Growth, public input key race for mayor

“Proven leadership” versus “it’s time for a change” — the campaign slogans really say it all in this year’s faceoff for the Port Orchard Mayor’s seat.

On one side of the fence, 20-year incumbent Jay Weatherill maintains the city is headed for success, but only if he is allowed to retain his role as shepherd of growth.

On the other side, challenger Kim Abel says the city is headed lots of places, but has forgotten about the most important thing — the voice of its public.

Slogans aside, the two candidates do agree that Port Orchard is poised on the brink of major growth. Where they disagree is on how best to move towards that growth. Weatherill emphasizes current and past partnerships with other agencies; Abel emphasizes direct contact with Port Orchard’s citizens.

One of the primary planks in her platform is the growing disconnect between public opinion and city policy.

“I know a lot of folks say people have the opportunity to come before the city, but a lot of them don’t really know how,” Abel said. “(While campaigning) I’ve heard so many wonderful ideas, but you have to develop that process so they have a place to be heard.”

She favors overhauling the city’s communications systems so residents can track the City Council on-line via an advanced, frequently updated website, watch the council meeting re-broadcast on cable-access television and leave after-hours messages for elected officials via City Hall.

Weatherill believes much of the work for the city’s future has already been done behind the scenes, using a vast network of partnerships he helped create and maintain. He pointed out that any change takes time, and just because progress isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t taking place.

“I’ve worked very hard with the council to make sure we’re ready for the future,” Weatherill said. “Things are moving along but ... government does not move fast.”

He said the key to governing effectively is to try and make as many people happy as possible while understanding no decision is going to make everybody happy.

Weatherill said he wants to focus on “old town” Port Orchard but also work to establish economic centers elsewhere in the city. He said spreading out commercial development is “a wonderful way to do things” that is also made necessary by the city’s layout.

“The topography of downtown does not lend itself well to expansion,” Weatherill said. “(However) it’s a part of our history and it certainly needs to remain intact and in good repair.”

Abel also wants to focus on downtown, but sees revitalization in a slightly different light.

She wants to emphasize the recreational opportunities presented by the waterfront by creating a bike/walking trail that would run from Tweten’s Lighthouse Restaurant and the old Beachcomber site and be bordered by parkland and possibly attractive mixed-use development. Abel also wants to encourage recreation-type retailers to set up and teach people how to use their equipment. She envisions sailing, kayaking and other types of classes — anything that would draw people in and get them out enjoying themselves.

Abel said Port Orchard already draws recreational bicyclists from all over and wants to find out what the attraction is so the city can work to enhance it.

“That’s what I’ll do — find out what people think is missing and go after that,” she said.

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