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Wise, Reynolds square off in Enumclaw mayoral race
Enumclaw’s immediate future will be shaped over the course of the next four weeks, as voters decide who will occupy the highest rung on the ladder of city government.
Will it be four more years of John Wise, who is completing his second term in office and aspires for an even dozen years at the helm? Or will it be Liz Reynolds, who is finishing her first term as a member of the Enumclaw City Council and wants to claim the top job?
The King County Elections Department will be issuing ballots Oct. 14 – the election is entirely by mail – and Nov. 3 is the final day ballots can be turned in.
In seeking to oust Wise from the mayor’s office, Reynolds has taken an aggressive stance.
“It comes down to trust,” she said during an interview last week. “Taxpayers, citizens...everyone wants to feel they have someone they can trust.” And she’s the one who can meet the public’s lofty expectations, Reynolds said.
She quickly points to the schism that seems to have developed between city administration and the seven-member City Council. “There is a divide,” she said, pointing to the fact that four sitting council members have endorsed her candidacy, along with former council members and the city’s firefighters and police officers.
“I didn’t go to these people, they came to me,” Reynolds said. “I am humbled by their support. I feel honored.”
Reynolds has taken issue with Wise on a number of issues.
She was first critical in 2008 when the giant Nestle corporation came to town, hoping to pull spring water destined for the city system and build a bottling plant here.
“I was shocked that we weren’t in the loop from the get-go,” she said. “I was mad. If we aren’t getting all the information in a timely manner, how can I make an informed decision.”
Wise noted at the time that city administration had ongoing talks with Nestle before council was informed of the company’s desires.
Reynolds was further irritated when news broke that the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission was initiating action against Enumclaw that could have resulted in fines up to $11 million.
The situation is being resolved and fines are unlikely, but Reynolds took exception to being blindsided by the news.
As a member of the council, she said, “I shouldn’t find out driving through a parking lot that the city is being sued for $11 million.” A citizen flagged her down to ask about the UTC action, Reynolds said, and that was how she learned of the growing troubles between the city and the state agency.
“I was shocked,” she said, to learn the issue had been smoldering for years but never brought to council’s attention.
Reynolds also points to a dispute early this year between the local chamber of commerce and the city administration as indication of a mayor’s office headed in the wrong direction.
“Where’s the oversight and accountability?” she asks.
Looking to the city’s future, Reynolds believes Wise has led citizens down the wrong path.
As a general statement, she complains that the administration has too many irons in the fire without stopping to get focused and get things done.
“We’re a mile wide and an inch deep,” she insists.
To highlight her concerns, Reynolds points to an equestrian-based tourism effort that currently has no financial backing and a long-planned Welcome Center that has sparked new questions about funding.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned through this tough economy it’s to diversify,” she said, quickly admitting that she voted to adopt the equestrian theme for Enumclaw.
But at the time, she said, Wise was promising that the local equestrian community would support the plan with their checkbooks. That simply hasn’t happened, she said.
“You can’t put all your apples in one basket,” she maintains. “The horse aspect will never break even.”
Where Wise wants Enumclaw to be a destination for horse enthusiasts and others, Reynolds would prefer that the city attempt to capitalize on existing resources like Mount Rainier, the six-plex ball fields and a downtown that could hold historic significance.
“Do we need to be a destination?” she asks, noting that 3 millions cars head to Mount Rainier annually. If the city could get people to stop and spend a few dollars, it would do wonders for the local economy, she said.
Pointing to the millions of dollars required to build out the Enumclaw Expo Center according to a consultant’s plans, Reynolds said the city should back away.
“I’m not willing to risk the financial well-being of the community on such a high-risk facility,” she said. “We need to market what we have. We don’t need to create something.”
A full build-out of the Expo Center plan carries a price tag in excess of $30 million.
If the city somehow landed that type of money, Reynolds wouldn’t spend it on arenas or anything else at the Expo Center.
“If I were able to raise or had $32 million, or anywhere close, I would pay off or pay down the sewer treatment plant and lessen the financial impact to the citizens,” she said. The city plant at least tripled in price from the time it was conceived until it went into operation this year, a fact partially responsible for a recent 55 percent increase in city sewer bills.
