Three on primary ballot for Snohomish County Council share views during League of Women Voters forum

Amber King
Delia O’Malley
Jared Mead

Three candidates hoping to permanently fill the Snohomish County Council District 4 seat left vacant by the resignation of Terry Ryan in February faced off during a League of Women Voters of Snohomish County recorded forum earlier this week.

The candidates — who answered questions from moderator and league past president Karen Matson —  included Amber King, Jared Mead and Delia O’Malley. A fourth candidate, Brenda Carrington, did not participate. All four names will appear on the Aug. 4 primary election ballot that was mailed to voters earlier this week.

Mead was appointed in April to fill the remainder of Ryan’s term, with the understanding he would have to stand for election to the seat. Additional information about local voting and candidates can be found here.

The forum was prerecorded and is available online. Each candidate’s response was given a one-minute time length, except for the final two questions which allowed for a minute-and-a-half.

What follows is the questions and the candidates’ answers

What qualifications and experiences help make you a strong candidate for the position?

King feels she would be a wonderful voice because she has previously worked as an elected Precinct Committee Officer, been a legislative board member for 32nd District, and is currently the Washington State Democratic Progressive Caucus Secretary. She said that her experiences in the construction industry, medical billing, as a small business owner and government employee have prepared her and that she has worked hard at building progressive policies.

Mead pointed to his experience after college in learning local government and planning policy, including time on the Mill Creek Planning Commission, as a Mill Creek City councilmember and then a 44th District State Representative. He said that he spent two years in the state Legislature fighting for environmental issues and inequities that are present in Snohomish County, and since being appointed to his current position he has dealt with the coronavirus and protests for racial equality.

O’Malley said during her two decades in Snohomish County she has been an active participant and volunteered in many different capacities, including 10 years as a court-appointed special advocate for children, which led her to take classes and get certified as a paralegal to better understand the legislation guiding the lives of those she advocates for. She believes that familiarity with government processes, working independently and her participation in community responses to challenges throughout the county have made her well aware of its strengths and the needs that exist within its various communities.

What are the major responsibilities of the office and how are you well suited to fulfill those?

Mead believes his role is primarily to represent the constituents, which is accomplished by listening to people, and being accessible and transparent. He said that it has been a priority of his in elected office to reach out for input from the community. Another main responsibility, he said, is the budget, which is a reflection of local priorities and takes time to learn the intricacies of at the county level, something which he thinks he has a good grasp on.

O’Malley said the responsibilities include adopting ordinances, resolutions and motions in order to set the ground rules that can provide equitable situations for county residents. She said she has seen how well-written and applied legislation can yield excellent outcomes. She believes that one way to increase minority representation is through appointments to county committees and that the county needs to find budgetary sources of revenue that are new and equitable to help avoid future overspending.

King echoed the other candidates and also said the most important factor right now is the budgetary process as officials look at how to safely reopen the county while also supporting small businesses and marginalized communities. She thinks that being transparent and accessible to constituents is especially important during the coronavirus outbreak to help gauge the impacts of programs implemented and their impact locally.

What role should this position play in responding to the current pandemic?

O’Malley said one of the most important things the council has been doing is making sure that government aid from federal and state levels is being distributed in a timely manner. She believes county needs to offer publicly available data, so residents have good information about the spread of COVID-19, and make sure there is access to testing. She concluded that economic recovery efforts need to be monitored to protect business interests, worker safety, and environmental and public health concerns.

King thinks that public health currently needs to be first and foremost, especially since the county’s health district is helping to advise public school districts on plans to reopen. She said that due to the county’s highest-in-state unemployment rate, it needs mutual aid programs, policies and a budgetary vision that both supports small businesses and also provides people with access to help paying their rent and mortgages.

Mead said that when the county received $144 million in federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding, the council’s job was figuring out how to, in his opinion, spend that money in a way that was compassionate and put people first in addition to helping the local economy and small businesses. This includes not only mortgage and rent relief, but also helping nonprofit organizations with grants so that they can continue doing good things in local communities.

