Candidates field questions in front of packed house

Forum attracts crowd with plenty of questions ahead of Aug. 1 primary election
By Nicholas Johnson | Jul 26, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson City Council candidate Peter Zieve answers a question during Monday’s candidate forum at City Hall as incumbent Bob Champion, left, listens along with other candidates, including fellow Position 2 candidate Tina Over.

Faced with filling out the city’s most crowded primary ballot in decades, Mukilteo voters packed City Hall on Monday evening to see eight City Council hopefuls in action.

“This is the largest audience I’ve ever seen in City Hall,” Position 2 incumbent and council president Bob Champion said during the July 24 candidate forum, which attracted nearly 150 people.

Aside from Beacon-prepared questions, the candidates also fielded several audience questions, including one about short-term vacation rentals and another that challenged candidates to say something positive about their opponents.

Position 3 candidate Sarah Kneller said fellow candidate Tony Markey is a hard worker who “does his homework.” Markey said Kneller is eloquent, well spoken and well informed. Fellow Position 3 candidates Troy Gray and Maxwell Chen did not participate in the forum.

Position 1 candidate James Yoo called his opponents qualified. Candidate Riaz Khan returned the favor, calling Yoo experienced. Candidate Anna Rohrbough said Yoo would bring “great perspective” to the council, and praised Khan for his efforts to educate the community about the Muslim faith. Regarding Rohrbough, Khan said, “She should work on the honesty.”

Position 2 candidates Champion and Peter Zieve garnered laughter from the audience with their comments about each other.

“Bob Champion has a 90 percent voting record,” Zieve said. “Mine is 100 percent, but 90 percent is pretty good.”

Champion called Zieve an entrepreneur who “pays a lot of taxes to the city.

“Thank you, Peter,” he said.

Zieve said he and fellow candidate Tina Over are both stepparents. Over said she’s not fond of Zieve’s business practices, but said Champion has a good head on his shoulders. Champion said he and Over share an open-mindedness.

“What I enjoy about Tina is we share that same vision of Mukilteo as a diverse and inclusive community,” he said.

All candidates said short-term vacation rentals, such as those found on Airbnb.com, should not be outlawed, but taxed and regulated. Champion said no law yet exists. Markey and Kneller, among others, called for identifying and regulating those rentals, while Zieve called for less regulation.

“My bias is always strongly in favor of the property owner,” he said.

 

Beacon questions

Moderator Frank Foster, a longtime Mukilteo resident and former educator, posed questions on taxes and budgeting, traffic and parking, economic development, youth recreation, and commercial flights out of Paine Field.

The candidates were each given four minutes for opening and closing statements, while their answers to questions were limited to 60 seconds. One question – how to pay for street maintenance – was posed to all eight candidates.

Considering a sales tax measure headed to the November ballot would generate about one-third of the estimated annual cost of street maintenance, candidates were asked how they would cover the difference specifically, whether through other taxes or budget cuts.

Position 1 candidates Khan and Yoo failed to offer specifics, with Yoo saying he would convene a town hall meeting and Khan saying the sales tax is up to voters, but he doesn’t support it. Rohrbough said some $450,000 from real estate excise taxes paired with sales tax revenue of nearly $300,000 would come close to the $900,000 cost, and the rest could be found in the budget. While that $450,000 has been budgeted each year, $150,000 of it is typically dedicated to pedestrian improvements rather than street maintenance.

Position 2 incumbent Champion said he’s been clear during council discussions that he feels the sales tax measure is premature. Instead, he said he would levy a property tax and find the remainder in the budget.

“Before we go forward, the city needs to demonstrate that they can execute on the current $983,000 they’ve been granted to update the roads,” he said.

Sticking to his “no new taxes” mantra, Zieve said the city should go with a less expensive option, such as chip seal, and find the rest in the budget, particularly by cutting Marko Liias’ policy analyst position.

Over said she would consider a car tab fee, but would avoid a property tax. She said the rest could be found through savings in the budget, such as cutting the $2,000 cost of cell phones for council members.

Position 3 candidates Kneller and Markey said they’re both glad voters will decide on the sales tax in November. Neither suggested pursuing other taxes. Instead, each said they were uniquely qualified to scour the budget, with both saying they manage budgets professionally. Kneller, however, cited specific savings she’s found in the budget.

“If we were to make budget cuts, I propose a nickel-and-dime approach,” she said. “There’s a lot of line item waste, and it adds up quickly.”

 

Position 1

Both Khan and Yoo said public safety is a primary concern, while Khan also said property taxes are pushing people out of the city.

“My neighbors are being taxed out, and they’re leaving Mukilteo because property taxes are going up,” he said.

Yoo said he would bring his business savvy to the council, while also representing seniors and young families.

“Mukilteo remains the best place to live in Snohomish County,” he said. “I will do my best to make sure we maintain this momentum.”

Rohrbough said she hopes to align the city’s budget priorities with the interests of Mukilteo’s bedroom community. She also said she’s particularly concerned about safe routes to school.

“My son has been standing in a bus stop with grass in the rain since we moved here,” she said.

Asked how they would mitigate noise, traffic, pollution and property value impacts from commercial flights at Paine Field, Khan and Rohrbough said it’s important to have a seat at the table with Snohomish County, developer Propeller Airports and Alaska Airlines.

