UPDATE: Audio/Photos Of Tuesday’s Lively King County Candidates Forum
UPDATE 5:45pm 7/21/10: We’ve added Audio, as well as Photos of the event as shot by Michael Brunk, to the bottom of the story:
All four candidates for King County Council District 8 agreed at a July 20 forum that county government must become more efficient, more effective, and related better to suburban cities.
Beyond that, Tim Fahey, Joe McDermott, Shawn McEvoy and Diana Toledo offered varying approaches – some pronounced, others marginal – on how to improve the way the county operates.
Sponsored by The B-Town Blog, the forum was moderated by KIRO radio talk show host Dave Ross. A panel of Journalists, including this Reporter, along with T.M. Sell, Phd, Professor of Journalism at Highline Community College, and George Erb, Editor of the Puget Sound Business Journal. Questions were also offered up by several of the 35 or so attendees.
The four will square off in the Aug. 17 primary election, with the top two vote-getters facing each other in November.
Current District 8 County Councilwoman Jan Drago, who was appointed to replace Dow Constantine after he was elected King County Executive last year, is not seeking election to that office.
Fahey, a carpenter who resides in South Park, was motivated to run because of the closure of the South Park Bridge after years of failure at all levels of government to replace it.
McDermott, from West Seattle, has served in the State Legislature since 2001 and was appointed State Senator in 2007. He ran unopposed for the seat in 2008.
McEvoy is a city councilman and a former mayor of Normandy Park.
Toledo is an enforcement coordinator for King County, where she has worked for 15 years.
“King County has been a little dictatorial with the way they treat the suburban cities,” Burien City Councilwoman Kathy Keene noted when the forum opened to questions from the audience. “How will you work with us so we can do our job better or be a better partner with you?”
[Note: Candidate responses will be presented in the order they answered specific questions.]
Fahey – “King County does not know better for Burien what’s good for Burien. You guys can make decisions for yourself.”
McDermott – “I want to continue to work with the cities, not come and tell you what to know.” Former State Rep. and former Mercer Island City Councilman Fred Jarrett, now Constantine’s deputy executive, is helping the county build relationships with the cities.
McEvoy – Cities need to be an “equal partner … a regional partner” with the county, which needs to maintain regular contact with the cities.
Toledo – “There is no doubt that over the past decade or more, King County has exhibited an arrogance that turned the cities off by shoving things down their throat. There is evidence that this is shifting” and the county “needs to continue to be part of that shift.”
White Center resident Liz Giba wanted to know their positions on future annexation of the remaining North Highline unincorporated area by either Burien or Seattle:
McDermott – “The key is there is going to be a public vote” and the county should remain neutral. “It’s up to the public in the area to decide.”
McEvoy – The determining factor should be “what is best for the citizens of the region. White Center would be far worse off going to Seattle … Burien is the best fit for White Center.”
Toledo – “Burien is the best choice for the North Highline area. As a council member we should have an opinion and should voice that opinion.”
Fahey – “I fully and actively am in support of annexation by Burien.” North Highline “needs would be better served” in Burien than in Seattle,” and the area would remain free of the “yoke of Seattle’s business tax.”
Will they vote for or against the 0.02 percent sales tax increase to help fund public safety that the current county council approved on July 19 for placement on the November ballot?
Toledo – I will vote for public safety. I will vote for protecting our people. But I will not vote for it [the tax increase] … I’m particularly disturbed by the characterization of the sales tax [increase] as it’s for public safety.”
Fahey – “Certainly not a sales tax increase. We need to find where wasteful spending is going on.” A lot of King County deputies disagree with Sheriff Sue Rahr “that she can’t cut her budget” without cutting officers.”
McDermott – “I support it. It’s a small increase that will bring in $59 million in 2011 and $80 million in 2012. The choice is between that and cutting 60 deputies and 12 prosecutors.”
McEvoy – “I’m not a big fan of tax increases but I would say this is vital … it’s a temporary tax increase.”
What would they do with Metro Transit in light of a new study by the Washington Policy Center, which found that Metro got sales tax increases in 2000 and 2006, by 2009 had collected 20 percent more from those tax hikes than it needed, but had implemented only a third of the new bus service promised while diverting 60 percent of this revenue into bus driver salaries for average raises that are two times the rate of inflation.
