Port of Manchester campaign's subplot is petition drive for four-year terms

David Kimble is running simultaneous campaigns in Manchester this fall, and in a way they’re both targeted at someone whose name won’t be on the ballot in either instance.

He’s running against incumbent Dan Fallstrom for a spot on the Port of Manchester commission, a position Kimble has sought unsuccessfully several times before.

He’s also gathering signatures on a petition seeking a public vote in the port district on whether commissioners’ terms should be reduced from six years to four. And that has nothing to do with Fallstrom, and everything to do with Jim Strode, who’s been a port commissioner for 26 years.

“For 26 years the port has been run like a private company by one commissioner, Jim Strode,” Kimble said in a recent interview at his Manchester waterfront home. He ran against Strode in 1997 and they tied, resulting in a coin-toss to decide the election.

Kimble acknowledges that his campaign focus “sounds like it’s an election about Strode, and it really is.”

Fallstrom, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the port district commission in 2006 and then was elected in 2007 when his only opponent was a write-in candidate, rejects Kimble’s contention that Strode dominates the commission and Fallstrom usually votes in lockstep with him.

“He does not control the commission,” Fallstrom said. “We talk everything over, and we are not dominated by one commissioner at all.”

Kimble claims that the third commissioner, Steve Pedersen, is often the odd man out in 2-1 votes by the board. He said things would be different if he beats Fallstrom in the election, and Kimble — who said he would have preferred someone else to run this time but couldn’t recruit anyone — also makes clear that he will run again in two years if he loses.

Pedersen, who’s running unopposed this fall for re-election to the Manchester Water District, said he’s decided not to run for the port position again when his term expires in two years, because it requires too much time to serve in both positions.

Even though decisions by the three port commissioners aren’t always unanimous and it’s “frustrating sometimes,”  Pedersen said, “but we’ve also accomplished so much together.

“I think we work very well together.”

As for shortening commissioners’ terms to four years, Kimble was upset that the commissioners did not put the question on the November ballot as he requested a couple months ago, and he sees that as primarily Strode’s decision.

“As long as Jim is in there, we need to reduce the length of the term for the next time he runs,” Kimble said.

He also thinks more people might be willing to consider serving the community on the port commission if it only required a four-year commitment, and notes that some previous commissioners have resigned before completing their six-year terms.

The reason there’s no ballot measure in November, Fallstrom said, is because the commissioners felt there wasn’t enough time to consider the issue before the August deadline to get it the ballot.

“He originally proposed it to us six days before a port meeting and wanted us to put it on the ballot,” Fallstrom said, noting that the Port Advisory Commission, a citizens group, has not recommended changing the terms to four years.

“We may consider it next year, but you have to let people consider it,” he said.

The term-length issue could be on the ballot for a special election in February if Kimble gathers enough signatures by the end of December, and he vows not to let up if he’s elected to the port district commission next month.

“I would push just as hard for that petition if I’m sitting on that board as I am now,” he said.

One issue in the commissioner’s race is replacement of the south dock on Manchester’s beachfront. The contract with Marine Floats of Tacoma calls for the new dock to be the same size and length, although Kimble said that a 2008 Parks and Recreation Plan Update recommended widening and lengthening the dock to allow larger vessels to use it.

Fallstrom and Pedersen both said changing the size of the dock would have required a longer time to get permits and start work on the project, not to mention the higher cost.

Fallstrom said the port has about $15,000 from boat launch fees collected this year to help cover the port’s 25 percent share in paying for the $128,954 project; the other 75 percent is covered by grants from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO).

“We’re just trying to keep our projects small and paid for with grants; people don’t want a levy increase,” Fallstrom said. “We’re able to do these projects with the revenue base we have, and state grants.”

In conversation, Kimble brims with plans and ideas for better utilizing the port’s beachside facilities, and criticisms of how Strode and Fallstrom have handled everything from project bids to implementing the boat launch fees two years ago.

The perennial candidate doesn’t dispute that he may be viewed as a gadfly by some in the community, but said there’s too much complacency in the community and that he wants “to make Manchester flourish again.”

His opponent holds a different view.

“I think the majority of voters support what the port’s been doing,” Fallstrom said. “There’s been no tax increase, and a lot of improvements due to grants.”

Asked how he thinks the current election campaign will play out: “I think it’s going to be interesting,” he said.

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