Transparency theme emerges at forum from candidates on the outside

There was a lot of talk about transparency at a candidates forum Wednesday sponsored by the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Tibbs, a Republican from Bainbridge Island who is running against Democrat Robert Gelder for a seat on the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, said he’s in the race because he’s concerned about “a lack of openness and transparency in county government.”

“We need to operate our port district with transparency,” said Axel Strakeljahn, a candidate for Port of Bremerton commissioner.

He and the other port commissioner candidate, Shawn Cucciardi, both stressed that the port’s primary mission is economic development that will bring business and jobs to the area, and “we need to do it with transparency,” Cucciardi said.

The only one not banging the drum for greater transparency was Gelder, who was the only candidate at the forum currently in office, having been appointed to the county commission in March after Steve Bauer resigned.

Responding to criticism by Tibbs of the county’s budget process, Gelder noted that the county’s reserves were increased the past two years, and that refinancing four bond issues totaling $21.8 million would result in a long-term savings of about $1.7 million.

“I would take issue with that (claim) that we don’t have a good, solid budget process,” he said.

Tibbs, a 31-year-old sales manager for a coffee company, said the budget and land-use issues are the county’s biggest challenges in the next year, and his idea of balancing the budget is “spending less money than you bring in, not just moving money around.”

Gelder, 45, and Tibbs both said future land annexations by cities and particularly the possible incorporation of Silverdale would mean a significant hit to county revenues, with Gelder noting the impact might be lessened if the new city contracted back with the county to provide some services.

Tibbs noted that 70 percent of Kitsap residents live in unincorporated areas, and said county government shouldn’t limit services provided in those areas because “they’d like for all of us to live in cities, and have the cities provide services.”

He hit hard on the controversial land-use issue of updating the county’s Shoreline Master Plan, warning that restrictive shoreline regulations would “disenfranchise” many property owners of their rights.

Gelder countered that there has been citizen involvement in a task force reviewing the SMP, and he said the commissioners “are not interested in creating regulations that will have a negative impact on shoreline property owners.”

He has worked to develop a forest stewardship policy for the county, and supports the North Kitsap Trails Association’s plan to create a series of connected trails through the region.

Another issue that drew criticism from Tibbs was the county’s lawsuit against the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club; he said the case is “an example of county commissioners overstepping their authority.”

Perhaps the harshest comment during the forum came from Tibbs, who said the three current commissioners — Gelder, Josh Brown and Charlotte Garrido — “have no significant business experience” and that “if any of the three county commissioners tried to run a business like they run the county, they would bankrupt it.”

In turn, Gelder, who previously worked as development director for Martha & Mary, pointed to his extensive experience in the nonprofit sector and his time serving on the Kitsap County Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, on which Tibbs also served.

“I bring 10 years of executive management and leadership skills to this job,” he said, adding that he provides a “perspective of service to the community.”

The candidates disagreed on the county’s membership in the Puget Sound Regional Council, which also includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Gelder said Kitsap “needs to be a player around that table,” because the county can leverage money for transportation projects through the council.

Tibbs said Kitsap County has little influence in the PSRC and receives no more than 3 percent of the federal money that comes through the council, and suggested the county could form its own regional council and bring in the same amount of funding.

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