League of Women Voters asks about economic development, open government, building consensus, and more

The League of Women Voters has an extraordinary history — forming in 1920 as advocates were making the final push to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally giving women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League has been providing valuable information to voters ever since.

My opponent Heather and I both filled out the League’s candidate questionnaire. It’s a generic one designed for all cities, but it still shows some big differences between us.

League of Women Voters logo

League of Women Voters

Once again, Heather offers happy thoughts but no actual plans. She also takes a couple of strange, ill-informed shots at me. The League’s candidate guide is available at www.vote411.org. You have to drill in by street address, which is handy because you can see our answers side-by-side. I plugged in the address for City Hall and provide the link here. Or, here’s a link to Heather’s answers, and mine are pasted below.

How do you see bringing more living wage jobs to the area?

First, we are nearly done revising the City of Fircrest’s Comprehensive Plan, including a fresh look at our economic development and zoning policies. One significant change involves adjusting requirements in the commercial zone along Mildred Street, where we will permit more mixed-use activities. That gives commercial property owners more options. We also maintain lower development fees than neighboring jurisdictions.

Second, I played a leading role in the liquor-by-the-glass issue to improve our city’s ability to attract more restaurants. I asked the Council to meet in a visioning session so we could identify common goals. Of the six members who attended, I’m the only one who brought up making the issue a Council priority (and I appreciated support from the rest). Then I worked with Councilmember Medley to change state law to protect existing businesses. This fall, voters in the original boundaries of Fircrest will make the final decision.

What do you see as the most pressing issues?

Besides continuing to work on business-friendly economic development policies, my other goals for a second term include: seeking community feedback to chart a future for the aging Recreation Center and pool; adding an officer to our nine-member Police Department that provides 24/7 coverage to our city of 6,500; and building sidewalks on Emerson and 44th Streets to improve safety for pedestrians.

How do you see balancing development with sustainability and the environment

Bordered by Tacoma and University Place, Fircrest is mostly built out, and thus works mostly on infill development and renovations. That said, we have obligations to keep protecting areas such as the Leach Creek wetlands. In addition, we are on a multi-year program to replace our street lights with LED bulbs, which will save us lots of money and maintenance time in the long run. We waited until LED bulb prices dropped before starting this program, and the city gets a rebate from the power company for doing so.

It’s worth noting that I’ve spent years working on environmental sustainability programs. At the county, I worked with the sustainability manager to develop policies and share best practices with 3,000 employees and the general public. When I went to work for Metro Parks in July, I immediately joined the sustainability committee. We need to take steps now to protect our community – our planet! – for our children and their children.

How do you see improving biodiversity in the area?

Our small city maintains 27 acres of parks, and that must remain a priority. I have personally volunteered to do clean-up work in Masko Park and Thelma Gilmur Park. We also take great pride in our street tree program and our seasonal plantings in parks and islands. One of the best things about Fircrest is the serene feeling you get when you drive into it from any direction from our busier neighboring cities. I am committed to protecting that.

Strangely, my opponent calls me “regressive” in this area because I joined with the rest of the City Council in 2013 to reprimand Councilmember Jolibois for telling the city manager that no one could stop him from removing plants (not weeds) he didn’t like from a park, and for embarrassing the city by falsely telling the media that Fircrest is not appreciative of volunteers. I value our environment and our volunteers just as much as I value the rule of law.

How do you see making your municipality more livable for seniors and disabled?

We value our senior community and those with disabilities. They are important contributors to our community. The Fircrest Parks and Recreation Department provides a number of services, including the Silver Sneakers fitness program and a schedule of field trips – at just $10 each! – to various attractions and locales in the region. City staff would love to hear your ideas for other programs and trips.

How do you see achieving consensus or compromise?

Our Council doesn’t agree on everything, which is not a bad thing. Some of the best laws and policies are made when people who disagree find ways to solve problems.

I’m endorsed by three current members of the Fircrest City Council. I’m also endorsed by members of the County Council; City Councils in Tacoma, University Place and Lakewood; the Tacoma School Board; two state legislators who represent Fircrest in Olympia; and IAFF Local 31, the Tacoma Firefighters who appreciate their department’s longterm relationship with Fircrest. I recently started a new day job directing public and government affairs for Metro Parks Tacoma, which means I will continue to develop professional relationships with lots of local leaders in the region. Fircrest has a lot of partnerships with those neighboring jurisdictions, and I’m in the best position to help those grow.

How do you see ensuring citizens have full access under the Open Records and Open Meetings Acts?

I spent 19 years as a journalist covering federal, state and local governments. I’ve made hundreds of public records requests. I wrote stories about government bodies that hid records or made decisions behind closed doors. This is an area I take very seriously. During my six years working for Pierce County, I participated in two projects that won Key Awards from the Washington Coalition for Open Government. I also successfully completed the open records/open meetings training provided by the state to local officials. My opponent was evasive about her business experience, and only explained it after local residents did their own research and called her on it. That’s not setting a good example for openness.

How do you see ensuring a balanced budget?

We’re currently working on the $22 million city budget for 2016, my fourth as a member of the City Council. We budget very conservatively. During the Great Recession, we made tough decisions in order to protect the priorities: public safety, street maintenance, parks. We eliminated administrative positions, and we questioned every expenditure. I’m proud of our staff’s hard work to protect core services. We have $3.5 million in our “rainy day” fund for future emergencies. We make strategic one-time expenditures, such as a new police car that was needed this year.

I also went to Olympia with our Parks Director to win a $36,500 state grant to replace the fence and one of the main play structures at the Tot Lot this fall or winter. Additionally, I serve as a member of the Fircrest Investment Committee, which has carefully invested our “rainy day” reserves in municipal bonds that have returned 10 times what the state provides in the Local Government Investment Pool. It’s not my money, it’s yours.

What responses to the drought would you propose as council action for your city?

Fircrest is fortunate to have its own reliable supply of clean water from a system of wells. We always monitor them closely, but we paid extra attention during the drought, and we were pleased that water levels remained consistent. Overall, water use in Fircrest has declined in recent years, and our city-owned water utility will continue to encourage conservation efforts.

What are the issues surrounding your city/town’s infrastructure?
We are in the final stages of completing the replacement of 50-year-old sewer pipes in older areas of our city. A previous City Council found a novel approach called “pipe bursting” that saves millions of dollars and the inconvenience of trenching through peoples’ yards. The Council has regularly voted 6-1 to accept low-interest loans from the state to pay for this. That way, current residents don’t pay the full cost for assets that last long into the future. (Note: the one Councilmember who voted against this plan is the only one backing my opponent. My opponent also criticizes this low-cost option, but hasn’t offered any alternative.)

The next big need to tackle is our Recreation Center and pool. That, too, dates to the 1960s and needs significant upgrades or replacement. The city is hiring a consultant to evaluate the condition of the building and pool, and to give us options to consider. We will be seeking feedback from the community on those options.

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