Burien City Council Candidates argue talking points at 2nd B-Town Blog Debate
Hopefuls for Burien City Council positions Three and Five in the Aug. 6 primary election exchanged views on a variety of issues at a candidates’ forum, sponsored by the B-Town Blog, July 23.
Candidates participating in the forum at the ERAC (Educational Resource and Administrative Center) building were Joan McGilton, Andrea Reay, Robert L. Richmond and Debi Wagner, running for Position Three, and Rose Clark and Nancy Tosta, running for Position Five.
Steve Armstrong, running for Position Seven, was unable to attend last week’s debate and also took part in Tuesday’s exchange.
McGilton, a retired environmental engineer, has served on the Burien City Council for 12 years including three two-year terms as mayor.
Reay is a member of the Burien Arts Commission and a professional non-profit project manager.
Richmond is a real estate agent and was a technical recruiter.
Wagner, who ran for the city council in 2011, works in financial management and on environmental issues.
Clark has served on the city council for all but two years since 1997 and is a retired library technician with the Highline School District.
Tosta is a member of the Burien Planning Commission and owns a small business that works on environmental health and energy.
Armstrong manages contracts, procurement and finance for Boeing.
Panelists were B-Town Blog senior reporter Jack Mayne and Burien’s first Mayor Arun Jhaveri. The moderator was KIRO Radio Host Andrew Walsh.
Several of the questions posed to the candidates and their responses – paraphrased in part – follow in the order they were seated at the dais.
Burien has been a divided city in recent years. What would you do to heal the community’s wounds?
McGilton: As one of four council members that seem to be targeted … we need to remember that for 18 years we were a very effective council. What started this? It was around the time of annexation. It’s a done deal. The voters said no. Let’s get on.
Reay: I bring lots of people together on multi-million dollar projects every day. When we have differences of opinion we don’t have to draw a line in the sand. Neighborhood organizations would give every citizen a voice and a sense of inclusivity.
Richmond: All my ideas center around community involvement. Pea patches would get seniors out of the community center. Softball teams would get people of all ages involved. We need anchor tenant ideas for 153rd Street for community service.
Wagner: The divisiveness has resulted from several issues being shoved down our throats. Annexation is a great example. There was no advisory vote despite the fact that people wanted it. The divisiveness that went on with three council members opposed to it was for very good reasons in my mind. The voice of the people has to be listened to.
Clark: We are 20 years old as a city and the council has built on the vision we had at the beginning. To try to bring us together I have reached out to Deputy Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and she has reached back. It is possible to reach across the aisle but we have to have persons who are willing.
Tosta: Many people feel frustrated because there are not that many opportunities for them to get engage the council. There is no response to public comments made at council meetings. I would encourage more interactions and more public workshops rather than one-way communication.
Armstrong: Annexation is one reason why I’m running. I’ve learned in negotiating contracts for Boeing that you need to build consensus, build partnerships. We need to work as a team and be willing to compromise for win-win solutions. The next phase of our growth is to work together.
How do you plan as elected officials to use your leadership skills working on a shared common vision for Burien?
McGilton: I have been a community activist in Burien since 1993. The present vision is the vision we created three years ago. I was mayor for six years and we had a highly performing, highly effective council. We achieved consensus and worked together for the community.
Reay: Gandhi said leadership is about getting along with people. We need to get along with people. We need to have integrity about running fair, open and honest campaigns.
Richmond: My vision is clear. Future education for our kids is key. It would include partnering with WSU for 4-H urban agriculture. I know how to bring people together. That’s one of the things I do coaching a winning men’s softball team.
Wagner: I recently looked up our 1993 vision. It said we were a friendly community with established neighborhoods. But in recent years I haven’t felt as welcome and safe. We need a friendly, welcoming environment. We want to work together and everybody to get along. That’s a very admirable community goal.
Clark: Good leadership is being transparent. Our city was strong in the beginning because we worked together. Vision is thinking things outside the box. We did that with 152nd Street and with Town Square, which is a work in process. As we are coming out of the recession we have that opportunity to think outside the box.
Tosta: What do leaders do? They bring out talents in others. Understanding skills and talents in others is empowering them to bring their best to confront challenges.
Armstrong: I agree that leadership is empowerment. We have to capture that talent. And we should have a friendly council that is more fun, more interactive.
The city council voted recently to extend the CARES animal control contract. Would you have voted to extend the contract?
McGilton: Burien is not required to provide animal control services. CARES had a rocky startup but I was now willing to give them more money. CARES has my very strong support…. We did not cut police services for animal control.
Reay: We need professional animal control but we had to cut police services again. I’m against cutting cops for animal control.
Richmond: This was a terrible decision and I would not have done the same thing. At the current pace we’re on we’ll end up paying CARES what we would have paid King County. Why not just go with King County, then get to revenue to come back to sustain the city? I want to change contracting out services to city services…. Does the CARES program bring in funds for the city? This was a partisan decision.
