Black Diamond candidate forum spotlights city’s future

YarrowBay, community unity, the city budget and the qualifications and knowledge of candidates were the themes at the Black Diamond City Council candidate forum July 16 hosted by the Maple Valley-Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce.

YarrowBay, community unity, the city budget and the qualifications and knowledge of candidates were the themes at the Black Diamond City Council candidate forum July 16 hosted by the Maple Valley-Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce.

The evening was divided into three sections with questions for the mayoral candidates, city council candidates, and questions from the audience.

YarrowBay quickly became the dominant theme of the forum, with questions surrounding the master planned developments which would include just over 6,000 new homes over the course of the project as well as commercial development and new schools.

For both mayoral and city council candidates the first round consisted of yes or no questions to which candidates held up green and red cards, respectively. Forum attendees also got to participate in this round, holding up their own green and red cards as well.

For the ensuing rounds of questions candidates had prepared statements and in the second round the questions were drawn from a bucket and candidates had one minute, followed by a round where they could choose to have another questions drawn from the bucket or could select one of the previously asked questions, also with one minute responses. For the last round all the candidates answered the same question and had two minutes.

Mayoral Candidates

Regarding her qualifications, incumbent Rebecca Olness said that she has the most experience as well as the time to be mayor.

“Let my record speak for itself,” Olness said. “Many public works and park projects have been completed during my term and most of them were paid for by grants. My job is to make sure the law is followed and that is what I have done. I kept the city out of litigation and out of bankruptcy. I’m by far the most qualified candidate to be your mayor. I served on the City Council for four years before I was elected your mayor. I have both bachelors and masters degrees and I hold an advanced certificate of municipal leadership. Neither my opponents have the experience, qualifications, or time to serve as mayor.”

Watson offered general statements about his desire to run.

“I know I can do a better job in leading the city,” Watson said. “I can make a difference.”

Watson cited his career as a businessman as well as his experience volunteering in the community as president of the Black Diamond Historical Society and president of the Black Diamond Community Center as well as his time on the Planning Commission.

“As a result of my volunteer leadership positions in Black Diamond I have a deep knowledge and understanding toward these issues that the city faces,” Watson said. “My community service and business career experience demonstrates that I am committed to open, clear communication and my objective to reaching out to understand divergent opinions to build consensus and that I have leadership skills needed to be Black Diamond’s next mayor. I will be a mayor who is transparent in actions and do not have any obligations to special interest groups, but will always look to benefit the citizens of Black Diamond.”

Gordon’s statements were brief and focused on working with residents.

“I decided to run for mayor because we must not let irresponsible land development overwhelm our existing residents and businesses,” Gordon said. “My best qualification is that I agree with the vast majority of the residents about Black Diamond’s future. I will work with them and not against them.”

In response to a question about achieving community consensus, Olness said she feels the current methods of receiving feedback are effective.

“If I’ve learned anything in politics it’s that you can’t please everybody all the time,” Olness said. “But I have learned that you do your best to accommodate those in the majority …actual consensus is very difficult to achieve, especially when you have to reach everyone. But with the public meetings, the website, and an open door policy at City Hall we try to accommodate the community as best we can.”

In a question about balancing the city budget, Gordon said he would review all city spending.

“I would do a top to bottom review of every budget item and position and hold the line at spending,” Gordon said.

Watson was asked to relate his experience with budget management.

“I’ve had the responsibility of being president and leader of two nonprofit businesses in Black Diamond: the Black Diamond Historical Society Museum and the Black Diamond Community Center that we’re sitting in,” Watson said. “Both businesses have served the public for many years and have continued to meet their obligations by accomplishing their mission statements. Both have recently had positive audit reviews and have flourished with growing numbers of members and people served.”

Gordon requested the question about building community consensus and highlighted listening to residents and stated that there is already community consensus.

“I welcome public participation and listen with respect,” Gordon said. “I will end the unnecessary conflict with the council. We already have a community consensus. The YarrowBay development is too big, too fast, too costly, too damaging to the quality of life of the residents and businesses of Black Diamond.”

When asked about the biggest problem facing Black Diamond in the next four years and how she would address it, Olness focused on overseeing the master planned developments and continuing services to residents.

“Identifying innovative ways to increase revenue is becoming more challenging given the recent cuts by the state,” Olness said. “Grants and collaboration with our neighboring cities is one way to achieve increased services with limited funds.”

Watson requested the same question to which he responded that rebuilding community trust is the biggest obstacle the city faces.

“The city has gone through a horrible division of pro-growth and anti-growth and slower growth and no-growth stands by many groups of people and this division has alienated many, many citizens,” Watson said. “I think our citizens deserve an open and transparent government with elected officials that have no hidden agendas. City officials, including myself need to be objective in the handling of city business. We need to look at issues with a lack of favoritism toward one side or another.”

City Council Candidates

In the City Council races Erika Morgan and Bill Roth are running for Position No. 2 while Patrick Nelson and Janie Edelman, who was appointed to council in March, are running for Position No. 3, and Shawn Oglesbee and Carol Benson, who was appointed to council in March 2012, are running for position No. 4.

The candidates fielded a variety of questions from the city’s role in economic development to the budget, to creating a shared vision for Black Diamond.

Morgan was not able to attend the forum because her mother had surgery scheduled the same day and Morgan wrote in an email the Reporter staff received prior to the forum she was helping to care for her mother.

When asked about his top two funding priorities Roth responded that he would focus on adequately funding police and fire as well as attracting and supporting businesses.

“I think if I’m on city council I would certainly push to enact changes that will make it easier for businesses to get started, easier for businesses to continue and also encourage growth in our city which will attract more businesses,” Roth said.

Nelson responded to a question about the city’s role in economic development.

“The city plays the most vital role,” Nelson said. “As a city, if we do not choose to partner with our incoming and existing businesses we will not have a vibrant, well-rounded community. This partnership needs to be on every level — staff, mayor, council, and residents.”

Edelman said she would examine the necessity and compensation of city staff positions in the event of a budget shortfall and that the council has recently enacted increases to utility rates in response to a shortfall.

“As our YarrowBay funding is being reduced, so is the workload that is going to be associated with the developments coming in,” Edelman said. “We need to look at what is involved and the city business where cuts need to be made, it may need to be in compensation, it may actually be in staff. We’ll have to make those hard choices.”

Benson said getting informed and having public hearings is the best way to create community consensus.

“When I talk to citizens about an issues that they’re concerned about, I usually go to another council member that is on a committee that most closely relates to their question and to get up to speed on whatever that issue is,” Benson said. “And then, if we think that we need a work study, that’s the best way to be able to discuss with all the council members, with the public present and let the public have their input, and that’s the way I think you get consensus.”

Oglesbee requested a question about his community involvement and cited how he and his wife established a Cub Scout pack when they moved to Black Diamond as well as his participation in the Labor Day Committee and at the Historical Museum.

“Being involved in the community would never affect my ability to lead, but greatly enhance it,” Oglesbee said.

All the candidates answered a question about why they decided to run for office.

Oglesbee cited his career as a project manager and his love for the city among top reasons he decided to run.

Benson spoke of her background as a chief financial officer and her experience on council.

Attending planning commission meetings and city council meetings were what inspired Roth to run. Roth also pointed to his professional leadership experiences.

Edelman also cited her business background along with her recent experience on council and her desire to continue to serve the city.

Nelson said that he is running for council because he is tired of division in the city and wants to see the city come together.

The primary election is Aug. 6 and ballots were mailed to residents last week. The only primary in Black Diamond is the mayor’s race and the top two candidates will advance to the general election in Nov.