The two candidates running for Anacortes mayor and the four running for two City Council seats met at a Wednesday evening forum.
The forum, hosted by the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce, also featured candidates running for seats on Anacortes School Board, the Port of Anacortes Commission, and the Fidalgo Pool Commission.
Mayoral candidates Matt Miller and Ryan Walters, both City Council members, were asked how as mayor they would support Anacortes businesses.
Miller said the city should be more open to businesses that want to locate here, and avoid excessive regulation.
Walters said city staff need to have more direct conversations with businesses, such as providing more information on what properties are available to rent.
Another question asked was how the city can improve transparency, especially when it comes to large payments to vendors.
A 2020 Anacortes American investigation found that the city spent $1.4 million between 2015 and 2017 on pre-cleanup work at the city’s former water treatment plant, before it told the public of contamination. Fees now have added up to at least $2 million.
“I think this issue got away from us on City Council,” Walters said. “The most important thing government can do is to be able to admit mistakes, course correct and promise to do better.”
He said he has proposed creating an interactive online portal to help keep track of city transactions. In addition, he supports more transparency with capital project planning “because that is the most important place that the city spends its money.”
Miller agreed that the city needs to pay more attention to its spending.
“Bottom line is we could have done a better job when these expenses got out of control,” he said.
As mayor, Miller said he would bring a “laser focus” to the use of outside consultants. He prefers the city use staff rather than consultants.
Both Miller and Walters said they support the idea of creating an online system for residents to report nonemergencies.
Miller asked Walters if he supports the recent capital gains tax passed by state lawmakers, or a city resolution banning an income tax.
Walters said the city doesn’t need to take positions on all statewide issues, unless the issue has a large impact on Anacortes. He said the city is talking with legislators about mental health because the city is “failing” in that area.
Walters asked Miller how the city should deal with its budget in the event of another recession.
Miller said he looked to cut spending while he operated a small business during the Great Recession, and that labor is typically the largest expense of any business or organization.
City Council Position 4 candidates Jeff Graf and Amanda Hubik, and Position 5 candidates Sara Holahan and Bruce McDougall also spoke at the forum.
One question asked was how the City Council should deal with conflicts between proposed multifamily housing and the opinions of neighbors.
Graf said he took part in the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update, a process that included more than a dozen meetings with many participants.
He said while the city could do more to inform neighbors of proposed developments, the council should follow the plan’s recommendations for more multifamily housing.
“We can’t talk out of one side of our mouth and say we need this and then on the other side say not in my backyard,” he said.
Hubik said there are other goals to keep in mind with multifamily housing. She said an apartment building can include green roofs, passive solar array, and wireless connectivity.
She said the city should do more to get the word out about development.
“I would love if there was a way we could inform people in very simple and also semi-innovative ways,” she said.
Holahan said there is frequently talk of “saving the character of our neighborhoods,” but that doesn’t always happen.
“We know there’s a shortage of housing, of different kinds, but how big do we want Anacortes to grow?” she said.
She said she would favor smaller, more energy efficient homes over a tall apartment buildings in single-family neighborhoods.
McDougall said Anacortes needs more multifamily housing, and that boosting density could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
He noted the city’s new development code may require adjustments, such as limits on tall buildings in certain places.
“While admitting change is inevitable, sometimes shocking change is not a good thing,” he said.
In his opening remarks, Graf objected to how he was characterized by the campaign of City Council member Anthony Young, who is running unopposed for his Position 7 seat. Young did not participate in the forum.
Graf held up a flier, created by Young’s campaign, that lists Anacortes candidates who support “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Hubik is listed, as is Holahan, McDougall and Walters.
Graf said he was not contacted to ask if he supports diversity, equity and inclusion. He said his military experience, including supervising 5,000 sailors and Marines, is proof he supports “diversity, equality and inclusion.”
The forum can be viewed on the City of Anacortes YouTube page.