Reynolds has lived in Enumclaw for 10 years. She owns Out of the Fire Studio and The Traveling Chef, both based in Enumclaw, and has been an active member of the city arts scene and the local chamber of commerce.
In seeking re-election, Wise points to his track record, to the valuable relationships he has forged during his eight years in office and to the work he has done throughout the region to bolster Enumclaw’s image.
Now, with plans for several projects in the pipeline, he wants to stick around to see everything to fruition.
For example, the long-awaited Welcome Center is on schedule for 2010 construction, Wise said, and King County has tentatively planned to provide money to extend the Foothills Trail south from Enumclaw. The trail has long been one of the mayor’s pet projects and the current paved stretch was accomplished under his watch.
The golf course and swimming pool were both county facilities prior to his tenure, Wise said, and each has become successful since the city took ownership. The golf course is in need of work, he said, an item that would be on his priority list if re-elected.
Wise also hopes to keep his hand in the effort to see the Pete’s Pool football field replaced with a modern facility, including additional grandstands. He has been a driving force behind Your Enumclaw Area Stadium, known as the YEAS committee.
Wise has also longed for a combined senior/youth center, and would like to see a public-private partnership formed to accomplish the task. He says it’s something he would continue to work on during the next four years.
As for the Welcome Center, Wise said it will happen during the coming year thanks to the city’s efforts to secure outside funding.
The city’s biggest acquisition in recent years was the former King County Fairgrounds, since renamed the Enumclaw Expo Center. And it’s that facility that Wise sees as the centerpiece to a bright Enumclaw future.
He calls the Expo Center “the economic development engine of the community” and is convinced the city can reap huge rewards from the facility. He is quick to remind that the center is earmarked as a multi-use facility, noting his goal that it be used to the tune of about 40 percent equestrian. The next step in the Expo Center development, he hopes, is to get the rodeo grounds and adjacent riding arena covered with a “soft shell.” That move would be a hit in the equestrian community, he said, and allow for other uses as well.
Wise emphasizes that he has the time, energy and vision necessary to keep Enumclaw an important player in regional politics.
“I go to outside meetings and work on regional policy issues,” Wise said. “Leaderships means being able to build those relationships and make things happen. I’m proud I’ve been able to do that for Enumclaw.”
Lately, Wise has been working with the Puget Sound Regional Council on issues crucial to communities like Enumclaw.
“Rural, small cities just don’t get heard,” he said, adding that he’s lobbying to get one of the organization’s meetings slated for Enumclaw, probably in May.
“We’re just trying to keep Enumclaw on the map, being a leader,” he said.
When it comes to regional views, Wise proudly points out that others have told him Enumclaw appears poised for success.
“They think our economic development plans are fantastic,” he said of the regional experts who track local economies. “They think we’re on the right track.”
Wise hopes tourist dollars can be the foundation upon which a strong local economy is built.
“We need to keep taxes down and increase the number of jobs, so people can live here and work here,” he said.
It has been a busy two terms, Wise said, and the future should be exciting.
“It’s just amazing,” he said, to ponder the issues tackled during his eight years in office. He’s proud of the job the city did when it agreed to put on the 2009 King County Fair with a limited budget and short timeframe.
Wise was instrumental in rallying support for continued county funding of the fair, which made the venture possible, and co-chaired a committee that studied various fair models and offered recommendations for the local attraction.
Wise speaks proudly of the relatonships he’s forged and points that people in all levels of government have endorsed his bid for re-election. Included are names from the state Legislature, county government and other regional entities. “These are the people who get things done,” he said.
The city, under his leadership, has grown “lean and mean,” Wise said, pointing out that Enumclaw now has 130 employees – just as it did eight years ago when he first took office.
Wise has been a resident of the Enumclaw area for 27 years, first residing in the rural area north of town where he was active in the Westwood Elementary Parent Teacher Association. He is a retired airline pilot, having worked for Alaska Airlines for 34 years before calling it a career in 2001.