Out of some two dozen questions posed to local government candidates at two candidate forums last week, the one that elicited the strongest reaction was the last.
At a candidate forum hosted by the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce last Thursday, Dave Witt, executive director of the Chamber, asked City Council candidates Bernie Talmas and Brad Walker a question that some Chamber members had suggested.
Negative press coverage of Woodinville could be hurting the city’s reputation and making it hard to attract customers, visitors and businesses to Woodinville, Witt began.
"If elected, what will you do to ensure the City Council provides strong, visionary leadership through disagreements that will always exist?" he asked.
Talmas began on a conciliatory note: "We’ve reached an agreement on everything," despite disagreements among council members, he said.
Then, Talmas said that all of his supporters are citizens, and since all of Walker’s donors are businesses, it appears the business community is participating in the attacks.
"If you’re concerned, and you should be, you should talk to other Chamber members," Talmas told the audience. "... It’s coming from you."
Walker reiterated that he’s not connected to the campaign against Talmas and said he found the accusation offensive.
"The council absolutely is in control of what the media writes" by controlling its own behavior, Walker said.
After the forum, Talmas clarified that he was only accusing certain members of the Chamber, not the whole Chamber.
"We hoped to get the candidates to look forward and tell us how they would get the leadership to have a more positive tone," Witt said after the meeting. "We were taken aback ... when the Chamber was sort of blamed for the negativity."
The Chamber advocates for issues, not candidates, Witt said.
Will Bruce, owner of Windermere Real Estate and a member of the Chamber, contributed $500 to Walker’s campaign.
"I felt really affronted. It bothered me to no end that he insinuated that the people in that room were responsible for the political ads and mudslinging," Bruce said of Talmas’ remarks. "Some days I wish we could just wipe the slate clean and start anew with new folks," he added.
Before that question, candidates told how they would solve problems of parking and traffic congestion, and what opportunities the city should pursue and what pitfalls it should avoid for economic development.
Walker, Susan Boundy-Sanders and Paula Waters suggested a circulator bus that would take visitors to the tourist district, eliminating the need for more parking there. Boundy-Sanders, Talmas and Waters also mentioned ongoing development projects, such as Woodin Creek Village and Woodinville Village, that will provide more parking and grid roads when complete.
Walker said the city needs to simplify the permitting process to attract more businesses, because "we have a strong reputation of just saying ‘no’" to prospective businesses, he said. Waters agreed and said the planning commission, of which she’s a member, is working on doing that.
An earlier candidate forum at the Willows Lodge last Monday was more subdued. The city council candidates agreed with each other on many questions. King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s opponent, Naomi Wilson, didn’t attend. Only the candidates for Woodinville Water Commissioner, Rick Chatterton (who was appointed earlier this year) and Dale Knapinski, clashed — on the issues of expanding the sewer system and rising water rates.
Knapinski said the water district’s Resolution 3725 gives the Board the power to force homeowners to connect to the sewer system "if there is an overriding issue of public interest such as health and safety," which could encompass any reason, Knapinski argues.
Chatterton affirmed the Board’s position — that state law gives the water district the power to force people to connect to the sewer system – but said the district doesn’t seek out new connections.
"Should Mr. Knapinski wish to change Resolution 3725, he will need to start with our representatives in Olympia," Chatterton said.
A question from the audience asked the water commissioner candidates to justify a 20 percent rate increase.
Chatterton explained that that person’s rate increase was likely due to the district’s graduated, scaled pay system, which makes water more affordable for people with low incomes. Knapinski promised to stop rates from increasing if he’s elected.
The two candidates agreed on one thing — that the district shouldn’t use reclaimed wastewater from Brightwater Treatment Plant — but for different reasons.
Chatterton said he’d like to use the reclaimed water for irrigation in the Sammamish River Valley, but since the area only has two months of dry weather, it’s not cost effective. If King County or private developers wanted to pay for the pipes, he would support it, he said.
Knapinski said he wouldn’t want to use reclaimed wastewater for irrigation since it still contains pharmaceuticals and heavy metals, but he would like to use reclaimed rainwater.