Khan said “nobody wants the airport happening here,” and erroneously suggested Propeller wants to expand its plan for a two-gate terminal to four gates.

Rohrbough said dealing with traffic means participating in Paine Field’s wayfinding signage project. She also said the city should find a way to purchase land east of Mukilteo Speedway near Paine Field in order to control signage and businesses there.

Yoo criticized his opponents for generalizing, then said he would work to secure a revenue sharing agreement with the airport to pay for noise, pollution and traffic studies.

Asked about their vision of Mukilteo’s economic future, all three said the city should better support the business community, especially as it relates to redevelopment of the waterfront.

While Yoo called for a senior center, Khan and Rohrbough said economic development will further strain traffic issues, with Khan calling for parking garages on the waterfront.

 

Position 2

Responding to Zieve’s call for no new taxes, Champion said the city has given residents a break from taxes during his tenure. Champion said he’s proud of the council’s discipline on developing plans like the comprehensive plan, waterfront master plan, Japanese Gulch master plan and transportation plans.

“These are all fundamental elements of how we envision the future,” he said. “How we’re going to pay for it is why I want to run for a second term.”

As a woman, Over said she would bring diversity to the council and listen to the concerns of all citizens. She also touted her business sense.

“I have gotten multi-million companies out of the red and profitable within a six-month time period,” she said.

Zieve and Champion also touted their business success.

“I already run a large city inside of Mukilteo,” Zieve said. “My city is seven times bigger than Mukilteo with seven times as many employees and a seven times bigger budget.”

As an aerospace industry manager, Champion said, “I have spent my career managing multi-million dollar projects and making the corporate citizen billions of dollars.”

Zieve said he sees “the impending invasion of the homeless” as the city’s most serious problem.

“We already know of two homeless camps inside Mukilteo,” he said. “I have a lot of ideas for what that could do to us, how it could change the Mukilteo way of living.”

Asked for an example of how they’ve reached common resolutions within diverse groups, Champion cited his work on the council, particularly with the “welcoming city” resolution.

“My feeling was we need to address the tough questions,” he said. “We’re not a good group of citizens if we cannot address the tough questions.”

Zieve said he deals with such situations regularly at Electroimpact, adding that his presence on the council would likely benefit the minority vote.

“I see so many votes on the council that are 4-2 or 4-3, and my vote would probably be with the minority,” he said. “I think having me on the council would have a very significant effect.”

As a real estate agent, Over said she also navigates such situations regularly, adding that she would work to represent all citizens.

“On the council, we’re speaking for the residents of Mukilteo and not necessarily what’s in our own best interest,” she said.

Asked whether the city should invest more in youth recreational facilities and programs, and exactly how they would pay for those investments, all three said such investment is needed. Champion said the city has already done a lot to expand programming at Rosehill Community Center and into schools, but he said the city’s relationship with the school district is strained.

“The City Council made it a priority to work with the school district, to sit down and have a conversation on what are the key issues,” he said. “They chose not to sit down with us.”

Over and Zieve criticized the cost of constructing Rosehill compared to its utility for children and families. Over suggested looking to private donors to help pay for more facilities and programs. Zieve boasted about donating $200,000 to help the Boys & Girls Club build its new facility, but said that project still falls short of the city’s needs.

“When Rosehill was being rebuilt, all the residents I spoke to expected there would be a gymnasium in that building,” Zieve said. “Unfortunately, now our money has been spent and we have less options.”

 

Position 3

The city’s challenges are well known, Markey said, and the reason they persist is the council gets distracted by less important issues.

“The time for getting distracted by another shiny new object that needs just another $45,000 is over,” he said. “The time for knee-jerk reactions is over.”

Kneller’s problem, she said, is she doesn’t sell herself enough, but that doesn’t mean she has nothing to brag about.

“Just this year, I was given the technical achievement award for 2017 not just for the United States, not just for the internet, but for the internet for the entire world,” she said, attributing her successes to collaboration.

“I’m proud to be the candidate who has maintained from the very beginning that I’m running a clean campaign,” said Kneller, describing herself as principled, ethical and honest. “I’m doing this my way.”

Markey apparently took offense to that, saying, “The insinuation that I am acting unethically is unethical.”

Asked how they would manage traffic and parking on the waterfront, Markey said the city has two options: build a parking garage or approach the tribes for land.

“Land doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, so we can either expand our footprint by doing one of those two things or we can continue on with our current parking situation,” he said.

Kneller said any discussion of a parking garage should be left up to a private developer rather than the city, and suggested traffic-light moderation could help control and alleviate traffic congestion.

“I also think we need to add a stoplight at Goat Trail Road,” she said. “I know it’s been said that this can’t be done, but I don’t buy it and I think we should take it back to the drawing board.”

Asked about their vision of Mukilteo’s economic future, Kneller said that should come out of community-wide discussions with businesses and residents, especially as it relates to waterfront development. Markey said he’s impressed by the Port of Everett’s courting of potential hotels for its waterfront.

“They are interviewing different hotels to find out which one meets their needs,” he said.

“Without that kind of pulled attraction, I fear that Mukilteo’s just going to end up with some of the industries maybe we don’t want. Maybe we don’t want another vape shop; maybe we have enough of those.”

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