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Enumclaw mayoral candidates square off in debate
Verbal punches flew the evening of Oct. 13 when mayoral challengers John Wise and Liz Reynolds squared off for a formal debate at Enumclaw High School.
And while neither landed a knockout blow, the jabs often found their mark.
The event brought together incumbent Wise, who is asking voters for a third four-year term in office, and Reynolds, who is completing her first term on the Enumclaw City Council. After responding to a series of questions posed by The Courier-Herald, the candidates tackled questions from an audience of about 200.
Reynolds quickly went on the offensive, using her opening statement to tell voters the city needs a leader who is “responsive, transparent and accountable.” It was a theme she hammered home throughout the evening, often criticizing the Wise administration for decisions made and directions taken.
Wise, taking his three minutes to open the debate, said a lot has been accomplished during his eight years in office “and there’s a lot more to do.” He cited a decrease in crime, improved response times by the fire department a successful move to acquire the King County Fairgrounds as high points of his tenure.
It became clear throughout the evening that city voters will choose between two candidates with often divergent views who are not afraid to challenge the other. When Reynolds would lambaste a decision made by the Wise administration, for example, Wise would note that Reynolds has been on the council for four years, serves on key committees and could have made a difference.
Along those lines, the two clashed when asked about the level of communication that exists between the mayor’s office and members of the city council.
Reynolds said communication is poor and has caused problems in City Hall.
“When you start to lose trust, everything else goes along with it and you become an ineffective government,” she said.
She cited examples where the Wise administration has held onto information before sharing it with council, like the aborted effort by the Nestlé corporation to bring a bottling plant to town. When the city was threatened with fines by the Utilities and Transportation Commission, she heard it from a citizen, Reynolds said.
Wise countered that the lines of communication are just fine, and “it’s too bad some council members don’t take advantage of it.”
It’s not uncommon, he said, for the executive body of any organization to study a situation before taking information to the legislative branch.
It is a growing lack of trust in the administration, Reynolds said, that has prompted four members of the current city council to endorse her candidacy.
Wise countered that Reynolds has failed to drop by his office with an offer to help find solutions to the city’s troubles. “It’s easy to throw darts,” he said, but it’s preferable to sit down and talk over differences.
“That’s what grownups do,” he said.
Other highlights from the debate include the following.
• Comments about the wastewater treatment plant expansion, which escalated in cost to more than $30 million and helped bring about a recent 55 percent sewer rate increase.
Wise challenged the contention that the city was to blame for the delays and cost overrun. He also disputed the notion that the project went over budget, explaining that property acquisition and the cost of mitigating wetlands was not factored into the original budget.
"We tried to keep costs down as much as we could," he said, noting that the state's Department of Ecology dragged its feet at a time when material costs were skyrocketing.
Reynolds blamed the mayor for being "distracted and disconnected" during the construction phase, instead focusing on other initiatives.
"You moved on to another project and didn't stay focused," she told Wise.
Wise mentioned that Reynolds sits on a council committee that was kept abreast of the situation.
• Answers to the situation with the Utilities and Transportation Commission, which brought the threat of fines against the city but was resolved through a negotiated settlement regarding Enumclaw's natural gas distribution system.
"We should never have gotten to the point of a settlement," Reynolds maintained, contending that city administration kept the council in the dark about the ongoing problem with the UTC and 550 alleged violations.
"You're the mayor," she told Wise. "Take the responsibility."
Wise chided his challenger for making "totally erroneous" statements.
A letter arrived from the UTC and was directed to a department head, but never made it into council members' hands, Wise said, noting that he had previously apologized for the oversight. He added that part of the problem stemmed from a new UTC staffer who chosed to be "heavy handed" with the city.
Wise said the city is ahead of the schedule imposed for making upgrades to the system, reiterated his belief that residents were never at risk and maintained that the UTC settlement has not impacted rates.
• Their position on the city's adoption of an equestrian theme.
Reynolds admitted she voted for the theme, trusting that the administration had a workable plan.
"We believed in him and we followed through," Reynolds said, explaining that Wise maintained he had financial backing from the area's equestrian community.
Now, she's not so convinced.
"You can't keep going down the same road when it's the wrong road," she said.
"Again, she gets her facts mixed up," Wise countered, maintaining he has always said the Expo Center could support no more than 40 percent use by equestrians.
Wise told the audience local horse enthusiasts remain committed to supporting the project and explained his desire to see a $750,000, soft-top shell built over the rodeo arena.