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Buckley candidates make their pitches to voters

With less than two weeks left before election day, all candidates for Buckley’s mayor and city council seats have provided answers to a Courier-Herald election questionnaire about why they’re running. We’ve summarized them below, along with bios for each candidate taken from the election voter guide produced by Pierce County.

Each candidate’s full response is attached to the bottom of this article.

Mayor of Buckley

Current mayor Pat Johnson has been in office since 2006, and will finish her fourth and final term this year. So in this marquee race, whoever wins will have the chance to determine a new vision for the city.

Beau Burkett is a former city council member and chairman of the city’s Transportation and Utilities committee and of the Local 77 IBEW unit. He is currently a senior heavy equipment operator for Seattle Public Utilities and has worked as a heavy truck and equipment operator for nearly 30 years. He’s also volunteered as a red card wildland firefighter and has served on the Buckley Log Show committee and the Pierce County search and rescue team.

Richard O’Neill is a current Buckley Planning Commissioner and a member of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Committee. He’s a former West Hill Neighborhood Action Committee Member and has more than 30 years experience as a facility director, writing budgets, contracts and hiring and firing staff members. He currently volunteers as a Buckley Chamber of Commerce member and was a former local National Night Out coordinator.

Burkett said he’s running to be a voice for the people of Buckley and to make sure they’re informed when city projects could affect them. He said he wants to “make every effort” to assist the growth of the downtown sector and solicit public participation in that process.

“The last time I looked at the projected population growth with no accepted urban growth expansion to date, the city would have a maximum population of around 8,600 people,” he wrote. “I want to see controlled growth as the City moves towards this process of building out.”

And Burkett pledged to “devote himself” to making sure Buckley remains a great place to live, raise a family, work and play. Growth is inevitable, he said, but it can and must be managed.

To that end, he’d work to have emergency and public works services funded at the right level to balance high levels of service with fiscal responsibility, and he’d look for opportunities to provide programs for youth and seniors.

Burkett said his passion for the city, lifelong residency and prior five years on city council set him apart from O’Neill.

“I feel it’s extremely important that the City Council and Mayor work together, however the authorities of these two divisions differ greatly and should never cross,” he wrote. “The Mayor has administrative authority. The Council moves the City forward, has a vision that is supposed to be in the best interest of the City and its citizens.”

O’Neill, meanwhile, says the City needs a mayor who will listen to all of its citizens, and is running on a mission to make the city more accountable.

“There is a real sense of disconnect with a lot of the people in Buckley with the government,” he wrote. “I have heard numerous times about people having issues and trying to get help but never getting a response from the government. It’s time to break the chain of just a few families running our City and reaping the benefits. Buckley needs a change from the status quo to truly be a City for all the people.”

O’Neill said he’ll have more time than Burkett to address the city’s challenges, and with more than three decades in management, he’ll have the skills, too. He said he’d be more accountable to the public than Burkett.

O’Neill also pledged to let all city department heads know that failing to respond to citizen questions and concerns “will not be acceptable.”

“I will institute an informal and regular get together with myself and other government officials around town (coffee shops, Senior Center, etc.) so everyone can feel comfortable voicing their concerns and get results,” he wrote. “I would also be more involved with the Chamber of Commerce and all of our local businesses to make sure they have every opportunity to thrive in Buckley and to attract more good retail shops to our downtown core. We need to be smart with any growth to maintain our small town beauty.”

Buckley City Council Pos. 1

Running for Council Position No. 1 this year is incumbent Ron Smith and challenger Sean Wilson.

Smith is a retired Seattle Police Sergeant, who served for 10 years on the Seattle Police Officers Guild Board of Directors and was elected for two terms as President of the Council of Metropolitan Police/Sheriffs.

Wilson has worked at Costco Wholesale since 2016, the last three of those years as a benefits coordinator with the company’s corporate office. Previously, he was a staff member at the Rainier School.

Smith’s campaign is focused on maintaining public safety in Buckley.

“Buckley is growing and there needs to be a keen eye toward retaining the police officers we have, recruiting new ones and potentially adding additional staff to meet the demands of a growing community,” he wrote.

Smith also wants more recreational activities for both local residents and visitors to the small town by expanding access to city parks and “expanding the entertainment experience westward toward the Foothills trail.”

Wilson said his focus is on revitalizing the downtown corridor, especially in light of the last two years.

One thing he would do differently than his opponent is work to “create more opportunities for community involvement,” Wilson wrote, including trying to start a farmer’s market. “We have so many young families in Buckley, I would love to create more opportunities to get them involved.”

Buckley City Council Pos. 2

Challenger Mackenzie Breeden’s professional experience includes being an elementary school teacher at the White River School District and coach for the high school girl’s soccer team. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, food banks and clean-up projects across multiple communities.

Incumbent council member Connie Bender has experience as an office supervisor and bookkeeper for a family owned manufacturing company and as a manager at a local nursery. She’s volunteered for an equine rescue organization and an assistant coach for youth sports.

The most important issue to Bender is Buckley’s growth.