Wagner: I don’t believe that was a wise decision. We want real animal control with real animal control officers. We don’t have one, not yet, not a real animal control agency. We didn’t negotiate with King County for a better deal like the other cities did. Instead we started our makeshift, inadequate CARES.
Clark: I did vote for CARES and I do support CARES. King County would have given us sporadic service. I don’t think we see a new business that doesn’t have some startup problems and the same is true for CARES. We will have a trained officer all the time.
Tosta: I respect the city for trying. Maybe we were shortsighted of the infrastructure needed. I am an advocate for innovation. We need to find out who uses CARES? What do they think? Who isn’t served? I think I would have voted to extend the contract. They deserve a chance to try.
Armstrong: I respect what CARES does and I respect what the volunteers do. At the same time let’s find out who is not being served. I want to get quotes and negotiate a new contract. Let’s determine the problems and then we can make it work.
What specific examples do you have regarding planning for the city budget?
McGilton: The reserve fund is 10 percent of the annual budget. We borrowed $500,000 to reconcile the budgets for last year and this year. It was repaid in five months. Only 12 percent of the property taxes you pay goes to the city, while 40 percent goes to the school district. The budget is now prepared for two years. All cities are going that way and King County too. That gives better accountability.
Reay: I’m responsible for the fiscal health of a major non-profit organization that has a bigger budget than the city’s. I look at the budget as the most important thing we can due. It is a blueprint. We need to balance it with more revenue sources. We need to have partnerships to bring in more revenue.
Richmond: We need an anchor tenant, a corporate headquarters on 153rd Street. As for the CIP, 153rd is pretty desolate. But it can’t be done like Town Square with “if we build it they will come” thinking. It didn’t work before. We need an anchor tenant there, particularly one with hands-on skills for kids for computer oriented, software oriented jobs.
Wagner: As a family when we don’t have enough money to make ends meet we cut our family budget. But a lot of government bodies give themselves pay increases and property taxes are increased. Our reserve fund has been dipped into. There may not be a lot of reserves left.
Clark: As far as our annual budget is concerned, we are about ready to step into an economic development study of how to bring commercial activity ahead. The CIP – Capital Improvement Program – is actually a planning tool. By doing a planning document you have the documentation to go out for grants for funding capital projects.
Tosta: We do need to look at how we can increase revenue. Our sales tax is declining. Empty storefronts are a concern on the revenue side. On the expenditure side, safety needs continue and have to figure out what to do to contribute to safety. Plus it is important to address storm water runoff.
Armstrong: We need monthly budget status meetings for continual monitoring of the status of the budget. There shouldn’t be any surprises. Dipping into the reserves was probably better than raising any taxes.
Do you favor an elected mayor for Burien?
McGilton: For the past two years, three city council members didn’t like Mike Martin. They looked for everything wrong with him. Well, he’s left. Let’s move on. I very much support a weak mayor, strong council. There was such strong personal animosity toward Mike Martin. I’m sorry he’s gone.
Reay: We need leaders. This organization chart of Burien [holding it up] is residents at the top, then the city council, then the city manager. The problem with Mike Martin was that the city manager stepped to the top of this list. Remember, power always resides with the people and the voice of the people is what matters.
Richmond: Cronyism. How can you have representative government when the city manager represents the will of the council, and the mayor is appointed by the council? We have to have someone step forward and say: yes, we should have an elected mayor system.
Wagner: (Councilman) Jack (Block) was only asking (last fall) for the people to decide what form of government they should have. Rose and (Councilman) Gerry Robison did not want them to have it and they walked out. Next (Robison) proposed council wards as retaliation for that. In the past with a divisive council the four always got their way. When others got their way then they would walk out.
Clark: I don’t know enough to say if I am for or against an elected mayor. What I was against was when a council member dropped it on the table without the full council present to discuss it. I’m willing to have that discussion but to do it willy-nilly, I’m against that…. The council process has been to talk about an item, put it on the agenda, then talk again, not voting on it right now without a discussion. That’s something the council never did.
Tosta: Elected mayors are usually in larger or smaller cities. A city manager can be an asset. You have a non-political professional who knows how to run an organization and how to direct staff. The council hasn’t had clear criteria for evaluating the city manager. That can be very good if done correctly.
Armstrong: The previous city manager wasn’t able to manage that relationship very well. There was a little bit of arrogance. I don’t think the council had much of a voice. With a good city manager we can make sure he is doing his job and listening to our voices.
Here’s a full HD video of entire forum (courtesy Pat Lemoine):
Here’s a full, raw audio recording of the forum:
And just for fun, a time lapse of the forum:
And here are photos of the event from Michael Brunk (click images to see larger versions/slideshow):