What measures do you support to address issues of injustice and inequality; which can lead to actions such as recent deaths due to the actions of police officers and protests?

King supports protesters and the Black Lives Matter movement, and thinks injustice has been going on far too long nationwide and that a strong stance needs to be taken to reinvest taxpayers’ dollars in programs that actually serve their local communities. She said that social justice programs need to be rewritten because they are not working for the people they are intended to serve and protect. She would like to see leadership at the county level address these issues in a meaningful way and supports measures that send out mental health responders first, instead of police, and said that budgets used to militarize law enforcement agencies aren’t serving local communities well.

Mead thinks everyone needs to recognize that there are inequities that are disproportionately affecting marginalized communities and predominantly people of color. He supports policies that can address this in both the short- and long-term, such as citizens oversight boards for more accountability and transparency throughout law enforcement agencies. He said that body and dashboard- mounted cameras are a budgetary conversation, due to their costs, so figuring out how to pay for them and other measures such as additional training in implicit bias and expanding the use of embedded social workers can help make law enforcement more effective.

O’Malley endorsed Mead’s sentiments and also said the current civil unrest has grown naturally from dissatisfaction with injustice and inequalities that has dogged the country since its start. She thinks the current moment is a good chance to make some differences and use it as an opportunity to teach about historical inequities, to increase representation in government and also law enforcement. She advocated for creating civilian oversight boards to add more transparency and having budgetary conversations to leverage the moment and make progress.

How would you utilize the financial resources of Snohomish County in the wake of the economic fallout from the pandemic?

Mead said that the fallout from COVID-19 is not only going to be long-lasting, but it has also highlighted some previous longstanding issues in the county such as homelessness, the opioid crisis and economic discrepancies. He believes the county needs to use its financial resources to address those with supportive housing, rent relief, small business grants and programs that can help standup the economy and combat the skyrocketing rate of unemployment.

O’Malley thinks the most urgent issue the county faces right now is what happens when current federal programs for $600 in weekly unemployment enhancements and a moratorium on evictions soon end. She believes that measures for rent and mortgage assistance need to be put in place to avoid facing an even more stark homelessness crisis. She said that as the situation evolves the council will need to adapt and keep an eye on where the greatest needs are and then help fill those.

King agreed with the other candidates and said that due to her roots, she considers herself part of the working poor who’s been riddled in debt, and that the pandemic on top of the economic injustices throughout the country have really highlighted that progressive change is necessary. She also said that includes health care, rent assistance and focusing on mutual aid when the federal unemployment boost runs out at the end of the month to help avoid a rash of evictions and homelessness this fall. She wants to push the state and federal governments to take care of people right now and thinks that two in-state measures — one to create a state bank and the other to create Whole Washington universal health care — could help support the entire budget.

What role should this elected position play in encouraging voter turnout?

O’Malley said that with severe limitations on canvassing this year, due to health measures, she feels fortunate that the state has mail-in voting and an accessible to way to register online. She thinks it is important that people in elected positions encourage residents to check that their registration is current and their votes are properly counted. She encouraged also making sure that there is paper registration available in county areas that are underserved by internet providers.

King said the biggest thing at the county level is to be a public face for what elections mean. She believes that there is currently little faith and low participation in the electoral process across all levels of government. That necessitates actively looking at options, like ranked choice voting, in which people will feel more represented, and then also able to access the system through support for broadband internet in rural areas. She feels there are many things that could be done to improve the process, including measures to potentially encourage more participation among young voters.

Mead agreed adding that elected officials and candidates have a responsibility to reach out to the public, and be accessible, transparent and exciting to give people a reason to vote. He said that people have been disenfranchised by not feeling like the system and electoral process even works, so it is important to address that. He thinks having candidates who are willing to talk about ideas that are sometimes divisive is necessary and said he has done so repeatedly.

What experience do you have with observing or being the target of inequity and what you have done in life that demonstrates your willingness to address inequity issues?

