Commission and listen to members. Not second-guess and reparse and/or ignore their work. They are largely professionals and know what they are doing.

4. Put the Comprehensive Plan to work. It is supposed to be the city’s bible. Prioritize and get things done. For example, the Water Element in the Comp Plan has 64 priorities. Who can deal with that? One of the top priorities set 10 years ago was fixing stormwater runoff. Not only has nothing been done, the million-dollar budget serves as a slush fund for city staff to charge into with no capital projects. Who is in charge of that? Focus on the No. 1 Comp Plan goal of “preserving the character of Bainbridge Island,” which, according to surveys, is not happening.

5. Money. Measure, monitor and report to the citizens. A balanced budget does not mean good fiscal management. Use experienced citizens for oversight. Keep an eye on the piggy bank. The money we waste is not funny money. Business folks would not allow the waste we have. Run the city like a business, not a social platform.

If we accomplish these issues 1-5, everything else falls into place, including affordable housing, environmental precautions, zoning concerns, speed limits, roads, development constraints, etc. The right people working together would get work done.

Why vote for you?

He has the business experience sorely missing in today’s council. He is a problem solver and thinks outside the box. He’s not afraid to speak out. Dick demands hard questions answered and follows through. We have a unique opportunity to do something rather unique on our island. Listen to the people. Set priorities. Watch the money and get it done.

Kirsten Hytopoulos

Five biggest issues

1. Preserving Bainbridge Island’s special character is our Comprehensive Plan’s first guiding principle. In the face of climate change and regional growth pressures, we must plan wisely for mandated growth, and the housing we need, ensuring all development honors the Comp Plan.

2. The affordable housing crisis is compounded by our inadequate infrastructure, dependence on groundwater and high demand for market-rate housing. I support sustainable increases in density near services. That will allow for much-needed multifamily housing and for “mandatory inclusionary zoning,” requiring developers to build affordable units.

3. Preparing for climate change/natural disasters. With heavy vegetation, changing weather, 53 miles of shoreline, seismic risks and a 73-year-old bridge for egress, BI is highly vulnerable to climate impacts and natural disasters. We must evaluate the state of our forests, plan for sea level rise and continue emergency planning with our community partners.

4. Protecting finite natural resources. The Comp Plan directs us to keep the island’s development within the “carrying capacity of its natural systems.” On an island, our activities directly impact Puget Sound, and the aquifers, wetlands and streams that support us and the ecosystems around us. We must ensure all our policies respect the limits of our natural resources and systems.

5. Access to medical care. There’s a deficit of medical care on Bainbridge and across Kitsap County. While not Island-specific, the issue is significant and being discussed by regional bodies including the Kitsap Board of Health, where I serve as our representative. We must find solutions to this urgent health and safety issue.

Why vote for you?

The complex issues before us require informed, effective and defensible planning in the face of regional pressure and state scrutiny. We need thoughtful, steady leadership, and councilmembers with the depth of experience and knowledge to provide that leadership. I’ve served eight of the last 14 years on the council, working with five city managers and 20 councilmembers, completing four biennial budgets, and spending hundreds of hours on policy and code. In that role, I’ve faced the fallout of the Great Recession, the COVID pandemic, climate change, a growing housing crisis, and numerous other controversies and challenges.

In 2024, I’ll be the most senior member on the council. A need for institutional knowledge on the council is one reason I’m running again. As a collaborative attorney and mediator, I help people find creative, out-of-court solutions to seemingly intractable problems. My skill set and approach to conflict resolution and problem-solving is an important distinction between myself and my opponent. A functioning City Council requires good faith. Councilmembers need not agree on everything but must move forward following divided votes without ad hominem attacks or working to undermine the council’s adopted policy. That doesn’t mean silencing dissent. To the contrary, in my experience, the most profound change comes from difficult conversations held in good faith.