by LUKE PUTVIN
A full room of approximately 140 people attended the Snohomish County Council Candidates Forum in the main council chamber of the Drewel Building at the Snohomish County Campus in Everett on Monday, July 1 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. The League of Women Voters of Snohomish County Service Committee (LWVSC) hosted the event which was moderated by Lynn Carpenter.
Carpenter asked questions provided by the audience on notecards. Each Snohomish County council candidate was allotted one minute to respond, and each candidate also had the opportunity to use one challenge card. A challenge consisted of one candidate challenging another candidate’s point for up to 45 seconds and the other candidate getting a chance to respond.
Stephanie Wright, candidate for county council District 3, is the incumbent running against challengers Meier Lowenthal and Willie Russell. The eight candidates running for District 2 are Alex Lark, Louis Harris, Tyler Verda, Megan Dunn, Anna Rohrbough, Jennifer Gregerson, Cecilia Wilson and Sharita Burton.
District 2 will be vacated by current councilman Brian Sullivan who has termed out and is currently running for Snohomish County Treasurer against Marysville City Councilman Rob Toyer.
Snohomish County Council Candidates answered questions on homelessness, efficient government, growth management, Paine Field Airport expansion and policies to achieving Snohomish County’s climate goals. Candidates then ended with a candidate’s choice topic of discussion.
All candidates prefer the Democrat Party except Anna Rohrbough who prefers the Republican Party and Willie Russell who states no party preference. On June 5, Russell was expelled from the 21st LD Democrats.
When asked what the audience and readers should take away from the forum, most candidates told us, “clarity between candidates” and a better understanding of everyone’s positions on the issues. Russell replied, “I want voters to know there is an alternative to the status quo,” whereas Lark said, “the biggest issue in the county is the housing crisis.”
Snohomish County Council Candidates Introductions
The forum opened with candidates providing their qualifications for county council. Qualifications ranged from being elected officials, business-owners and serving as executive positions in non-profits.
Topic 1: Homelessness
Next, all candidates were asked what they would do to reduce the number of homeless individuals in the region. Affordable housing was the common response.
“If you’re a teacher or a firefighter in this community, you should be able to afford a house, so we need different types of housing stock. We need to see more infill and different types of development,” Dunn said.
“On the funding side, one thing that doesn’t make very much sense to me, right now there is one percent of the county general fund that goes to all of human services,” said Verda. “That includes homeless housing, mental health, addiction treatment and also pre-K, senior services and veteran services. I don’t think that’s very smart. I think there are some cost-effective investments that we can make… that will make a healthier community for all of us and in the long run that will save us money on law-enforcement interactions, courts and jails.”
On the other hand, Willie Russell said, “There is no such thing as affordable housing. New York City, 1932, they started affordable housing. Guess what? They have 700,000 people on their waiting list today.” Russell advocated for private investors and enterprises for controlling the issue.
Topic 2: Efficient Government
Snohomish County Council Candidates then weighed in on the opportunities to make county government more efficient. Answers centered around a deep dive into the budget to identify potential waste. Many candidates cited public safety as an opportunity to provide more efficient services.
“I know how to write a local government budget; I have written five of them as mayor, and I have voted on ten of them as a city council member,” said Gregerson. She added, “I implemented an incentive program to reward employees who brought ideas forward so we saved thousands of dollars when our public works crews found a way to do something they could complete in-house rather than outsourcing and contracting it. Those are the things I want to implement at the county level.”
One candidate with a dissenting opinion was Russell. “The County Council doesn’t control the budget, taxpayers do. So when are we going to learn that you control the budget?” he asked the audience.
Topic 3: Growth Management
A decision surrounding the Growth Management Act versus property rights ensued when candidates were asked how they would achieve an equitable balance between the forces of population growth and the pressure to provide more housing producing conflict between agricultural use of land versus sale of agricultural land to accommodate more homes.
“I think we just need to make sure we’re abiding by the Growth Management Act and work really hard to put all our growth within the boundaries of the GMA so we’re not paving over historic farmland and our wonderful natural resources and beautiful environment here in Snohomish County,” said Lark.
On the other hand, Rohrbough said, “We need to protect our private property rights as well. If we start focusing on ‘all growth has to go to the urban area,’ all growth won’t go to the urban area. I am not a downtown person; I don’t want to live in a high rise. I want to live in a single-family home. We have to increase the supply of our housing for everybody.”
Topic 4: Paine Field Airport Expansion
Snohomish County Council Candidates showed common views when it came to balancing the economic benefit and residents’ quality of life when they were asked their position on expanding services at Paine Field and how they felt about limiting flights at sensitive times (early in the morning and late at night.)
