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Black Diamond election pivotal for future

About 50 citizens turned out Monday night to hear from those hoping to shape Black Diamond government for the next four years.

The current election season is of perhaps unparalleled importance in the small, historic community. Black Diamond has experienced its ups and downs as a one-time mining town, but now stands on the cusp of a monumental growth spurt, due to ongoing plans by the YarrowBay company. YarrowBay’s plans for two major housing developments in town would, if carried out, add thousands of homes, bring new demands and provide new opportunities.

Taking part in Monday’s session at Black Diamond Elementary School were longtime Mayor Howard Botts and challenger Rebecca Olness; Councilman Geoff Bowie and challenger Craig Goodwin and political newcomers Jim Kuzaro and William Saas who are campaigning for an upcoming council vacancy.

In response to a question asked by Kathy Jorgensen of the League of Women Voters, all six agreed that development must not come at the expense of current residents. “Development must pay for development” was the dominant theme for the night.

Mayor’s race

Botts is the familiar face, a lifelong resident who has been involved in community service for four decades and sat in the mayor’s chair for six terms.

He’s running on a stay-the-course platform.

City leaders determined a vision for their small town 20 years ago, Botts said, “and that vision must come to pass. His goal is to see that citizens “continue to enjoy the small-town feeling we have in this town.”

In response to other questions, Botts said the existing city services, primarily the water supply, are adequate to handle anticipated growth and that the city and YarrowBay are working cooperatively with the Enumclaw School District to address future school needs.

The ongoing economic downturn has been tough on the town, Botts said, noting that under his guidance there have been cost-cutting measures implemented like furlough time for city workers and a wage reduction in the police department. His plan is to offer no cost-of-living adjustments to employees next year.

Asked about any challenges facing his candidacy, Botts agreed it could be his age. But he took the opportunity to dash rumors that “I’m 83 and in poor health.” Botts said he’s 78 and in good health.

Looking to the future, Botts said he hopes Black Diamond will evolve into a “well-planned community” where citizens enjoy life and find it easy to get around.

Finishing her first term on the Black Diamond City Council, Olness now has her eye on the city’s top office. A Lake Sawyer resident, she’s a former educator who is now a student, taking courses in effective local government through the Association of Washington Cities.

During her closing statement, Olness maintained the city needs change to meet the coming demands. “This is a time for new ideas and leadership,” she said, noting that she has the support of “every member of the council” in her mayor bid.

One of her first priorities, if elected, would be to work with the city’s economic development director on a plan to bring a grocery store to town. It will be tough for the town to stand on its own until basic offering like groceries and a pharmacy are available to the public, she said.

Looking at the possibility of courting other businesses, Olness said she’s “not a fan of big-box stores.”

When it comes to balancing the municipal budget, she said, “We must be fiscally conservative without sacrificing public safety.”

Addressing possible pitfalls to her candidacy, Olness sought to dispel rumors that she has allied herself with YarrowBay. “I have not been wined and dined” by the developer, she said, noting that she has collected about $1,000 in campaign contributions, none from YarrowBay.

City Council Position No. 2

Bowie is a fifth-generation resident of Black Diamond and three-term council incumbent who previously served on the local Planning Commission and was a fire department volunteer.

He is seeking another four years in office because “there are some things left unfinished.”

With an eye to the future, he hopes residents 20 years from now will be able to look back and say “those folks got it right.”

In the only contentious moment of the evening, Bowie questioned his challenger’s motive, suggesting there has been an organized effort to get him removed from office “and there was no other viable candidate.”

Goodwin didn’t have a chance to respond, as Bowie’s statement came during closing comments.

Goodwin had told the audience he is running because his work experiences are a good match for a small community in transition. He has worked on many “master planned communities” throughout the nation, he said, and understanding things on a local level, currently serving on the Black Diamond Planning Commission.

Goodwin said the community needs to embrace growth, not fight it, and cited a small handful of guiding principles: development must pay its own way, a community vision needs to be managed and there must be greater opportunities for public involvement in the process, he said.

City Council Position No. 4

Saas and Kuzaro are hoping to fill the position being vacated by Olness as she runs for mayor.

Kuzaro immediately addressed one of the issues being grumbled about in town, noting that his daughter is an attorney for YarrowBay. But that relationship, he said, would not impact his decision-making process.

Instead, Kuzaro said he is running because he’s lived in town all his life, has served on the Planning Commission and wants “to have some say in how thing happen.”

As a landscape contractor and designer, he has worked on some major projects and has seen first-hand how proper planning can aid in development.

Saas, who is studying to become a pastor, first became involved in city issues when the giant Nestle company inquired about purchasing city water; he was involved in the effort to keep the company out of Black Diamond.

Further, attending events at the elementary school “stirred a passion in me to do what I can,” Saas said, noting that has no hidden agenda.

His hope for the future is that Black Diamond can be viewed as “a place of peace and tranquility.”

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