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City council, mayor hopefuls face the public

Only a dozen or so people showed up at Givens Center Thursday night to see the first-ever debate that included all four candidates running for contested Port Orchard city seats.

Still, that didn’t stop the debate, organized by the Legaue of Women Voters, from getting a bit raucous — especially on hot-button issues like city regulations.

By far the most exciting matchup of the evening was between first-time candidate Ron Rice and incumbent city Councilman Bob Geiger, who has become semi-famous for his refusal to campaign in past election years. Rice and Geiger locked horns over numerous issues and finally had to be squashed by forum organizers when their exchanges over the complexity of the city’s legal code grew rather heated.

“We can’t enforce something unless we have a clear explanation of what we have to do,” Geiger said, addressing Rice’s concerns over thick ordinances Rice said are incomprehensible to the average person. “And to do that, you need words.”

“These laws are written in such minute detail you need to be a legal expert to tell what’s supposed to be done,” Rice countered, adding that he thought ordinance language should be “enabling” to citizens.

The big topics of the evening, however, mostly had to do with the future of Port Orchard’s growth and development as a community. The candidates — Rice and Geiger, and Kim Abel and Jay Weatherill — fielded questions probing their visions for the city and their plans to achieve those visions. Without exception, all four candidates said Port Orchard was a great place to live and should remain as such.

However, everyone seemed to have totally different ideas of the best way to preserve the city — and even improve it — while accommodating growth.

Both Rice and Abel talked at length about the need for public guidance when developing the city’s vision. However, Rice’s focus was on actively recruiting businesses and potential employers to come to the city while Abel’s was on working to improve the business districts Port Orchard already has.

“I think by default Port Orchard has become a bedroom community,” said Rice, who supports pursuing high-tech industries as local employment sources and perhaps even developing the area as a convention center.

Abel said the city needs to take a more active role in finding out what the needs of its business community are. She said the survey about the marquee that went out last year got very low response rate, but the city didn’t make any efforts to contact the non-respondents in person.

“I really think we really need to reach out to downtown business owners and find out what’s best for them,” Abel said.

Both Geiger and Weatherill emphasized all the growth planning the city has done up to this point. Weatherill, in most of his comments, said the city was ready for growth right now, that most of the work was already done.

“I believe we’ve been working toward the future for some time, but we haven’t realized it,” he said.

Geiger talked mostly about the city’s status as utility provider, and how that ties in to attracting new growth to the area. He said the major issues are to find sources of new water and find places to get rid of sewer waste, although he said at this time he wasn’t sure how those problems would be solved.

“Whether we like it or not, more and more people are going to come,” Geiger said.

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