Who will it be for Port Orchard's mayor?
October 21, 2011 · 11:17 AM
A leader, or a cheerleader.
That’s one perspective on the mayor’s race in Port Orchard, offered by the candidates themselves.
Lary Coppola, the incumbent seeking a second four-year term, says the mayor’s job “is much more about management and leadership skills than about politics.”
He points to improvements in the city’s finances and overall business climate, as well as a decrease in the local crime rate, during his administration.
“We’ve certainly proved that you can run the city like a business, if you mean to and know how to,” the mayor said last week, repeating one of his campaign themes during a candidates forum at the monthly Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce lunch.
Since it was a chamber gathering, the main focus of questions put to Coppola and challenger Tim Matthes was on business.
“I want to be a cheerleader for Port Orchard,” Matthes told the lunch crowd. “And I want to be a cheerleader for the Chamber of Commerce.”
In his campaign, Matthes has tried to raise concerns about a lack of public involvement in city government decisions and the need for more openness and transparency.
Matthes, who serves on the city planning commission, also has pushed the need to create an ethics handbook for city government, and displays a hand-lettered blue booklet as an example at campaign appearances.
Matthes says some people will vote for him primarily because they want to vote against Coppola, based on conversations he’s had while doorbelling.
“I think a lot of the voters will vote for ‘the other guy,’ me,” he said in a recent interview with the Independent.
“I was contacted by an awful lot of people this time that I didn’t know,” who urged him to run for mayor, said Matthes, who ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner in 2007. “A lot of it stems from how the present administration treats people.”
It’s hard to miss the edge of animosity in this campaign that’s noticeable different than the two City Council races.
Asked about it, Coppola said he’s “disappointed” in Matthes.
“I recruited Tim to serve on the planning commission,” he said. “If he had an issue with how things were being done in the city, I thought he would have come to talk to me about it.”
Instead, Coppola said, he found out Matthes was going to run for mayor “when I read it in the newspaper.”
He attributes the tone of this campaign, which he said has been “nastier” than in 2007, to the fact that his opponent doesn’t have any clear issues to raise.
“They don’t have anything to attack with what I’ve done for the city, so they make me the issue,” Coppola said.
“I did support the mayor when he ran the first time,” Matthes noted, “but the caveat is I didn’t know him very well then.”
The mayor says he had a mandate when he came into office with more than two-thirds of the vote, and that he’s kept the promises he made in that campaign to fix the city’s financial problems, improve the business climate, make city administration more efficient, and reduce crime. He also said at a recent forum that he will roll out a downtown revitalization plan within a few weeks.
Even Matthes says he has “no quarrel” with claims that Coppola’s administration has gotten a lot done the past four years.
“But at what expense?” the challenger asked. “In my opinion, it’s been at the expense of the public process.”
The issue raised most often in that regard is the City Council’s decision in May — made after three sparsely attended public hearings — to convert Port Orchard to a code city. The council rescinded its resolution to make the change after a controversial petition drive to put the question to a public vote resulted in the likelihood of a costly special election.
Matthes said one aspect of the code city status that concerns him is that the city could “scale back notification for any public action.
“I think this administration would, and that’s one reason I’m running.”
“I’m not satisfied with the mayor’s comment that it affects mostly how we deal with the state,” Matthes added. “We need a public vote, because it really changes our government.”
Coppola has insisted that concerns about switching to a code city have been overblown, and regularly points out that the vast majority of cities in Washington have changed their status to code city.
As for transparency, a word heard often in 2011 campaigns, Coppola has repeatedly noted that he arranged for videotaped City Council meetings to be more accessible by streaming them on the city’s website, where they’re available 24/7. The mayor points out that meetings previously were broadcast only three times a week — at a cost of about $8,000 a year — on the local cable public access channel, BKAT, and that more Port Orchard residents have Internet access than have cable service.
Matthes has said he’d like to restore the BKAT broadcasts, particularly for older residents who are less likely to use computers.
“I’ve had folks have been asking me ‘What happened with BKAT?’ ” Matthes said.
Other ideas he’s put forth in the campaign include forming citizen advisory committees to work with the City Council on budgets, and on water, sewers and roads.
Matthes said he’s offering “ideas that have to do with representing the people.”
Coppola said at an Oct. 6 League of Women Voters forum that his opponent lacks management experience and doesn’t have a good grasp of the city’s budget process.
The candidates were asked about their experience, and Matthes talked about his career working in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as an inspector.
“I didn’t hear one day of business management experience in all that,” Coppola said when Matthes finished his answer.
Coppola, who owns a business that publishes a business journal in Kitsap County, said that before he got into business publishing real estate magazines, he was an electrician and supervised crews on large construction projects.
“I’ve run people and run businesses my entire life,” he said at the forum. “I’ve never really done anything else.”