Despite the relatively early morning hour of 7 a.m., candidates for Snohomish County Council District 1 and a Marysville School Board seat offered thoughtful answers to questions posed by the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs committee, chaired by Dave Toyer, at the Business Before Hours Event held September 18.
Candidates vying for the school board seat being vacated by Don Hatch, Chris Nation and Heather Thweatt, introduced themselves to the audience and talked briefly about their respective background and experience.
Nation is a Marysville business owner who settled with his family in Marysville after leaving the Navy. He has been active with the bond and levy advocacy group for 14 years and has served for 10 years on the school district's Citizen Planning Committee (CPC).
Thweatt has lived in Marysville just over 10 years and has an 11-year-old son who attends Totem Middle School. Her school involvement began as volunteering in her son's school, and has expanded to include service on the CPC.
Both candidates expressed their passion for education issues and concerns about perceived leadership deficits.
When asked about their top three district issues, Nation and Thweatt each identified different priorities.
"Closing the achievement gap between Native American students, special ed and ELL students is a big concern," said Thweatt. She also listed a safe student learning environment and bringing more technology into the classroom as areas in need of attention.
Nation answered that one of his priorities is full funding for education by the legislature. "I'll go to Olympia and work with our legislators to end unfunded mandates," he vowed.
He also noted that, while SLCs can be successful models of education, the district must continue to refine and tweak the current system so it meets students' needs. His third priority was the need for a more visible community leadership role by school board members.
Following the school board candidates' presentations, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster and his challenger, Ellen Hiatt Watson, took the stage.
Their part of the forum began with agreement, as both candidates endorsed a 4-year college in Snohomish County and expanded commercial air service at Paine Field.
Although Watson has been labeled as a "one-issue candidate" due to her high profile involvement in fighting the council's zoning that allowed fully-contained communities (FCCs) in rural areas, she revealed a depth of understanding of a wide range of issues. For his part, Koster acknowledged that the county's planning and development services has had its share of problems and that it's important to create clear "rules of the game" that are less likely to be misinterpreted.
Both stressed the importance of citizen involvement, along with fairness and equity in land use rulings.
When asked about the council's sometimes dysfunctional communications in regards to other county departments, Koster was quick to point out that the real problem lies in the executive's office.
"Unfortunately, the executive sees little value in direct communication with the council and other elected officials," said Koster. "I will continue to build those bridges and reach out to the executive office."
Watson remarked that the habit of the council and executive "posturing at each other" is evident, and "both need to do better."
As Watson pointed out, the forums and debates she and Koster will be attending prior to election day are opportunities for civil dialogue. "It's a job interview for me, and a performance evaluation for him," she said.
Koster expressed pride in his record over the past six years, noting that property taxes had not been raised in the county for eight years, and he counted the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program as one of his many successes. He also commented on the vital role that small businesses play in the county's economic vitality.
On the subject of growth, Koster quoted Commerce Department statistics that forecast an additional 350,000 people in the county by 2025. Estimates show that 10 percent of that growth will be in rural areas, which means up to 35,000 more residents moving to outlying areas.
"My opponent has opposed every tool for rural growth," he claimed. "What do you recommend we do with those 35,000 people?"
Watson replied, "It is a misperception that I am anti-growth. I support TDRs and I'm not opposed to rural clusters. But we need to make sure we're treating every landowner equitably, and not favoring the monied developers."
On Friday, October 9, the chamber will welcome Marysville City Council candidates to the stage. The Chamber of Commerce's Business Before Hours is held at the Tulalip Casino's Canoes Cabaret from 7 to 9 a.m.