King said she has been an activist since a young age and grew up in a very rural Republican area of southeast Alaska, where she was the lone Democratic child in every presidential election through high school. She has faced and witnessed a lot of inequity, whether it was racial or gender bias, mostly in her years working throughout the country in the restaurants; a horrible situation that she said resulted in her leaving the industry. She has also seen discrimination in politics and said that she has always tried to stand up for others whose voices needed to be heard.

Mead thinks the current system doesn’t work the same for everybody due to biases based on racial, gender and income factors. He said that growing up in a low-income household, with a single mother who struggled to support him and his brother, the family often moved apartments to basically follow employment opportunities. He believes that after working his way through college he has seen firsthand how the system is different for people who don’t have money — making it more difficult to do well in school, and the subsequent debt that many, such as himself, are then saddled with after graduation. He acknowledged that as a white male, his experiences are different from those of many other people and said that he will continue making space to listen to those who have experienced racial and gender inequities.

O’Malley said she has continually worked with, and advocated for, children who are marginalized and experienced inequity in many different ways. She said during her time teaching special education to children, whose right to an education was secured through civil rights legislation, she was also championing those students within the school building and the need for them to have access to the public education system. She feels that during her many years of experience as a court-appointed special advocate for children, she has helped to investigate fair treatment and also speak up for people who don’t have a voice.

As state and county revenues dwindle, what criteria will you use to establish priorities for transportation projects?

Mead said that Snohomish County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, which necessitates more investments in transportation infrastructure. These include the widening of roads and also a main focus on mass transit not just in a north-south direction along I-5, but also in an east-west direction, which he feels has been lagging. He cited 164th Street that runs through Lynnwood and Mill Creek as a massive bottleneck that frustrates drivers in the surrounding areas who use it to access I-5 in order to commute to and from their jobs in other cities. He knows addressing that will require a major financial investment and more transit, which he said he advocated for during his time in the state Legislature and will continue to do at the county level.

O’Malley agreed with Mead’s priority for transportation and increasing support for projects that expand the use of mass transit as a way to help resolve traffic issues. She said she would also like to see concepts for expanding walkability and thinks that some recent street closures have been pleasant and make for a nicer experience for citizens in the county.

King also identified herself as a proponent of public transportation, but added she was also very concerned about falling revenues as fewer people ride transit due to the coronavirus. She thinks the situation will have to be addressed in the budget and said she hates to see feeder bus routes cut because she feels they are a lifeline of sorts in the county. She said that while she would like to eventually see more light rail and high-speed trains locally, and adds  there needs to be a focus now on public health so people will feel safe riding mass transit. Her other priorities include increased bike lanes and making sure neighborhoods are safely walkable.

What if any systems would you support or propose in Snohomish County to assist the homeless population and to help eliminate homelessness?

O’Malley thinks the county is facing a homelessness crisis that’s just around the corner due to COVID-19. She said that she has been impressed with the county’s approach of targeting specific populations and working to reduce the number of homeless veterans, children and families. She supports continuing those efforts and thinks it is urgent to look at the upcoming situation to try to prevent a significant increase in homelessness.

King said the best thing to do for homelessness is to keep people in their homes and also have shelter available. She believes there is a crisis of affordability and that the county could do a far better job of supporting renters, landlords and making sure that the system is more equitable. Her ideas to address this include possibly lowering rent and deposit requirements necessary to secure a lease. To help alleviate homelessness she expressed being a fan of safe consumption sites, and feels that a system with either a universal basic income or federal jobs guarantee would help to reduce income inequities that can lead to people being displaced.

Mead believes that current rates of population growth have led to skyrocketing housing costs, which has made it increasingly difficult for people to afford living in the county and is causing the homelessness crisis. He said that situation is now being exacerbated by COVID-19. There need to be programs put in place to help keep people in their houses, Mead said, adding it is more expensive to get people into housing once they are homeless rather than helping them with a rent extension or assistance. He said there needs to be a focus on a multi-part approach that can help with the homelessness, opioids and mental health crises that he feels are all interrelated.

