Chamber members had a chance to hear from five of the six City Council candidates during the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce’s candidates forum held Oct. 10 at the Port Orchard Pavilion.
Attending the forum was incumbent Councilman At Large Jerry Childs, who is running against newcomer Eric Gonnason; along with Bek Ashby and Kim Punt, who are running for the Position 2 seat held by Carolyn Powers. Powers is retiring from the council this year. Also, incumbent Councilman Rob Putannsuu attended the forum. He is running unopposed for the Position 3 seat, as is Councilman Fred Chang, who is running unopposed for the Position 6 post.
Chang was unable to attend the forum.
After each candidate gave a two-minute opening speech, they were allowed four minutes each to answer two questions selected by the Chamber. Port Orchard Independent Publisher Sean McDonald moderated the forum, while Chamber Executive Director Christine Daniel served as timekeeper.
Q. What is your top priority for the City of Port Orchard and why?
Ashby: My top priority would be to bring back credibility to the city council and bring more citizens input and transparency to the process. We have a process where citizens are allowed to speak at each council meeting. They are allowed to attend council committee meetings and work-study session, but not allowed input. I would like to see the current system restructured to allow more input, transparency and openness with our city government.
Childs: A top priority for me is infrastructure. It’s streets, the water system, Well No. 10 and other things. Also, the Tremont Improvement Project that we have to undertake or payback money and the Bethel Corridor, which will take millions of dollars. I think we can do it. I think the city is on the verge of greatness. The energy and people’s visions are improved and the council is energized. When I look at the waterfront, I see great things. The pressing needs are something we will take care of.
Gonnason: There is a job to be done here. The opportunity already exists with vacant storefronts and office space in downtown. I’ve been told it’s been this way for a long time and it wasn’t caused from the Recession of 2008. The people who sit on the council are the people with their fingers on the pulse of the life of downtown. Downtown is the heart and soul of the city. He also suggested the city get a brand or logo for marketing and bring in large ships to attract people.
Punt: My biggest priority would be economic development. If we have healthy businesses, we can solve our budgetary problems and be able to do the projects needed to make the city a tourist destination. We have to work with our business and our corridor to make the city a vibrant place. We can make it a greater city.
Putannsuu: The most important thing — short time — is the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway. It has created so much energy. If we can get it completed it will help revitalize our downtown and make if more walkable and provide customers to business.That is my biggest short-time priority.
Q: What is the greatest challenge you see to growth and jobs in Port Orchard and what is the role of the City Council in promoting growth?
Ashby: Our economic growth is going and needs to happen along the Bethel Corridor and along the Pottery-Sidney Corridor. The city needs to start doing planning in those areas right now. Bethel needs a new traffic plan. We are not going to see development by investors until they know what the traffic plan is going to look like. There is a lot that has to happen over the next few years before we can start thinking about development. That is where our job growth is going to happen. It’s incumbent on the city council to provide business services in our city so we do not have to travel out of our city and support someone else’s sales tax revenue source.
Childs: Growth and jobs go hand in hand with economic development. The council’s responsibility is to enable and provide the environment for success. Our business people have come to us individually or to council meetings and have complained or asked for things to be changed. I’ve suggested in our Economic Development and Tourism Committee, that we catalog all businesses in the city to assess and see what business we do not have in the city. We can put together a marketing plan and go out and find business to bring to Port Orchard. I am about promoting the city.
Gonnason: The burden that is placed on the businesses in this town is unconscionable. The environment which establishments have been forced out of business by high taxation or by over-regulation is the responsibility of the city council and the mayor. Someone needs to take responsibility. There is so many places that are not operating and not producing revenue, interest or excitement. Someone has to take responsibility for it. I far as I am concerned, a good part of the city council should be fired.
Punt: Our city is going to grow whether we do it with annexation or everyday life. We have to learn how to manage that growth and to facilitate the best parts of that growth. We need to work with business, and facilitate the conversations and efforts needed to help them grow or expand to add jobs. The council’s role is really facilitating, not doing. Council cannot do all the actions that it needs the businesses to do. The council needs to help them get through the process and make it easier to grow.
Putaansuu: One thing we have to recognize, is that the city council are the “policy side of the house.” We’re setting policies and it is the mayor’s office who runs the day-to-day operations. Our role should be to provide infrastructure and zoning so when someone wants to develop a piece of property to open a new business that we are not an impediment to that process. We need to have the infrastructure, the roads and proper zoning so a business can thrive. That is how we are going to create jobs. It’s not the city redeveloping Los Cabos and we shouldn’t be using tax dollars to redevelop a piece of property. It is providing the infrastructure so that a business person can be successful so that our economy can thrive.
During closing comments, each candidate had two minutes.
Putaansuu said it was important to be part of the forum.
“I want to see the pedestrian pathway that we started finished,” he said. “I want to see McCormick Village Park built and I think it is important to our community and citizens in the west end of town.”
He said the design for the Tremont Improvement Project is complete, but it needs funding. Bethel Corridor Project is important, but needs about $300,000 of repairs for the next 5-7 years of use, Putaansuu added.
Ashby said her website is a way the voters can learn about her and her views on the issues.
She urged people to visit her website and email her questions.
Gonnason said he rides his bike around town and that road improvements are needed.
“The heart and soul of a town is its downtown,” he said.
Punt said she is passionate about the city and that her business experience and community involvement makes her a good choice for the council.
“I do not have all the answers, but I know about how to get those answers,” Punt added.
Childs said he’s about solutions.
“When you think something should be done or have an idea, it’s about rolling up your sleeves and doing something about it,” Childs said. “I’m an advocate for the town and I’m positive about the town.”