Fahey – Metro bus service is “heavily subsidized” and commuters “should be willing to pay $5 per ride … as a union person, I always hate to see this come down to the union.” The popular ride-free-zone in downtown Seattle not only reduced Metro revenue but attracts “undesirable people” and creates “a law enforcement problem.”
McDermott – Initiative 695, which was approved in 1999 to limit car tab fees to $30, “is to blame” for a lot of revenue lost to Metro and other transit agencies. “We need to build relationships with other transit agencies” throughout the state … we need to hold people accountable. I want to be careful not to blame public employees but hold costs down.”
McEvoy – In addition to what the Washington Policy Center found, another Metro program to increase suburban bus service – the 40/40/20 plan – “has not been allocated as stated … it’s time for Seattle to pay its fair share” for bus service … we need to look at efficiencies and consolidation.”
Toledo – “This question highlights why I’m running for the county council … what does real reform, real accountability mean?” Although it’s hard to comment on the salary increases for drivers, the report shows a need “to cut some at the management level.”
What is the single most effective thing that can be done to help business in King County?
McDermott – “Provide all the things that people value,” including “transportation to work and from work” and getting supplies to businesses and products out.
McEvoy – “We need to foster an environment conducive to small business” and “initiate public/private partnerships to encourage small businesses.”
Toledo – “We need to cut red tape … and look at ways to create jobs that will bring in more taxes.”
Fahey – “Transportation and access to businesses obviously is paramount. Government cannot generate enough jobs.”
Citizens want all of the services government can provide for free. So what services should be cut?
McDermott – “The easy things to take out have been picked off a long time ago. We need to look at what government no longer needs to do.”
McEvoy – “We do need to examine central services. We need to make sure service levels match budget levels. There are probably some inefficiencies … no one thing is glaringly obvious … if junior programs get whacked, I’m sorry.”
Toledo – The county needs “to seek out more private partnerships … I have seen individuals collecting six-figure salaries, not because of what they know but who they know. We spend millions of dollars on audits and when the problems are not fixed a couple of years later, we ask for more audits … we need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.”
Fahey – “The cornerstone … is eliminating the [county] Department of Transportation … except to analyze roads and prioritize projects. Let the county fund projects … [and] replace all sercie work with union low-bid contracts.”
Is it the role of local government or the private sector to develop jobs?
Fahey – “The highest priority of elected officials is concern about jobs … everything said about unemployment is true – it’s dispiriting and sags your initiative … this government needs to get out of the way and make it easier for business to do business here … and hire people.” Examples of interference by government are cumbersome permitting and business licensing processes.
McDermott – “The public sector definitely has a strong role to play in job creation.” Ways to do this include Sound Transit development, building a new South Park Bridge, and apprenticeship programs.
McEvoy – It is “imperative for local government to be involved in economic development. It is in King County’s interest to build a strong economy” through infrastructure that helps “small and disadvantaged businesses” and encouraging “a quality of life that builds a strong workforce.”
Toledo – With a $60 million [county] budget shortfall, we need to look at ways to help get us out. Unless the sales tax and property tax [revenues] go up, the gap will increase.” Red tape and overregulation are “detrimental … we definitely need to provide for public safety … but when it goes too far it impedes economic activity.”
Instead of increasing taxes to cover his state’s budget shortfall, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking on public employee unions to get them to renegotiate contracts and reduce pay raises and benefit packages. Should King County adopt this approach?
Toledo – We can find money by cutting wasteful spending. Our priorities are out of what in King County? Why cut sheriff’s deputies when there are other priorities?”
Fahey – “I admire Gov. Christie. I definitely would like to see contracts re-examined. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people in government service for taxpayers to hold them to a different standard” including heavy cuts in middle management that would save King County “tons of money.”
McDermott – “The perception that public employees have not paid a price is in error … over 10,000 state employees were laid off” in the last two-year budget cycle. “It’s not the council’s role to unilaterally reopen union contracts” already approved.
McEvoy – “People want more government for their money, not more money for government. But it’s not the council’s place to reopen contracts. I agree that we need to cut mid-management.”
Here’s a Photo Slideshow of the forum as shot by Michael Brunk:
AUDIO: Here’s an MP3 of the raw audio from last night’s forum. Please note that it is incomplete, only because of some minor technical glitches that stopped the recorder; however, it contains one-hour and 36-minutes of audio of the event: