From left, Port Angeles City Council candidates Marolee Smith, Jacob Oppelt, Todd Negus, Mike French, Jim Moran and Lee Whetham answer questions at a voters forum. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

All six hopefuls for Port Angeles City Council against switch to second-class city status

PORT ANGELES — All six Port Angeles City Council candidates in the Aug. 1 primary election said at a forum this week they oppose the Nov. 7 general election ballot proposal under which the city would become a second-class-city.

The candidates — three vying for council Position 1 and three running for Position 2 — also touched on economic development, the present council’s lack of support for the recent Port Angeles School District bond measure, and homeless and opioid issues at the League of Women Voters of Clallam County forum Wednesday at the Clallam County Courthouse, which was attended by more than 60 residents.

In its present status as a non-charter, municipal-code city, Port Angeles residents have home-rule powers, such as putting forward voter-inspired initiatives like the second-class-city measure.

Under the proposal organized by the anti-fluoridation group Our Water, Our Choice!, residents would have only those political powers explicitly or implicitly granted under state law that don’t include initiatives.

The point, according to proponents of the measure when it was brought forward, was to ensure new elections for all seven council positions would be held in 2018.

The county elections office mailed out more than 46,000 primary election ballots Wednesday.

The top two votegetters in the primaries will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

Primary ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 1 or returned to a ballot drop-box by 8 p.m. Aug. 1.

Position 1 City Council candidates who answered questions Wednesday while seated at the dais in the county commissioners’ hearing room were Jim Moran, president-owner of a third-party pension administration company; Todd Negus, president of OSP Sling Inc. of Sequim; and Marolee Smith, a researcher-writer.

Position 1 incumbent Brad Collins is not running for re-election.

Also at the dais were Position 2 incumbent Lee Whetham, a commercial journeyman plumber; challenger Mike French, owner-manager of First Street Haven restaurant; and challenger Jacob Oppelt, owner or co-owner of five downtown businesses and Lefties Baseball.

While Smith said she signed a petition that was required to put the second-class-city proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot, even she opposed that very measure.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said.

Smith said it was put forward by residents who were “outraged” over the council initially ignoring an unscientific City Council survey of water ratepayers that showed a majority opposed fluoridation.

The City Council has since stopped fluoridation of city water pending the results of an advisory measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.

“I always called it the nuclear option and I didn’t think it would get enough votes and it did,” said Smith, a fluoridation opponent.

Whetham said he did not sign the second-class city petition, Moran was “totally opposed,” French was “fully opposed,” Negus was “completely opposed” and Oppelt was “strongly opposed.”

“It’s a very scary thing for our city, and I don’t want to go backward,” Oppelt said.

French, a fluoridation proponent, said the City Council also should not have made the fluoridation advisory ballot part of the Nov. 7 election, although he has said he would abide by the results if they are not extremely close, he reiterated Thursday.

“Part of the job of a City Council member is to take the hard vote,” French said at the forum. “When you pass it on to voters, that’s kind of an abdication of our responsibility.”

Dr. Paul Cunningham, telling the candidates that Olympic Medical Center has difficulty filling job openings because of the physical condition of school district schools, asked how the City Council can support the city’s public schools.

Olympic Medical Center spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said Thursday the hospital district has 132 staff openings.

Moran said if a bond issue comes up on the ballot, “the City Council needs to step up and endorse it.”

Negus, like Moran vying for Position 1, said a bond measure would “be a great start” to fixing schools he sees deteriorating.

Smith focused on the school district’s dropout rate, saying the City Council needs to find ways to work with students who are struggling.

“This has to get better,” she said.

French called the council’s failure to endorse the district’s $98.3 million, 25-year, February 2015 high school replacement bond “a real shame” and said the City Council should be “more involved in our schools.” The bond failed.

French’s Position 2 opponent Oppelt, who frequently praised Negus and was slated to hold a joint campaign mixer with him Thursday at the Peninsula Golf Club, said a school bond, when proposed, deserves the council’s strong support.

Whetham, the Position 2 incumbent, said it was “easy” for the other candidates to say they would endorse the bond as council members.

In 2015, council members refused collectively to endorse the measure and a companion two-year school levy but said they would personally vote in favor of the measures.

The city was going through a “massive cost-cutting process” at the time, Whetham said at the forum. “It was more of an act of being consistent at that time.”

Wetham also said the city should stop funding the county Economic Development Corp., formerly the Economic Development Council.

He said Nathan West, the city’s community and economic development director, already does what the city is paying the EDC to do and noted the importance of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe building a hotel downtown “to start people coming that can be influential in further developing our area.”

But French said he has high hopes for the EDC and its new director, Robert Schroeter.

If people are worried about the economy “and you think we should eliminate the EDC, you should probably rethink your position,” French said.

Oppelt, also vying for Whetham’s seat, said re-establishing commercial passenger service to the Port of Port Angeles’ William R. Fairchild International Airport and the city’s deep-water port are important in fostering economic development.

Position 1 aspirant Smith said an issue bigger than the Port of Port Angeles and city working closer together is the fiber optic system and the need for a good STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educational program.

“We need to find out who we are,” Smith said.

“The whole thing about going out and marketing ourselves is nonsense because we don’t have the infrastructure,” she said, adding, though, “it’s a good idea.”

Moran, also running against Smith and Negus, urged collaboration with other organizations to bring business to the city.

Negus, vying for the same Position 1 seat, urged the city to prioritize its needs, starting with improving the infrastructure and cleaning up the city’s streets.

Then, Negus said, the city can start to aggressively promote the area.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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