The Key Peninsula Civic Center hosted candidates Sept. 12 for what has become a perennial KP election season tradition. Eight contenders participated in a 90-minute Q&A and reception to explain their positions in a community forum co-sponsored by the Key Peninsula Community Council, The Mustard Seed Project, the Key Peninsula News and the KPCCA.
The off-year election attracted only eight of the 13 candidates on the ballot — where just five races are contested — and an audience of about 40.
Moderator Lisa Bryan, executive editor of the KP News, introduced the candidates and asked questions submitted in advance by audience members.
Three local races have a direct impact on the KP: Fire District 16 commissioner open position 5 between John Pat Kelly and Cambria Queen; Peninsula School District board position 1 between incumbent Chuck West and challenger Jack Mende; and Key Pen Metro Park District commissioner position 5 between incumbent Kip Clinton and challenger Kenneth Y. Lee.
Two spots for Port of Tacoma commissioner are also in contention: position 3 between incumbent Deanna Keller and challenger Jeannette Twitty, and position 5 between incumbent Kristin Ang and challenger Dave Bryant.
Challengers Mende, Lee and Twitty did not attend. Unopposed incumbents who appeared were Natalie Wimberley, PSD director position No. 4, and Deanna Keller, port commissioner position 3. Unopposed candidates PSD director Lori Glover and fire commissioner Shawn Jensen did not participate.
The fire commission candidates fielded questions about challenges to the department, board meeting access to the public, and how to improve or change its decision-making process.
“It’s pretty obvious that the key issue is our finances,” Kelly said. “We do have reason to be optimistic now. We have a great new fire chief and new assistant fire chief, and I think they’re going to do a great job, but our reserves are very, very low. At the same time, we are having problems with our fire engines, and so that’s going to be our number one priority. The second thing we should do with our very limited cash is to expand and upgrade our volunteer program, And after that, we really need to put the rest of the money into our financial reserves.”
Queen said, “The biggest issue I see facing the fire district currently is the fact that the community has concerns with regard to the purchases of the two lots (in Key Center). We do need to make sure that our men and women that are serving the community have the equipment that they need to get the job done to be able to serve us, but I also think that one of the things that needs to be looked into and actually currently is being considered is the possibility of maybe selling off one of the lots. We need to get the input from the community and that’s another issue — trying to figure out the best way to get that input.”
Later in the forum, the candidates agreed that selling at least one of the lots was necessary and that the public must be better included in planning for large expenditures.
The school board candidates fielded questions ranging from incorporating technology to an educational opportunity gap between Gig Harbor and the KP, to a final question asking each how they could improve their performances.
West said the opportunity gap was closing but that there was more to be done. “I would argue that we have brought that inequity a lot closer. They run a new STEM program at Evergreen, but I’m really working hard to have a dedicated STEM school out here for elementary,” he said.
“There have been some differences in offerings, particularly at our middle schools, and what our students can work toward by way of high school credits,” Wimberley said. “We’re doing a full curriculum audit of all of our programs across the district to make sure that we’re offering equitable access.”
Wimberley said that the last time she was at a KP candidate forum was in 2019, before the pandemic.
“So, what have we learned?” she said. “That schools provide so much more than education of our students. We provide food, we provide friendship. Counseling. Support. And so when we shut those buildings down, it was devastating not only to our students but to our staff. I’ve also learned that the Peninsula School District really struggled with solid leadership prior to (Superintendent) Krestin (Bahr) coming here, and that really, really speaks to a lot of problems. There are a lot of silos, there’s a lot of people just struggling to make decisions on their own with no central vision, and so that’s one thing that we really focused on establishing over the past four years, a strategic plan to really start to build that common vision.”
West replied, “I think you stole all the thunder. But one of the things I learned is that we’re a team. I’ve learned so many things on the inside, so many people that have brought things forward. We did the strategic plan, which really helped to set the focus for administration and teachers, something that hadn’t been done for quite a while. But there’s a lot of issues that I’m constantly learning about: dyslexia, our curriculum, things that we are really working through.”
Incumbent parks Commissioner Clinton was asked about details concerning the running of the parks and its meetings, but her first question was why she wanted to continue when she’s already the longest-serving member.
“Because I believe in conservation,” she said. “I believe in the value of public lands in recreation, in recreational tourism, because that’s the best kind of tourism. People come, they leave their money, they go home. I got into supporting the parks some years ago because I believe in public acquisition for land use, as opposed to imposing too much land use constraint upon private entities. I’ve been there since the beginning of this park board and at the end of the old park recreation district. I am considered ‘institutional knowledge.’ ”
Port commissioner candidates fielded questions about the port’s impact on the KP and increased competition but took repeated questions about different aspects of port efforts to cut down on pollution. Ang mentioned the port has won national awards for cleaning up toxic sites and for better use of the “industrial habitat” shared by neighbors.
“We want to be more proactive and publish a clean air quarterly report to show you exactly what we’ve been doing to clean up the air and what’s been going on,” she said. “This transition is hard to do: to address climate change, use clean energy, make it affordable to those who are already burdened while ensuring power for our terminals to make sure ships are plugged into our electrical grid and not polluting.”
Keller said: “We have a Northwest Ports Clean Air strategy because it is important to reduce greenhouse emissions. That includes working with trucking partners that we don’t have direct control over. We have been working with state legislators to get low-cost loans for these folks to provide them with different trucks. We have 18 people on our environmental team who are working on this.”
Bryant pointed out “the hard part of all of this is that 3% of emissions are under direct control of the port. The rest of it comes from the ships, trucks and trains that come into the area that do not belong to the port, they just work there. One of the methods we could use is software optimizing how the trains and trucks come in. The port has seen typically two or three times a day where all the entrances are blocked.”
Voter pamphlets should be in the mail by the beginning of October, according to the Pierce County Auditor. Ballots will be mailed out Oct. 20. Drop boxes will open Oct. 20 and close Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.
Register to vote by Oct. 30 at VoteWA.gov or in person until Nov. 7. For more information, go to www.piercecountyelections.org or call 253-798-VOTE (8683).
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