April 30, 2009 · Updated 1:29 PM
Candidates clash over growth and city's future
By Brian Beckley
With less than two weeks before primary day, the five Bonney Lake mayoral candidates gathered Sept. 7 in front of more than 120 people at Bonney Lake High School for their final debate before the field is narrowed to two.
All five candidates answered a series of questions regarding growth, parks, leadership styles, density, downtown and the city's future as well as a few fielded from the audience.
As in the previous forum, growth and infrastructure led off and dominated the discussion.
"We need to maintain what we have," said Councilman Neil Johnson, who answered first through a random draw of numbers. "Growth is not mandatory from a boundary standpoint."
Johnson said the city must stay within its urban growth area and said the city did not have as much control over water, sewer and traffic as many thought, saying he hoped to work with the state and develop water and sewer resources within the city.
Activist Dan Decker again emphasized the need for road improvements, as well as sidewalks in the city.
"I've watched our streets, our roads erode," he said.
Decker also criticized the mayor and council for signing a water deal with Tacoma Water and re-emphasized his belief that Bonney Lake needs as new water source.
"We do need to get another water supply because the water we're getting from Tacoma has fluoride in it," he said.
Councilman Jim Rackley said the council had taken care of water and sewer issues into the future with the Tacoma deal and the completion of a joint sewage treatment plant with Sumner, but said traffic concerns still plague the city.
Rackley also said the city has to study new ways to get on and off the Plateau and begin to limit some of the commercial growth.
"We're going to end up like South Hill if we have uncontrolled business growth," he said.
Mayor Bob Young said the Tacoma water deal was good for the city, but said in the future new sources, such as Lake Tapps, may need to be developed. Young also said the city was working on difficult traffic problems, such as the South Prairie Road and state Route 410 intersection. He also said that as the city grows, new sewer and water lines through Eastown would be built.
"Development is paying their way," he said.
Planning Commissioner and community activist Quinn Dahlstrom said she would rather have seen the sewage plant built in Bonney Lake and criticized the administration, saying the city has been so busy meeting the needs of developers it was not doing proper planning. She also said she planned to work with planning and public works to better address traffic problems.
"The congestion in this city is the worst it's ever been," she said.
On the topic of parks, the candidates agreed the city needs to acquire more parkland, though most of the candidates stayed away from exactly how to pay for it.
Only Johnson said he supported park impact fees for developers, though Dahlstrom said she supported the park board plan, which included the fees. Just last week, the council voted to override a mayor's veto of the impact fee ordinance. Rackley abstained from the vote.
Rackley and Young reminded voters of their opposition to the condemnation of the Schuur Brothers property based on the potential cost of the land while Decker, Dahlstrom and Johnson all reiterated their support for the decision.
"Whenever you can acquire open space it's a benefit to the city of Bonney Lake," Johnson said adding, "We've been playing catch up in this city far too long."
Rackley said cost was the only reason he voted against the condemnation and reiterated his stand against acquiring land "at any cost."
On the topic of management style and budget issues, Young found himself on the defensive. Young is often criticized for a seemingly high rate of turnover in the city and his seeming unwillingness to spend money appropriated by the city council.
"I manage by objective," Young said, adding that while he keeps a close eye on the city's money, the budget process is an open one. Young also pointed out the growth in staff since he took office and said the city has hired excellent people such as Planning Director Bob Leedy and Public Works Director Dan Grigsby.
"I hold a high standard," he said, adding that benefits and wages in the city rank among the highest in the state and that employees must manage their departments well. "If not, maybe they're not in the right place."
Rackley emphasized an "open and supportive" management style and said he would encourage department heads to talk with the council, something Young discourages, preferring they go through him. He also said giving more authority back to department heads would keep them happier.
Dahlstrom agreed that the department heads should be encouraged to communicate with the council.
"Members of the council are policy makers and must be informed," she said.
Johnson said he ran for council four years ago to try to bring a more team atmosphere to the body. He reiterated that nothing would be kept from the council and said his biggest frustration, as a council member was an inability to get all the information he needed to make decisions.
"We need to allow the employees and opportunity to succeed," he said.
On budget matters, both Johnson and Decker said the mayor should spend the money allocated by the council.
"The monies are allocated for a reason," Johnson said, citing several unfilled position, programs and items such as a street sweeper.
"Money would be spent, not held up like it is today." Decker said of his administration.
On the topic of the city's downtown plan and a place in it for a new City Hall, the candidates split again. While all of the candidates said they supported the downtown plan, there were differences.
"There's five of us up here and seven opinions," Young joked.
Young called a new city hall "much needed" and said the land purchased near Target in the Midtown section of the city was a "more reasonable place" than downtown, which could be anchored by a civic building such as an auditorium or Senior Center.
Rackley said he does not foresee the city building a new city hall in the near future, but said the downtown plan was "crucial for development" of the city.
Decker said he believed the city hall should be part of a downtown, but also said his was "one vote among thousands" and should be decided by voters.
Dahlstrom said the main focus should be downtown and criticized the mayor for not buying property in the area as soon as it becomes available. She also said she was not against a new city hall, provided it was built downtown.
Johnson said he supported the purchase of the Corliss property in hopes a community recreation center would also be built. The voters rejected a $5 million bond to build a recreation center in 2004. He also said the city needs to "commit" to a downtown plan move forward.
"If we stay dedicated and focused, we can get these things done, but it starts at the top," he said.
All of the candidates said they felt forced by the Puget Sound Growth Management Board to increase density within the city and agreed that the best place to do so was along SR410 and that would require careful planning in the future.
"Planning is the key to surviving the GMA," Rackley said.
For the final official question of the night, the candidates were asked what was right in Bonney Lake and what direction they would take the city.
Johnson said he saw a "lot of hope" in the city and said he had a vision of city with a "walkable, vibrant downtown", open spaces and parks, with a farmer's market and large civic area.
Decker said despite all the growth, people in Bonney Lake still wave back when he's driving, showing its strength.
"It's still a community," he said.
Rackley also said he could see a future with a walkable downtown and many sports and activities.
"This is a good city and it works, but it sure could be run better," he said.
Young said the city's finances were good and the new high school further adds to the sense of community that is building in Bonney Lake.
"People are looking to come here from all over," he said.
Dahlstrom said her vision includes a "city designed by our citizens" where the environment and views are protected.
In their closing statements, each candidate reiterated their campaign themes.
"I like living in Bonney Lake," Rackley said. "I want to keep it a place I want to continue to live in. That's my whole goal."
Decker promised once again not to "micromanage" the staff and said he would do his best to stop sprawl as well as focus on roads.
Young once again defended his record over the past eight years, praised the city staff and work to further invest in infrastructure.
Dahlstrom said she entered the campaign because she loves the city and urged voters to choose her, an "outsider."
"This is our city, this is our government," she said. "It's time for a change."
Johnson reminded voters he "fought hard" for impact fees and said his experience, as a coach would help bring City Hall staff together.
"Right or wrong, we need a mayor who is going to bring people together," he said. "After eight years, the city needs a change and I want to be that change."
The primary election is Tuesday. The top two vote getters will move on to the Nov. 8 general election.
Brian Beckley can be reached at email@example.com.