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Mayoral candidate plans to campaign early, often

Self-proclaimed “government nerd” Kim Abel has always believed true democracy depends on two-candidate elections and said she is always disappointed when incumbents continue to run with little or no opposition.

This year, however, she plans to do more than just hope for competitive elections.

Abel, a Port Orchard resident, is in the process of announcing her intention to challenge incumbent Jay Weatherill for the mayoral seat, a position Weatherill has held since 1983. The announcement is semi-official at this point — technically, she can’t file paperwork with the elections office until the last week of July.

But that doesn’t mean she can’t start campaigning.

“I’m ready to run,” Abel said. “I might as well get started.”

Abel believes the most important thing a mayor can do is foster good communication between the city government and city residents. She also said that’s the area most in need of improvement in Port Orchard.

Regular citizens don’t feel a part of the process, Abel said, as evidenced by the scarce attendance at most city council meetings. She said most people don’t know what’s going on in the city because it’s either hard to find or, once found, difficult to understand.

That, she said, needs to change.

“Communication is one thing that’s hard to get out of the city right now,” Abel said. “There has to be some new ways to find out what’s going on in your city.”

From her perspective, an oblivious method would be to put city council meetings on BKAT — the local cable-access television network. A lower-cost option could involve a dial-up hotline that would offer information on city service such as trash pick-up, upcoming council and committee meetings and even partial agendas for those meetings. Abel said the hotline, which should be updated regularly, would offer an easy way for people to stay informed without taking up city staff time or relying on mailbox flyers.

Apart from making city government more accessible, Abel said making meeting agendas a phone call away would do a lot to increase public confidence in the system. A lot of times, she said, residents simply don’t hear about pending changes to the city code that affect them or their neighborhood. Later, when these people hear about the council’s decision, they feel they weren’t given adequate opportunity to comment on, or even object to, the ordinance or rezone up for vote.

Abel said the primary thing she’s learned from the various committee’s she’s sat on, is people just want the chance to be heard — to feel like someone cares about their opinions.

“Not many people in Port Orchard are involved in the process,” Abel said. “And I want to get them involved in the process so they don’t get blindsided.”

A big part of getting people more involved is being as visible as possible, Abel continued. A mayor should stand as the symbol of his or her city, she said, and should make a priority of involving people, empowering neighborhoods and actively recruiting volunteers. Volunteers can be a life-force behind city revitalization, Abel said, but you have to find them first.

The truth is, Abel pointed out, most people are already excited about their community and wouldn’t need much encouragement to pitch in and help make it even better. She referred to a survey circulated by the city some time ago in which most respondents said the best thing they liked about Port Orchard was its small-town feel.

“Everyone I’ve talked to tells me how much they like their neighbors and the people in their neighborhoods,” Abel said.

Nevertheless, she said preserving Port Orchard’s hominess is going to take some work over the next few years. With the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge being built and new residents pouring into the South Kitsap area, Abel said Port Orchard is going to have to get smart about absorbing growth without sacrificing community.

She believes the best way to plan intelligently is invite individual neighborhoods to the planning table and find out what qualities are most important to people and what they might be willing to compromise on.

Although the position of mayor is technically part time — the job description only requires a commitment of approximately 20 hours a week, Abel said being a public official should always be viewed as a full-time responsibility. Apart from 20 hours a week of official business, Abel said the mayor should take an interest in city projects, drop in on the meetings of committees she or he appointed and serve as a community liaison for visitors and residents alike.

Someone who doesn’t have the time to reach out to his or her community and take and active involvement shouldn’t run for mayor, she said.

“They mayor speaks for Port Orchard,” she said. “When people who live in Port Orchard, when people who are visiting Port Orchard, run into the mayor, you want them to have a good experience. I think when you’re an elected official, you’re on duty 24-7.”

Kim Abel at a glance

*Born in 1969 in Indiana;

*BA in geography from the University of Washington in 1980;

*Law degree from Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College (Portland, Ore.) in 1983;

*Moved to Port Orchard in 1997.

Abel previously worked as an attorney for the Washington Public Power Supply System and just finished a three-year stint as president of the League of Women Voters of Kitsap County. She serves on the BKAT Advisory Board, the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Board and the South Kitsap Community Park Advisory Committee.

Abel is married to Bob Abel and has two children — 15-year-old Kellen and 12-year-old Riley. She serves as a parent volunteer and sometime committee member with the South Kitsap School District.

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