Port Angeles candidates criticize sitting council

PORT ANGELES — Six city council candidates vying for three positions took aim at the existing council this week at a voter forum, criticizing a panel that includes four returning members.

Candidates Charlie McCaughan, Richard “Doc” Robinson, Nina Napiontek, Navarra Carr, Martha Cunningham and Brendan Meyer were asked Tuesday at the forum what they would take issue with regarding the present council.

They cited a failed parking proposal by returning council member Mike French and a proposed new utility rate plan city council members discussed at a regular meeting Oct. 1.

The Clallam County League of Women Voters event, moderated by Bertha Cooper, was the last question-and-answer session sponsored by the League leading up to the Nov. 5 general election. Ballots will be mailed to voters Wednesday.

To give voters an idea of where they stand with “current governing operations,” audience member Ed Chadd asked the candidates to discuss a controversial decision the council has faced.

Meyer, 35 on Election Day and a self-employed media-marketing consultant, is running for a Position 7 seat against Martha Cunningham. Incumbent Cherie Kidd cannot run for re-election, having served three terms.

Meyer objected to cost-of-service utility fee adjustments that are being considered by the City Council, saying the base electric rate would double while the usage rate is going down.

Under the proposal, rates would go down for low-consumer users, they would increase for high consumers and the rate structure will be re-analyzed in two years, Finance Director Sarina Carrizosa said Thursday.

She said the City Council is not looking at doubling the base rate.

The base electric rate would increase by $2.52 a month for residential users under the proposal, which the City Council will continue discussing at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

“I think that when we push conserving energy, that we shouldn’t be supporting the people who use a lot of energy and putting it on the backs of people who are paying the base rate,” Meyer said.

Cunningham, like three of the other candidates, focused on French’s failed parking proposal, which would have eliminated off-street, non-curbside parking requirements for future homes and businesses.

Council members Cherie Kidd, Michael Merideth, Jim Moran and Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter voted Sept. 3 against having staff draw up a proposal repealing the existing ordinance. French, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and Mayor Sissi Bruch voted yes.

Requirements that determine the number of parking spaces that are required employ different standards based on square footage, type of use and business activity.

For example, two spaces per employee are required for automobile sales dealerships, and one parking space for every 50 square feet of floor area for night clubs and lounges.

“What I heard from the City Council was that we should throw out all the regulations and see what happens,” said Cunningham, 67 on Election Day and a freelance editor and substitute teacher.

“This was very alarming to me because I think when you are a potential business owner and see the city doing something like that, it doesn’t give you a good feeling about stability.”

Cunningham echoed critics of the process proposed by French, which would have bypassed the city planning commission.

“When businesses come here, they want to know that what we are doing makes sense,” Cunningham said.

Robinson, 66 on Election Day and executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County, is running for Position 5 against McCaughan, 63 as of Election Day. McCaughan is the procurement and facilities supervisor for Clallam County Public Utility District.

They are running for a seat being vacated by Merideth, who is not seeking re-election.

“I have this sort of phrase, talk less and do more,” Robinson said. “When Councilman French brought in the parking adjustment and it was a surprise, I thought it was perfect.

“The problems with the parking isn’t that we won’t have to study it, we won’t have to assess it. The problem is that we can’t develop it at all because no one can get past the demand for parking spots.

“We study ourselves to inaction.”

McCaughan disagreed with Robinson.

“The biggest disagreement was just the way it was brought out on the late agenda,” he said. “It was brought out with good intentions, it was just a lot of disagreement on the process.”

He predicted the topic would arise again later this year with the city begins reviewing the municipal code.

Carr, 27 on Election Day and a development associate and office manager for North Olympic Land Trust, is running for Position 6 against Napiontek.

Bruch is not running for re-election to the position.

Parking and utility rate changes “are the two big contentious issues that people have seen recently,” she said.

“I’m one of those people who conserve energy because it’s the right thing to do and I can’t afford to keep all the lights on all the time,” Carr said.

Carr has a good job “and still can’t afford to live in a house and have the heat on all the time,” she said.

She praised city officials for reanalyzing the proposal and coming up with a plan discussed at the Oct. 1 meeting “that had a lot more favorable outcomes, I thought,” Carr said.

Napiontek, 38 on Election Day and a substitute teacher for Lower Elwha Head Start, saw parking as the most controversial issue faced by the current council.

“I feel that there was not due process that was followed,” she said. “There’s a planning commission for a reason.

“If you don’t have that critical information from those who it’s their job to vet it out, you can’t make a very good decision one what way to go.”

A video of the forum will be available by Sunday at www.lwvcla.org.

The PDN will publish a general election voter guide Sunday.

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

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