What if anything should a Snohomish County Councilmember do to promote civil discourse?

King thinks the best thing to do is keep having civil conversations with constituents and the public to ensure democracy going forward. She said that the last few years have been a very trying time and thinks that elected representatives have an important role to play in making sure that people are civil, able to bring forth ideas and make actual change happen. She feels it is crucial to ensure there is less divisiveness and stop the efforts of others to keep separating people when most of their basic needs are similar on both sides of the political spectrum.

Mead believes that it is the most important thing to fix in the political system right now in order to start moving forward in a positive way both as a nation and the county level. He said two important things that have stuck with him in his political endeavors are never making a policy disagreement personal and continually fighting to find common ground. He thinks that in an age of social media and a constant 24 hour news cycle, not enough people are interested in looking at nuance. Everybody wants a short blurb of things, and as a result groups that used to be on the fringes of the political spectrum are now the loudest voices in the room.

O’Malley thinks the candidates’ forum and county councilmembers are good examples of modeling civil discourse, which includes acknowledging good points made by others, recognizing areas of difference and continuing to talk in the search for answers. She said that in Snohomish County there are currently specific local problems around civil discourse, which she finds alarming. She believes it is important to allow those voices to be heard in ways that are contained but also open, in order to continue having crucial conversations.

What government actions can serve the dual purpose of helping the economy recover and reducing global warming?

Mead said that environmental issues are his passion, why he got into office and cited his experience in the state Legislature. He expressed excitement for working in local government and believes energy efficiency technologies in homes and appliances are not only better for the environment by making them less carbon intensive, but also save people money. He thinks an important policy possibility is mandating that residential construction use cleaner, more efficient electric energy rather than gas, which would benefit the environment, homeowners and economy.

O’Malley thinks that current efforts to support local businesses are serving to help the economy recover and reduce global warming. She would like to see efforts that include mandates that government source its supplies locally and creates easy entry to starting a business, which could help shorten supply chains. She said those would then aid in combating global warming, cut down on waste and excessive energy use, and also serve to keep spending in the area thereby boosting the local economy.

King liked what the other candidates said and added she would also like to focus on shortening the supply chain while bringing labor and environmental groups together to work on the transition which she believes is key to making substantial changes. She acknowledged that a lot of these issues come down to budgetary considerations and thinks they need to include somebody who can look at communities, re-envision what they mean, get agriculture closer to the markets it serves and thereby lessen the environmental impacts and shipping costs. She said she would like to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, putting an emphasis on local ecosystems and reducing toxins in the environment which also have an impact on society through increased needs for health care and the high costs of those medical services.

Do you think that the current Snohomish County vesting policies help or hinder the construction and development process?

O’Malley said she has spent many hours recently learning about vesting principles (learn more about those here) and is still trying to understand all of the various related responsibilities that involve the county council. She has been studying the distinctions between land use control ordinances and also how environmental protections come into play. She said that she is deep in research still and is working very hard to determine a good answer to the question.

King said that having experience in the construction industry, vesting involves some pivotal issues about development within communities. Growing up in Snohomish County, she has watched small farms diminish and flood plains turn into housing developments. She thinks that it needs to be examined how resources are protected and used with the end goal of having healthy communities.

Mead said it is a very complicated issue and that he worked on a bill to try to fix the vesting process during his time in the state Legislature. He learned from working on the failed bill that part of the problem is developers need predictability to build, get loans and make profits, while the environmental regulations still need to be protected and followed. He said this necessitates future laws to serve as watchdogs, close loopholes and that the issue is an important one to look into.

COVID-19 stay-at-home policies cleared skies in many major cities and changes family focus toward outdoor activities. Do you believe there are any environmental lessons to be learned from this experience and if so, how would you build on these?

King said that as someone who has long fought for better environmental policies and also to help with childhood development through outdoor education, she believes people need to spend more time with their families outside. She doesn’t know how to immediately look at implementing environmental changes with effects on the same scale as the pandemic produced, but said people deserve clean skies and water. She believes this can be affected by through lessening environmental impacts and the shortening of supply chains.

