PORT TOWNSEND — Four of the seven Port Townsend City Council positions will be up for election next month and as many as three spots could change hands.
About 130 residents heard from candidates for two of the council positions Thursday night as they packed the Port Townsend Community Center for a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County and the Port Townsend branch of the American Association of University Women.
Shelly Randall of Port Townsend served as moderator.
Incumbent Deborah Stinson and challenger Monica MickHager each shared their thoughts for Position 3, while incumbent Amy Howard and challenger Bernie Arthur spoke for Position 6.
The other two seats are uncontested; Owen Rowe in Position 4 and incumbent David Faber in Position 7.
Rowe will take over in January for Bob Gray, who did not run for re-election after two four-year terms.
Faber, who likely will start a second term in January, was facing Tyler Myles Vega before Vega dropped out of the race.
Vega’s name will still appear on the Nov. 5. ballot because he withdrew too late for it to be removed.
The race between Stinson and MickHager highlighted the forum, with each discussing budget priorities, affordable housing and downtown parking.
MickHager recalled a time when downtown parking was paid and said the city should entertain the idea again.
“I think we ought to have paid parking downtown, and that may have cost me a vote or two in this room,” she said.
MickHager wants to restrict the use of any revenue that would come from such an avenue to pay for a community transit system.
“First off, I think we need community dialog about this,” she said.
Stinson said the city is examining parking options and referenced former City Manager David Timmons, who looked into several different options.
“Parking meters may not be the specific thing, but we are looking at a parking-management thing,” Stinson said, adding that the city’s active transportation advisory board has been tasked with analyzing possible solutions.
“In our demographic, we need to make sure it’s workable and equitable,” she said.
Stinson said strategic planning around transportation was a topic that was discussed among city manager candidates this spring before the council settled on hiring John Mauro, who will start Nov. 1.
“Our first city manager was brought in for certain tasks, and he did them well,” Stinson said. “But the times, they are a-changing.”
Mauro is coming from New Zealand, where he was the chief sustainability officer for the city of Auckland.
“I want him to definitely open up his sustainability manager’s toolbox and make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to address our climate change,” Stinson said.
MickHager said she hopes Mauro will “want to join our community in a public way, become one of us, join our festivals and be in our streets.”
She said the public process is even more important.
“I’m truly hoping to have a city manager who is invested in public participation and wants to listen to our community, not just about the things we love, but about the things we don’t love,” MickHager said. “That means change.”
On the budget, MickHager focused on the city’s $17 million debt, saying the city isn’t living within its means.
“We need a budget that is spending money to help the most of us, and I don’t feel we have that,” she said.
“We need to repair our roads, make sure there are sidewalks in all of our neighborhoods and have public bathrooms,” MickHager said.
Stinson countered by saying the city passes a balanced budget as required each year, faces an annual audit and is well within its financial limits.
“Debt is the way you get your tax dollars to work for you today,” she said.
Meanwhile, specific funds such as water, sewer and lodging tax are limited to specific expenditures, Stinson said.
“You can only spend it on those things, and you can only cover your costs; you can’t make a profit,” she said.
Both candidates want to prioritize affordable housing by looking at zoning codes.
Stinson pointed to how a lack of housing has an effect on economic development, health and wellness, and MickHager — a city planning commission member for the past 10 years — said the commission will get to look at zoning and the city’s comprehensive plan after asking the council to do so for the past three years.
“We need to pick priorities that will affect everyone in town and improve our lives,” MickHager said.
Howard and Arthur addressed similar questions earlier in the evening.
Howard, who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, is seeking her second term. She said she wants to continue the work she’s done with the city’s affordable housing committee.
“That’s where I’ve become the most educated recently,” she said. “There are models in other cities to help Port Townsend. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, it turns out.”
Arthur said he’s often disappointed when he asks a public official for help. He feels he never gets a response.
“The first thing I want to do is make the city feel like it’s helping the people, not that you’re incurring their wrath from going in and asking a question,” he said.
On working with other government agencies, Arthur said he’s been involved with the Port of Port Townsend for many years and finds it curious that local groups don’t seem to want to work with one another.
“The interesting thing to me is, it’s one trying to victimize the other rather than, ‘How can we all work together to accomplish common goals that’s good for the community?’” he said.
Arthur said elected officials and government workers are all paid by taxpayer dollars.
“They’re all our employees,” he said. “They should be happy to get together and accomplish common goals. I’m not too sure that happens all the time because of ego or self-esteem.”
Howard said it’s a stigma that different government agencies don’t get along.
“I’ve found that they’ve actually been fairly positive,” she said of intergovernmental meetings.
“We held a workshop with the [Jamestown S’Klallam] tribe this past spring, looking for a better relationship in the future, and I found it really enlightening,” Howard said.
A question also was raised about why Water Street was renovated when residential streets are in disrepair.
“Underneath Water Street there was a failing water main,” Howard said. “We took the opportunity while we were replacing that failing water main to fix Water Street itself.
“We got a grant that allowed us to do that,” she added. “We are not able to take some of that money and use it on residential streets. That wouldn’t be legal or ethical to do so.”
Arthur said he moved to Port Townsend 50 years ago to a place on Haines Street, which looks the same today.
All it needs is to be repaved, he said.
“I thought Water Street was kind of fun to drive on in the old days, and now I get to dodge around all the manholes, and I don’t know what they’re for,” Arthur said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].