To help prepare Mountlake Terrace voters for the Nov. 5 General Election, MLTnews.com is posting the responses to questions asked of the six candidates running for City Council Positions 3, 4 and 5. Here are the comments, in their entirely, of Stephen Barnes, candidate for Mountlake Terrace City Council Position 3 (Incumbent Doug McCardle has not yet responded to the questions.)
Driver, Shop Steward, King County Metro
Mountlake Terrace resident for 25 years
MLTnews.com: Why are you running for election to Mountlake Terrace City Council Position #3?
Barnes: In gathering information about the city’s Proposition One early this spring, I found a number of irregularities which I brought to the attention of many voters via a series of automation-assisted calls. I then started attending city council meetings and providing citizen oriented comments to offset the singular perspective available with the current council.
My candidacy is a natural outgrowth of my desire for current citizens to be properly represented in the council and informed of what is happening with our city government. I embody greater representation for today’s citizens over future downtown apartment dwellers.
MLTnews.com: What would be your biggest priority if elected to the city council?
Barnes: Making the public meetings a place where the issues affecting our city would be openly discussed. Currently the council’s use of the consent calendar protocol in the public meetings with two minute unanimous agreement clouds the actual actions taken. Discussion in a work-study session where the public participation rules already inhibit citizen input is not the same. Instead of answers to matters I have brought up, I have mostly received promises of later response. In the main, the council proceeded as if input had not been given.
MLTnews.com: You have been critical of the City of Mountlake Terrace for not being as open with information as you would like; how would you make city government more open and available to city residents?
Barnes: While our city can be proud of its volumes of available archived materials, the presentation for citizens could be offered in a clearer manner. That would include actual discussion of matters affecting the citizens in the public meetings, minutes of each of the meetings readily and visibly accessible alongside the current full length audio (not everyone has two hours to review the meetings), a summary of the most important upcoming topics as well as a summary of the issues resolved would be a better use of the city’s Newsletter space. Anything that would open up the dialog with citizens would be helpful.
MLTnews.com: What is the best solution for fulfilling the need for a Mountlake Terrace City Hall? How long can the city afford to pay rent for city hall space?
Barnes: Len French, contender for Position 5, is the author of a spreadsheet which uses the city’s own numbers to show that the cost of renting based on the city’s own inflation projection is significantly less than owning a structure as the present council envisions a new city hall. Currently, despite the council’s insistence on calling our city hall an “Interim City Hall”, the current council is positioning itself to accept the previously agreed lease terms which would extend the stay in the Redstone building to eight years after the election. That is hardly a normal person’s idea of a “temporary” dwelling. While we did not pay the full rent, the city did find reserves to pay a portion of the rent. If there were no easy bond solution to fall back on, I am confident the rent need can be met. Surprisingly, after learning that the city required three quarters of a million dollars in renovations to make the current City Hall properly outfitted (see the current lease terms) and that the city continued drawing down from our city reserves and a loan made in anticipation of a passed bond proposal instead of paying our rent, I am in favor of staying in the current facility. That position could be changed if the council adjusted the scale or cost of their recent City Hall proposal.
MLTnews.com: What parameters for size and cost would be acceptable to you for any proposed municipal bond measure to pay for a new city hall / civic campus?
Barnes: In 2008 the city council paid consultants to inform them what the cost of their wish list (which included more than currently needed) would be. They were told a city hall could be constructed for eight to twelve million. Instead of reaching for a thirty seven million dollar structure as this council initially tried or the $1000 per square foot development cost of the last proposal (versus $400 per square foot in the commercial industry and $250 per square foot in neighboring Mill Creek just this last year), a modest city hall appropriate for a modest city as our consultants recommended back in 2008 would suit our citizens just fine. Not only would that proposal pass, it would be welcomed by many whom I hear who would like a city hall building of our own.
MLTnews.com: You are concerned about the Town Center district becoming a “valley” with tall development along 56th Avenue West; if elected, would you push for a scaling back of height allowances in the Town Center district? Would you push for making the Town Center district smaller?
Barnes: My concern as a happy citizen of a well-placed suburban town is that a city-style core does not become the future shape of our town. As such, if I could get the votes to do so, I would roll back the height increases our current council implemented in May of this year for SW 236th and SW 237th. Contrary to a local news outlet’s portrayal, I am okay with a downtown core, but I would not like to see it expanded beyond today’s plan.
MLTnews.com: You have said the city’s Office of Economic Development has not generated a great return for the city on the money spent for the office; do you favor eliminating the office and using the money saved on other city spending?
Barnes: At a time of unprecedented low interest rates and inexpensive property costs, we should have had a bonanza of activity in our city. Instead we see the city touting properties in our city-paid newsletter like the one on 244th east of 56th as a ready new development while it still has a “for sale” sign out front. The boon that office should have brought did not materialize. The money should go elsewhere, unless he pulls a real economic miracle out of the hat.