PORT ANGELES — Former President Donald Trump’s anti-regulation policies, the national debate over critical race theory and the weight council members should give to ideological issues worked their way Tuesday into an Aug. 3 primary election forum for Port Angeles City Council Position 2.
One-term incumbent Mike French, a restaurant owner, was joined by challengers John Madden, a contractor, and Samantha Rohdal, a Peninsula Behavioral Health residential aide, at the hour-long Port Angeles Business Association forum.
Along with issues including homelessness and infrastructure that have become standard fare at city council forums, the candidates were asked by past PABA President Kaj Ahlburg if they agreed on the council’s more expansive role beyond that of keeping the city running and if it should take a more “ideological bent.”
Ahlburg cited establishing minimum wages for supermarket employees to ease COVID-19 economic impacts and renaming holidays.
French, 39 on Nov. 3, General Election Day, said the council has little choice but to listen when residents express their concerns, as they did on “hazard pay” for grocery workers before heeding input from the business community, including the PABA.
“That helped the city council eventually make the right decision so that we didn’t actually end up wading too deeply into those ideological waters,” French said.
“Most of the work we have done has been on the local issues. A lot of the time, that stuff flies under the radar.”
Rodahl, 28 on General Election Day, said local government is more important than state government, which is more important than federal government.
“I would use the things we do locally to set an example,” she said.
“If you have something that works well in a small community, you can kind of set an example for a more broader audience.”
Madden — a candidate supported by the conservative, Sequim-based Independent Advisory Association — said local focus is extremely important, “especially in light of programs that we hear bantered about, like CRT,” or Critical Race Theory.
CRT is a manner of analyzing American history developed in the 1970s that posits that systemic racism perpetuates racial inequality and the dominance of white people, according to information provided by americanbar.org and www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment.
“This critical race theory threatens to dissolve the fabric of our nation,” said Madden, 59 on General Election Day.
“I think it’s one of the biggest issues facing us, and we can’t lose our focus on this type of thing.”
The candidates were asked about regulations and what they would do to draw investment capital to the city.
Madden, a retired Navy veteran, said homelessness is a major issue he wanted to deal with as a landlord but that there were “issues with personalities and with government oversight that made things difficult” and that regulations prevent the development of affordable housing.
Regulations “are the bane of our existence,” he said.
He praised the Trump administration for cutting regulations, which he said was very good for local and national economies.
“I’m a big fan of that type of energy, and I would like to see a lot more of it,” Madden said.
French said he has suggested eliminating an entire chapter of development regulations from the municipal code, which led to the city’s ongoing review of the entire archaic, old document and initiating an audit to “start fresh to simplify it as much we can,” he said.
“While we’re doing that, we’re taking a specific look at development regulations and saying what is necessary, what is under our control, what is not necessary.”
Rodahl said codes and regulations are in place for a reason and that straight-out eliminating them is not the best course.
“The first step would be to consolidate some that are extraneous that could be consolidated together, and then aligning our city codes and regulations with state codes and regulations,” she said.
Rodahl said the Field Arts & Events Center is a good example of bringing in capital.
“Doing something like that is versatile and cannot only be used for us locally but also can be used for everybody else coming through.”
Rodahl, who recently purchased an electric car, also suggested placement of more electric-vehicle charging stations.
“The amount of Teslas that I see on 101 coming into Port Angeles is like every fifth car,” she said.
“Having those places where they can stop, charge, get lunch would be a great way to [attract] people.”
A questioner asked the candidates how they would facilitate better communication between the city and Clallam County.
She said people in the unincorporated urban growth area on the city’s eastern border don’t want to be annexed into the city but want to be connected to its utilities and “are willing to put money behind it.”
French said the city recently updated its “big-picture goals” with the participation of county officials.
As far as meeting the UGA’s infrastructure needs, “that is going to be a big lift,” he said.
“We have a lot of wealth in Clallam County. We have a lot of septics in Clallam County.
“It really is ideal if we get people onto the sewer system that we have, because that takes a lot of pressure off the whole system as a whole.”
Rodahl, saying she is a good listener, noted city hall and the county courthouse are across the street from each other.
“I would say to be relentless and annoying and go talk to the people,” she said. “Don’t give up until it’s done.”
Madden said he has a regular meeting every Saturday morning at the Fairmount Restaurant in west Port Angeles and has received good input.
“I do expect people to take a more active role in their local government. You can’t just elect somebody and expect them to read your mind.
“We don’t have ESP, and I’m sure that’s been a frustration for Mr. French from time to time.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].