“This is one of the reasons I wanted to run for this position: because of the lack of communication and leadership that was shown by the person who holds this seat right now,” said Rohrbough. “Not once did I hear an update; not once did I hear about the triple-pane windows and insulation that are available for grants that could solve issues that those in the flight line are dealing with.”
Brian Sullivan, the current County Councilman for District 2, who voted against the commercialization of Paine Field airport, told the Lynnwood Times he has been active on this issue since the 1970s and intends to remain active on this issue. “I invite Anna Rohrbough to work with me in partnership to approach our congressional delegation to get mitigation options funded as the airport falls under Federal jurisdiction. This is a complicated issue I will continue to work on over the next 6 months I am in office…I have an open-door policy.”
The general sentiment of candidates was to let Paine Field accommodate the current flight pattern it has since, as Wright mentioned, the airfield only opened March 4, 2019.
“I do not support expanding the amount of flights coming out of Paine Field at this time, and I do believe we need to allow the current flight pattern to continue for some time before we look at expansion,” said Harris.
Topic 5: Snohomish County Climate Policy
When it came to how candidates would implement climate goals recently passed by the county council, proposed measures included preparing for electric vehicles with more charging stations, expansion of transit and creating green jobs.
“One of the endeavors that we are working on right now is forming a citizen climate task force group,” said Stephanie Wright. “We met earlier this week… we can poll citizen voices and all the stakeholders so we can get that input when we’re developing those policies. That way, we are representing the direction that our community wants us to move forward in.”
Lowenthal made a pointed comment toward Wright by saying, “If I served on the board ten years ago, I would have done something about ten years ago. [Climate change] is a critical issue. It affects everything.”
Wright challenged Lowenthal saying, “We have taken a lot of initiatives. Snohomish County has an innovative ‘Waste to Rail’ program where we use the rail system to export all our waste to Klickitat County where there is a waste-to-energy plant.” Wright listed other county actions including investment in the BRT line, the zero-waste resolution, the Sustainable Operations Action Plan, and she mentioned she has sole endorsement of the Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters.
Lowenthal responded by saying, “We should have done more… we should not wait for federal or state government help.”
A Candidate’s Topic of Choice
Finally, candidates were asked if there was an issue that was not brought up that they would like to address. The most common concern was the opioid crisis.
“I believe there is more we can do to stop the opioid crisis,” said Rohrbough. “We don’t need new laws; we need to enforce the ones we already have. We need to do better. I believe the county needs to advocate for its own dual-diagnosis center to treat both mental illness and drug addiction… as your county council member, this is my number one priority.”
Others that spoke on the opioid crisis were Verda, Wilson and, in a challenge, Wright and Russell. Other topics addressed were education, housing, voter turnout and the need for bipartisan action.
“Our economy is dependent on a skilled work force,” said Dunn. “We need access to affordable education. It’s a right of every person in this county.”
“Affordable homeownership has not been the discussion, and it needs a seat at the table,” said Lark.
“Voter participation is critical,” said Lowenthal. “We must have everyone vote. A lot of these issues will outlast us.”
“The divisiveness of partisan politics can be damaging to the goal of growing and shaping our community,” said Burton. “We need to be thoughtful about how we go about doing that and consider all of the best courses forward.”
Several candidates challenged Russell in some of his comments. “Remember when you vote, my name is Willie, it’s not Willy Wonka; I’m not going to sugarcoat things,” Russell responded.
Candidates Weigh in on Forum and the Campaign Trail
Most candidates were happy with how the forum went. “I hit all the points I wanted to and informed people on my background, qualifications and priorities,” said Gregerson, current Mayor of Mukilteo.
Next on the campaign trail for all the candidates were doorbelling and communicating their platforms to the public.
“This was a fabulous turnout tonight. There was a lot of enthusiasm, and people were respectful,” said Jody Trautwein, Voter Service Chair with the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County. “It’s important to support local elections and give visibility of the candidates to voters.”
For more information on the LWVSC and to keep up with their future events, go to lwvsnoho.org.
Snohomish County Council Candidates Websites
- Alex Lark – https://www.alexlark.org/
- Louis Harris – https://www.electlouisharris.com/home.html
- Tyler Verda – https://www.voteverda.com/
- Megan Dunn – https://www.electmegan.com/about-megan
- Anna Rohrbough – https://www.annarohrbough.com/about
- Jennifer Gregerson – https://www.jennifergregerson.com/
- Cecilia Wilson – http://ceciliaforcouncil.com/
- Sharita Burton – https://www.electsharitaburton.com/
- Meier Lowenthal – TBA
- Willie Russell – TBA
- Stephanie Wright – http://www.stephwright.com/index.html