Mead thinks the clearer skies are probably the biggest silver lining regarding COVID-19 and helps illustrate that by utilizing technology, accomplishments and positive environmental impacts can be made that weren’t necessarily previously thought to be possible. He said that a lot of businesses are realizing many people can perform their jobs to necessary capacities and efficiencies from home. He believes that even after the current pandemic conditions pass, companies and governments should be incentivized to continue finding ways for people to work from home resulting in less traffic, congestion and pollution.

O’Malley thinks that COVID-19 has taught a lot of people that they can have more satisfying experiences with less consumption and consumer-oriented activities. She feels it is important to carry those lessons forward, not feel the need to be so busy, do more things efficiently from home and also lessen our impact on the environment.

What is your position regarding racism and what work would you say is required in this area from the position you are seeking?

Mead said racism is bad and needs to be addressed that it exists in all facets and structures of systems that were built without certain people in mind a long time ago. He thinks that is crucial to understand when talking about how different communities and people are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, environmental qualities and other issues that can be addressed by local government. He said the county council, where he chairs the law and justice committee, is currently focused on criminal justice reforms, which have involved ideas he previously mentioned such as body-mounted cameras and community oversight boards for law enforcement. Mead feels it is important to make sure that historically marginalized voices are reached out to, their experiences are then heard and also at the forefront of conversations involving reforms.

O’Malleysaid racism is endemic throughout our society and that it is personal because she has family members who are Black. She said she was disturbed to hear part of their experiences when getting their drivers licenses meant learning that they got frequently pulled over for no reason and that it is a reality for a lot of people of color. She believes the work required to address such racial issues is endless, but one of the most important things to be done now and moving forward is bringing more minorities into public discourse and increasing their representation in governmental positions and appointments.

King said that racism has been present and endemic in the country since its beginning. She believes it has taken over almost every area of life and finds that racial and economic inequities are linked to capitalism that has run amok and overtaken society. She hopes lessons learned from the current moment are that people of color are hurting and even other people who might not have the same experiences with injustice personally need to stand up and take responsibility for a system that has created such conditions. King said it also requires examining changes in budgets and priorities throughout the country at all levels of government. She believes this is an opportunity for a moment of deep reflection that can help to decrease divisions, and also encourage people to come together and take care of humanity.

What have we neglected to ask that you wish we had asked so you could tell us and/or what are two or three tasks that you would want to begin work on right away if you are elected?

O’Malley said she would like to address the divisive time our society is in and that we won’t be able to argue or fight our way out of the current pandemic. She thinks that to effectively adapt to our changing understandings around COVID-19’s impacts of both personal and societal health will require everyone to work together by listening to each other in ways that are respectful and honor people’s experiences. She believes that to get out of the current crisis, Snohomish County is going to need leadership that works independently of partisan concerns and part of what she would like to bring to the council.

King said that normally she wouldn’t have time to run for office because of having to work multiple jobs to support her family, but that this is a very important election and point in time. She believes that it is crucial to talk about how current situations have impacted communities and that all levels of government need strong, visionary leaders that can effect real change. She feels that elected representatives have failed to put in place some basic premises and policies which support people that have been previously floated and are very popular. King said that she has dedicated her life to trying to make the world a better place for children and that society needs to support its working-class families and essential workers right now. She thinks that government needs to be responsive, transparent and believes what helps set her apart is not accepting funding from corporations or super PACs.

Mead said that as a young parent he fears for the future of his son because of the divisive direction the country is moving in when it comes to issues. He has made it a personal goal throughout his time in government to consistently try and bring people together while also cutting through misinformation from fringe groups on both the left and right he said. He thinks that debates fueled by misinformation waste time and he has tried to provide proper information, be transparent and accessible; all qualities that he feels government needs more of. If elected he would like to continue to push that message because he said it is important right now to choose the way people engage in dialogue and start treating each other with respect, caring and compassion.

— By Nathan Blackwell

 

 

 

 

 

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