Contrasts apparent in race for council’s South Ward seat

The voice of experience, versus the voice of youth. Longtime area resident against new arrival. Engineer versus executive tech guy.

That’s the contrast in the race for the South Ward, District 3 seat on the Bainbridge Island City Council.

Two newcomers to elected office, Theodore “Ted” Jones and Matthew Tirman, are running to fill the seat now held by incumbent Roger Townsend.

Townsend, elected four years ago, decided against seeking a second term. That decision — along with Mayor Val Tollefson also declining to run for a second term – has set up a scenario of impending change for the Bainbridge council.

The council majority flipped to a four-vote block four years ago with the addition of Townsend, Tollefson and Wayne Roth to the council, and later, appointee Michael Scott. In recent years, that’s resulted in a number of 4-3 votes with Townsend, Tollefson, Roth and Scott on one side, and senior Councilwoman Sarah Blossom and Councilman Ron Peltier and Councilman Kol Medina on the other.

Recent issues — most notably the controversial pedestrian bridge over Highway 305 — have some in the community counting noses on the council with the expectation a new council majority will push the current minority into prominence.

Not all apart

Between Jones and Tirman, there’s nearly agreement on the much-debated $3 million 305 bridge that some on the island think is an unneeded eyesore.

Even so, there’s a subtle difference.

Jones would like to see the process play out a bit more on the 305 bridge. The bridge came close to death at a recent council meeting but lived on by the slimmest of votes, when a majority chose to continue the project through the 30 percent design phase.

Jones agreed with that approach.

“I don’t want to just, for political convenience, say the bridge is bad because a lot of people think it’s a symbol of waste,” Jones said.

“As a candidate, I want to act like I would as a councilman. There’s a public process that decides this,” he explained.

Public outcry

“I understand the rage,” Jones said about the bridge kerfuffle, but added, “I want the public process to go through its slow and open and deliberate process without seven members on the board dividing at the first hearing, four for and three against or vice versa.”

“Now that we’ve paid for 30 percent design, let’s get a damn good 30 percent design,” he said.

Tirman, however, sees no need to wait.

The span is not justifiable as a needed connector to nearby trails and paths, including the Sound to Olympics Trail that’s now under construction along 305.

“The bridge has nothing to do with the STO,” Tirman said. “It is wildly unpopular.”

It’s a sign of something more, as well, he said.

“It’s an example of some of the current council members and some of the current and consistent lack of focus on what matters,” Tirman said.

The city should be focusing on fundamental priorities, he said.

Youth as an issue

Tirman, who at 36 is among the two youngest candidates (along with Rasham Nassar, 34, a Central Ward hopeful), has been pressing the issue of change on the city council.

Tirman is a relative newcomer to Bainbridge — he moved here in 2012 — and is the chief commercial officer of PlanetRisk, a global big data analytics company based out of Washington, D.C. His previous work experience includes time spent as managing director of Strategic Social, a technology and services company, and as interim CEO of a cybersecurity company based in Oregon. He’s also worked for the Department of Defense, and has been a senior speechwriter for the commanding general of the Army Reserve and a senior advisor to the Commanding General of U.S. Forces in Iraq.

“We have a lot in common with folks who have recently moved here,” he said.

Tirman has promised to be a new voice on the council, which should reflect a diversity of ages. He touts his varied experience and fresh perspective as something that’s needed in city government.

Controlling growth

Tirman said he’s committed to making sure the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan is implemented through new regulations that will preserve what most residents appreciate about Bainbridge.

“We need to start changing our land use codes now to ensure that we develop was we see fit,” Tirman said, and in a way that retains the island’s rural character.

He also supports the ongoing update of the city’s regulations for critical areas, which restricts how development can occur on properties with environmentally sensitive features such as wetlands and steep slopes.

“The CAO (critical areas ordinance) is a good step in the right direction,” he said.

Improving access

Tirman has also pledged to be more accessible to the public, and said he will set up office hours to meet with islanders.

“Council members are not out there enough in the community,” Tirman said. “They do not engage with the public as much as they should.”

“We need to have more frequent ward meetings,” he added.

“I’m not sure it’s a matter of better,” Tirman said when asked what makes him better choice for the South Ward seat.

“It’s a matter of change. People on the island want a change,” Tirman said, noting that there’s a belief that entrenched interests have occupied council seats for too long.

Jones, by contrast, is a more familiar name on the island.

He’s been elected twice as a precinct committee officer for the Tolo Precinct. And he was in the final two of job candidates under consideration for city engineer a few years ago; the job eventually went to Barry Loveless.

Powerful debate

Jones, 59, was also one of the public faces for Island Power and the push for a public vote on a takeover of Puget Sound Energy’s assets on the island.

That contentious proposal failed to gain traction in the community, though, but has resurfaced again in recent weeks as an example of an easily distracted city council.

“I’m really surprised by it,” Jones said of the appearance of Island Power as an election year issue.

Still, he noted that Island Power only petitioned the council to put it up for a public vote — Jones was one of the volunteers gathering signatures — and recalled how the council decided to go a different way by spending $100,000 on a study before it got to the question of putting the idea on the ballot.

Tirman sees it differently.

“That shouldn’t have made it to $100,000 studies when we have all these other pressing needs,” Tirman said.

For Jones, the city’s main problem, he said, was straightforward.

“It’s managing the message and communication with the public,” Jones said, noting the surprise of some on the council when controversy flared over the 305 bridge.

The project had been in the process for years, and it was no secret the city was seeking grants to pay for it.

“It’s sort of a self-inflicted wound that it looks like city hall doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said.

The choice of city officials to propose building the police station north of city hall — on land they later found out was polluted — was another example of city bungling.

“Which, again, was a missed opportunity in managing the message,” Jones said.

Not that much has changed. The latest attempt to get a public safety building constructed has been hit by a change in potential locations, as well as a climbing price tag.

It “has all the appearances of a disaster unfolding,” Jones said.

He’d like to see the project come back for the council with an eye toward cutting costs, which may include abandoning the idea to include a police firing range in the new facility.

Jones said his experience as a civil engineer, and his work on environmental issues, would be an asset to the council.

“I don’t know that there’s ever been an engineer on the board,” he said of the council.

“As a civil engineer and through my work, I see myself as an applier of good ideas. I don’t necessarily have to invent them; I’m not a scientist, I’m not an artist.”

“There’s a zillion communities out there doing innovative things. We need, as a council and a staff, to be looking at those and trying to apply the best of those [ideas],” Jones said.

Asked what makes him the better choice, he said, “The better fit is my government engineering background; it’s program management, it’s project management; it’s interagency liaison.”

He has lived on Bainbridge since 1997 and has been in the Kitsap community for 25 years.

“I think it gives me a better sense of how the island operates, and its dreams.”