Surveying the field of city council candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot, voters may ask: Whatever happened to the simple goal of public service?
We wonder. Over the past few elections, we’ve watched council races veer into the politics of reaction against previous policies, decisions and trends. In 1997, the successful theme was “fiscal responsibility.” Two years later, candidacies were largely defined by skittishness over growth. We see this year’s races as an extension of the latter contests; among the six candidates, two are Ferncliff-area residents galvanized by controversial developments in their neighborhood (following the successful bid by Michael Pollock two years ago on the same theme).
Would that council service were so simple as voting “no” on every housing development that comes along, or endlessly racheting up fees for land use activities. It’s not. For one thing, there’s the small matter of consensus building; the failure of recent councils in this area explains how current candidates can argue that both “pro-environment” and “pro-development” interests have been over-represented.
Too, some would take as their mandate meddling around city hall. It’s not. Suggestions that the city staff knuckles under to developers, or is to blame whenever the city gets sued, are disingenuous; the Papa Murphy’s debacle shows that council “resolve,” when not grounded in the law, will leave the city at the losing end of litigation. Moreover, as we’ve learned from past candidates, “closing loopholes” and “clarifying the city code” are themselves code phrases for obstruction. If would-be councilmembers want to make it harder to build on the island, they should come out and say so. They’ll probably get just as many votes, and they won’t lose points with us for obfuscation.
Whom, then, to support?
Of the six candidates, the position 7 race offers the best choice – and Deborah Vancil is it. Vancil offers pragmatism, a balance between environmental and business concerns. Seven years ago, she led an effort to curb the state’s controversial geoduck clam harvests off island shorelines; on the planning commission, she has emerged as a champion of our urban “treescape.” Yet as a business owner and co-founder of the local economic council, she is attuned to commerical needs.
Her opponent, architect and political newcomer Thomas Hofferber, has some challenging views on growth – smaller lots and higher zoning density in some areas outside Winslow, for example – that in our affordable housing debate merit further discussion. In fact, he would make an excellent member of the planning commission, and we hope he’s tapped for the next seat that opens up – how about Vancil’s?
In the position 5 race, voters should give incumbent Jim Llewellyn four more years. Everyone sees the builder, but few see the MBA; the sometimes abrasive Llewellyn has matured into a generally thoughtful council member who takes the time to research issues. His votes, even when we disagree with them, are usually well reasoned.
Challenger Deborah Vann was piqued to run by Ferncliff’s Woodland Village controversy; lacking her own record of public service, she has campaigned on her opponent’s council votes. We find neither persuasive to replace Llewellyn.
In the position 4 race, we suspect votes will follow predictable and dogmatic lines. Land use too restrictive? Vote Nelson. Too lax? Knobloch. Our qualified endorsement goes to Knobloch, with the caveat that he must give up ax-grinding for bridge-building for effective council service.
Local business owner Nelson boasts deep roots in the community, and we’re impressed by his positions on harbor stewardship. A decent candidate in his own right, he too could be counted on for earnest service.