City Council candidates have their say

Editor’s Note: Technology columnist Dana Greenlee is on vacation in Washington, D.C. Her column will return on Sept. 19.

Fourteen of 17 City Council candidates presented themselves and their ideas Wednesday night during the City Club of Tacoma’s monthly dinner program.

A total of 116 people – club members and guests – packed the Wheeler Student Center at the University of Puget Sound to hear from would-be City Council members and the two incumbents up for re-election.

Interest in Tacoma’s government has piqued in the wake of the David Brame scandal, culminating in a failed attempt earlier this year to put a measure on the ballot to eliminate the city manager position in favor of a strong mayor form of government.

The drive for a change in city government was sparked in April when Police Chief David Brame killed his wife, Crystal, and then committed suicide. Former City Manager Ray Corpuz appointed Brame to the position of chief. The City Council removed Corpuz as city manager, effective in mid-July.

With the Brame scandal looming over the upcoming elections, regaining the trust of the citizens of Tacoma was high on the agenda of all the candidates who were present.

Some took a swipe at the city’s current leadership, blasting the council for it’s handling of the Brame situation, especially the practice of holding meetings in executive session or behind closed doors.

Vocal critic Will Baker – a candidate for the at-large Position No. 8 – said he wanted to make public what he regards as the cover up by Mayor Bill Baarsma and the City Council regarding the Brame scandal.

Likewise, District 3 candidate Phyllis Barrett – who described herself as politically incorrect – focused on the Brame case, saying she wanted to fully implement performance audits of the Tacoma Police Department. Barrett, a counselor for 15 years, decried what she called a “good ol’ boy network.”

“Are you fed up with the Tacoma City Council’s lack of leadership and responsiveness?” asked District 1 candidate Jerry Thorpe, a retired teacher and financial advisor with experience as a Tacoma Park Board and Port of Tacoma commissioner. “Do you believe secret meetings are a healthy way for the city to do business?”

Julie Ander-son, a candidate for the at-large Position No. 7, agreed.

“I want to change the leadership culture and the way decisions are made,” said Anderson, who has a master’s degree in criminal justice administration and is the owner of Athena Concepts, a nonprofit management consulting business.

Other issues addressed by the crowded field of City Council hopefuls included Tacoma’s budget, downtown development, infrastructure and public safety.

With a projected deficit of $35 million in 2006, and the city still reeling from a $19 million shortfall in 2002, Anderson said Tacoma is going to have to get back to basics.

“This isn’t just play money they’re throwing out there,” Thorpe said. “This is your money and my money.”

An example of the city’s unwise spending, he cited the $500,000 Tacoma paid from the general fund in cost overruns so the Chihuly Bridge of Glass could open on time. Meanwhile, at the same time the council has discussed closing libraries, limiting park hours and shutting down fire stations, he said.

Others spoke about continuing Tacoma’s downtown development, specifically bringing and keeping jobs in the city.

“Our businesses are progressing, but we need to do more to retain them,” said incumbent Bill Evans, who is running to keep his at-large Position No. 8 seat.

At-large Position No. 7 candidate Ken Miller, owner of The Reputation Management Group, a consulting practice in Tacoma, said one of his goals as a member of the City Council would be to bring 1,000 manufacturing jobs to Tacoma to rebuild the city’s economic base.

Doug Miller, who hopes voters return him to his District 1 seat on the council, said that in the last four years 7,000 new jobs have come to Tacoma.

“That’s progress,” he said.

At-large Position No. 7 candidate Robin McCoy, owner of Broadway’s coffee shop in downtown Tacoma, described herself as a detail-oriented person who would work to bring businesses to the community.

“I believe in residency,” declared District 3 candidate Amy Heller, an aide to state Rep. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma). “Tacoma residents should have first shot at city jobs.”

The city’s infrastructure was another major topic of concern.

Ken Miller said he wanted to rebuild Tacoma’s neighborhoods within 10 years without raising taxes. He also said the city must to a better job of planning for the effects of growth.

“I believe it’s the job of a leader to set ambitious goals,” he said.

Another hot topic at the forum was crime.

“My No. 1 focus in public safety, which is a big problem here,” said Michele Reich, a candidate for the at-large Position No. 8.

Reich, who has a background in the military and law enforcement, said she has a comprehensive 12-point program called the “Blue Light Special” that will be unveiled Oct. 1.

Ken Miller said he wanted to cut the city’s serious crime rate in half.

Other candidates who spoke included District 1 candidate Spiro Manthou, general services manager at Bates Technical College; District 3 candidate Tom Stenger, a former Tacoma City Council member who is former attorney for the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association; and at-large Position No. 7 candidates Angela Strege, a former Tacoma School Board member who is a customer relations representative for business development at Integrated Defense Systems of The Boeing Co., and Edryce Reynolds, an instructor at the Pierce College campus on McNeil Island.

District 1 candidate Steve Muller, an operations manager for a mechanical contractor, did not attend. District 3 candidates Ron Driscoll, a therapist at Sunrise Early Education Center and site director for the Boys and Girls Club at Edison Elementary, and Janis Martin, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves and CEO/founder of Safe Homes, a youth services organization, also did not attend.

Current District 3 Councilwoman Bil Moss is not running for re-election.

Sharon McGavick, who currently holds the at-large Position No. 7 seat on the council, is prevented from running again by term limits.

The top two vote-getters in each race during the Sept. 16 primary will move on to the Nov. 4 general election.