“There is not an unlimited supply of land and our community does not want all blacktop and concrete,” she wrote. People move to Buckley for the small-town atmosphere, open space and wildlife, but “if we are not careful then before we know it, all will all be gone,” she continued.

“Yes, we need development but it must be done in a way that keeps Buckley a vibrant community where people want to live and enjoy their homes,” she wrote.

Breeden said her primary objective is increasing youth involvement in the community. Getting young people excited about growing up and sticking around in Buckley will help the community thrive, she said.

Breeden’s other goals include bringing in new businesses, creating community events in partnership with downtown businesses, and working with state and other transportation partners to address traffic concerns.

Breeden also promised to follow up on issues with citizens who want to stay informed, and said the council should be more accessible in general.

“One of the biggest issues I see, as someone who is active in the community, is that I have never truly interacted with members of the city council,” she wrote. “I understand meetings are open to the public, but council members should be more accessible outside of these meetings too. Interacting with the public in informal settings will give me a better opportunity to connect with and understand the needs of our community.”

The city must better maintain its supply of neighborhood parks, bring in more revenue-generating businesses, and ensure the survival of local wildlife as development continues, Bender said. If elected, she said she’ll continue listening to citizens’ concerns and comments.

Buckley City Council Pos. 3

Maureen Sundstrom and Kenny Arsanto are on the ballot for Council Position No. 3.

Sundstrom has practiced law for the last twenty years and has volunteered as an employee review board member, secretary of a PTA board and as a referee and mentor for the American Youth Soccer Organization. Arsanto has worked with the city Parks and Water utilities departments and currently is a superintendent for Fenix Earthworks.

Sundstrom said fair representation is her guiding principle: “It shouldn’t matter where one lives in town, nor whom one knows. Every single person in Buckley deserves a fair chance to be heard, to live freely, and to know that their council member has their best interest in mind.”

Arsanto had a similar goal in mind: “Transparency.”

“I have attended several council meetings where council members are not completely informed on topics listed on the agenda,” he wrote. “They have a basic understanding but not details or facts. Too often this ends in the topic being moved to a study session rather than continuing the discussion at the council meeting.”

The council could save time by starting with work-study sessions and then moving to council meetings, he said. And communication with the public could be improved.

The City lacks accountability, Sundstrom said. Between properly placed campaign signs which went missing or stolen, and concerns being raised during city council meetings about money moving between city projects, “such things certainly leave one wondering what the heck is going on,” Sundstrom said.

Downtown Buckley lacks a unified appearance and vision and needs a coherent building / development plan to draw in more revenue, Sundstrom said.

And fiscal responsibility “must be addressed,” she said, including a review of taxes and expenditures: “We are a small town being taxed like a big one. Residents are struggling.”

“My sole interest in running for office is to revive Buckley,” she said. “I want to see Buckley as the amazing small booming town that it was. More importantly, I believe that is what people of Buckley want!”

Arsanto said he’s comfortable with growth and development as long as it remains within the current zoning codes, and doesn’t force the city to shoulder additional costs. And “it’s time” to be persistent with the state that the bottleneck traffic over state Route 410 be fixed.

Finally, he said he’d ask questions, be available to the public, and vote only when he has all the facts in front of him.

“I think the City Council as a whole, wants to do right by their citizens,” he said. “There have been a couple of situations where the council didn’t have all the facts to make an informed decision. This is where we can do better. We need to do better for the citizens.”

Buckley City Council Pos. 7

Challenger Donovan Colt Torp has experience as the general manager of a local recycling and scrap metal operation and dispatch supervisor of a transportation company with a force of more than 60 drivers. He is currently a UPS driver and has volunteered at various relief missions including the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Brandon Green, the incumbent, has spent six years in the insurance industry and is a former security professional. He is also a United States Marine Corps Reserve Veteran. His community service includes volunteering as a firefighter/EMT at the Buckley Fire Department.

Green said his motivation to retain the seat is making Buckley’s economy thrive.

“Our city has so much potential, however, vacant storefronts remain on Main Street, and there is an overwhelming desire by the community to see new businesses pop-up for our citizens to enjoy!”

Working with the council to distribute federal relief funds has been a “great start” but there is more work to be done, Green said.

Green also pegged community safety, government transparency and supporting the police and fire departments as key areas to address in the city.

“Buckley is known for excellence in emergency services, and I want to see our Police and Fire not only continue their high level of service, but also ensure that these departments are prepared for future challenges.

Torp, meanwhile, said his focus would be on learning about the concerns of the citizens of Buckley, “doing everything we can” to promote, establish and keep Main Street businesses, and working with the State Department of Transportation to accommodate growth and expansion on Highway 410.

Green’s done a fine job, he said, and he would seek to emulate that work. Between a new mayor and the potential for many new faces on the city council next year, Torp said he’d want to work on developing solid communication between all parties.

Green said the City could improve its communications, such as through more active use of social media. He also wants more civic engagement and said “nothing makes for a better Council meeting than a full room and honest dialogue with those who elected us to serve!”

He’ll continue working for safety, a vibrant economy and transparency if retained, Green said.

Buckley Mayor, Council Answ… by Alex Bruell


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