Central Ward race splits on spending

While one candidate is touting his experience, the other is sounding a clarion call for change.

The nonpartisan race for the Central Ward, District 5 position on the Bainbridge Island City Council features the only incumbent seeking re-election to city government this November.

Councilman Wayne Roth was elected to his first term four years ago in a shakeup that saw the council majority switch sides.

He’s now seeking a second term amid a challenge from political newcomer Rasham Nassar, and Roth notes the community stands to gain greatly by the work he’s already put in as a council member.

Roth, 74, has been a longtime community volunteer and has lived on Bainbridge for more than 20 years. He retired in 2013 from KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, where he had been president and general manager.

“My whole life has been devoted to public service,” Roth said.

His time on the seven-member city council has been gratifying, as well.

“It’s been a pleasure serving on the council; I’ve enjoyed it very much.

“It has it moments of stress, but it’s way more rewarding than it’s thankless,” Roth added. “I’ve met so many people across the island, made so many friends, learned so much about this great place we live, that I’m quite excited about serving.”

Voters who put him in office four years ago made kind of an “investment” in him, he said.

“It’s a little bit like going to graduate school; municipal government is a lot to know. I feel like I’m getting pretty good at it and can be more effective if I can be re-elected,” Roth said. (Roth has a master’s degree in education from Western Michigan University, and a bachelor’s in English from the University of Northern Colorado).

Roth said his top priorities during a second term include the implementation of the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan, the thick book of policies that will guide growth and development on the island for the next 20 years.

Affordable housing is a big focus, and Roth notes the city’s newly-formed Affordable Housing Task Force will offer the council advice for possible solutions, “including changes to the city zoning codes and regulations.”

Another goal: improving multi-modal transportation options, such as walking and biking paths and trails. Roth prefers a voter-approved ballot measure that would pay for an expanded non-motorized transportation system on the island.

His support for non-motorized projects, specifically the controversial biking/walking bridge over Highway 305, has brought the biggest divide between Roth and his opponent.

Nassar notes that Roth has voted time and again for the 305 pedestrian bridge, and was a key vote in the project moving forward into the design phase even after many islanders asked the council to kill the project because it would be a costly, unneeded eyesore.

At a recent forum, she recalled opposition that was 4-to-1 against the $3 million bridge, but one of its supporters on the council told her, “perhaps once folks see the design they will change their minds.”

“Is this the direction our community wants to go?” Nassar asked.

It’s an issue of leadership, she said.

“People are concerned about the culture of spending in city government,” she said. “We’re talking about a style of decision-making and leadership that I am totally not aligned with.”

She said the 305 bridge was just another example of a city that has lost its fiscal focus.

The cost of a new police station more than doubled from an earlier $7 million estimate by the time it got onto the ballot in 2015, and the construction cost now stands at $28 million-plus, Nassar said.

It’s clear that a new police station is needed, “but not at that price tag.”

“That cost is going to have to come down,” she said.

She said it was unfortunate the council didn’t choose to build a dual-use facility with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department on Madison Avenue.

“The fire station is currently under construction. We could have had a police station by now, but we’re still looking for a site,” she said.

The lack of frugality at city hall is something she’s heard a lot about while campaigning.

“Residents are shocked. I won’t repeat the profane language I have heard. It’s kind of like, ‘What the heck is going on?’

Roth does not want the police station project to go back before voters, and said the project should be paid for with non-voted, councilmanic bonds.

The new facility needs to include a municipal court, he added, because the court is currently housed in a leased facility and has numerous deficiencies. Prosecuting and defense attorneys, for example, have to share the same office.

The police station, as well, is lacking. There are no private rooms where police can conduct interviews with crime victims or suspects.

“Both facilities need to be replaced,” Roth said.

Nassar, 34, has lived on Bainbridge since 2012. She runs an organic farm with her husband, and also owns her own business, Bainbridge Island Soap Company. A 2007 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (her bachelor’s degree is in philosophy), she also works as a certified real estate appraiser.

She admits that some voters will view her as a newcomer, and favor experience over her message of “new ideas and new energy.”

“But experience is not always a good measure of good judgment,” she added.

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