Roadside improvements, development loom large in Bainbridge council race

Kevin Fetterly shared a little joke with Kol Medina after the candidates forum earlier this month at Bainbridge Island City Hall.

Fetterly, who is challenging the incumbent councilman for his North Ward, District 2 position, quipped that he hoped both of them would advance from next week’s Primary Election.

Many may see that outcome as a strong certainty.

Although the Bainbridge ballot has three candidates listed — and the two with the most votes will advance to November’s General Election — the third candidate, Ashley Mathews, dropped out of the race earlier this month.

This primary represents a bit of déjà vu for Fetterly.

Medina ran unopposed to win his first term on the Bainbridge council four years ago.

Fetterly, by contrast, ran in a three-way race against Joe Deets and J. Mack Pearl in 2017.

Though Pearl dropped out of the race before Election Day, he still pulled in a good chunk of the vote (18.5 percent).

Deets went on to win the primary, with a majority (55.5 percent) while Fetterly also advanced to the November ballot (25.3).

While Fetterly increased his vote total in the 2017 General Election, Deets still won in a landslide, with 65 percent of the “yes” vote.

Unlike his previous shot at a council seat, Fetterly’s primary campaign this go-round marks a self-admitted evolution for the candidate.

Fetterly said he’s learned a lot since his last run for the council.

“I think I’m more comfortable now,” said Fetterly, 65, who is a businessman and owner of Apria Technology.

Fetterly’s message in his second attempt for a council seat may sound like a familiar song to many Bainbridge voters. He’s hitting many of the same chords as his last run: the island’s need to shift from coal-based electricity, spending more for safe walking and biking lanes, watchdogging the cost of city projects, and worries about the island’s groundwater.

One new bit this time: Fetterly started a “casual survey” that ran for more than three weeks that was posted to social media and sent to roughly 3,100 email addresses.

Fetterly admitted the questions included “mildly controversial” statements, and noted that more than 400 people took the survey.

The survey tally showed that 16.7 percent were content with the city council’s work, while 52 percent weren’t.

He also noted that the survey backed up a central theme of his campaign: that the city should “prioritize trails, pedestrian rights-of-way, road shoulders, sidewalks above spending on outside attorneys and consultants.”

Fetterly’s survey counted 77 percent of respondents in favor of non-auto improvements to the city’s transportation infrastructure.

That’s similar to what he heard while campaigning two years ago, he said.

“Knocking on doors I discovered that people really wanted better mobility on the island; the ability to walk and bicycle,” Fetterly said.

There’s a hitch, however, and the rejection of a $15 million measure for roadside improvements that was shot down by Bainbridge voters last year comes to mind.

“People want something, but when it comes time to pay money, they don’t. We really need to understand why,” Fetterly said.

He said some councilmembers have told him the levy request was poorly written and not specific enough for voters.

“Doorbelling now, I get the same response,” Fetterly said, and added the interest in making improvements is pervasive and strong.

“We have terrible roads for pedestrians. That is driving me to get involved again,” he said.

Still, there’s the trust issue.

“But now that I’ve knocked on doors I get this general sensation that voters don’t trust the city with big piles of dough,” he said.

Fetterly said the city should prioritize spending on trails and roadside improvements.

“We spent $4.1-plus million on consultants and lawyers. Let’s take half of that money and spend it doing road shoulder,” Fetterly said.

But Medina countered that Fetterly’s estimate on city spending for consultants and legal expenses was “extremely misleading.”

Medina said it looks like Fetterly added together the amounts for professional consulting and community services from the city’s budget.

But that money, Medina said, includes $773,000 in grant funding for health, housing, and human services organizations, as well as money for Bainbridge’s public art program, support of economic development, community outreach, costs of the city’s hearing examiner and other outside legal services.

Medina said Fetterly’s estimate also appeared to include the money for janitorial service to clean city hall, as well as $100,000 set aside for an islandwide stormwater study and another $100,000 for a treatment study for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Bainbridge uses outside attorneys for specialized law work that includes responding to legal challenges — Bainbridge is currently dealing with more than 10 lawsuits — as well as negotiations with city employee unions.

“Clearly the city has to defend itself,” Fetterly said of legal expenses, but added the amount spent on consultants is excessive. “I think the council could find plenty of fat to chop out.”

Medina, who is 46 and currently works as the CEO of the Kitsap Community Foundation, agreed that many on the island hold city hall in low regard. One thing he’s done to help better the community’s trust in municipal government, he said, is to champion the start of the city newsletter that’s now mailed to everyone on the island once a month.

“If we want people to have more trust in the city, then they need to understand what the city is actually doing,” Medina said.

He also agreed that the issues he faced during his first campaign haven’t disappeared into the ether.

“The city is still wrestling with the same things that it needed to wrestle with when I ran four years ago,” he said.

“The single biggest topic over the course of the year that we hear about is land-use laws and development regulations on this island,” Medina noted.

His field of study, and experience as a lawyer, has been in environmental law.

“That is a skill set that is in particular need right now on this council,” Medina said.

“I think I’m the right person for this job right now,” he added. “And part of it is, those things are also important to me; protecting the environment on this island and making sure we have sustainable growth. And getting our land-use laws changed so we don’t get the type of the development that a lot of people don’t like is also important to me personally.”

Medina has been the city’s appointed mayor since 2018, and he said he’s proud of what the council has accomplished during his nearly four years in public office.

That list of accomplishments includes, he said, prudent fiscal management, solid and informed decision-making, the development moratorium and progress on the police

station. Also on his list is his support for the ballot request for roadside improvements for walkers and bikers. Though that effort failed, Medina vowed the city would try again.

He’s also proud of establishing “office hours” to meet with islanders, and noted that he was the first on the council to do so. Now, another three or four also have regular times set aside to meet with residents.

While the issues facing the island aren’t exactly new, likewise, Medina said, is his reason for running.

“I don’t do this because of my ego,” he said. “I do it because people ask me. People ask me because they see in my someone who is competent and who is a public servant. Anyone who knows me in my day job knows that … I’m a servant leader,” Medina said.

That’s what he’s done with his life, he said. “In college, after college. In law school; everywhere I’ve been. Whatever it is; see what people want to get done, and try to help get it done. That’s just what I do.”

“There’s a lot in this city that I feel needs to get done,” Medina said.

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