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County Executive candidates talk budget, church permits and more
The Greater Seattle Muslim Community hosted a forum with the King County Executive candidates, July 19 at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, with the county's budget shortfall, integrating diversity and land-use issues being the main topics of dicussion.
Present were former KIRO news anchor Susan Hutchison, Sen. Fred Jarrett, State Rep. Ross Hunter, King County Council Chairman Dow Constantine, engineer and businessman Alan Lobdell, former accountant and amateur astronomer Mike Goodspaceguy and Stan Lippmann, whose background is in alternative energy research and law. Another candidate, King County Councilmember Larry Phillips did not attend.
Guests at the forum represented such organizations as The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Washington, Muslim Students Association Northwest (MSAnw), Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim Association of Puget Sound and Alsadaqa.
The forum's moderator, Amro Youssef, said the goal was to help attendees get to know the candidates and for the candidates to learn of their concerns, especially to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry.
Candidates were asked about how to fill a $46 million hole in the county's general fund, transparency in government, whether brown bag lunch meetings might educate county employees about diversity and how to simplify permitting for the construction of churches, mosques, synagogues or temples.
Comments from the candidates follow, in order of their turn at the microphone.
Due to a schedule conflict, Hutchison left early and did not address all of the topics.
Hutchison: "King County has to live within its means, just like you do." She said she would call for a hiring freeze in county government and an audit analysis to "streamline and cut waste" and added, "The Executive has a role to see fair taxation on businesses to help the county thrive."
Jarrett: "We need to start with an understanding that the county doesn't have a revenue problem — the county has a spending problem." He asked attendees to check his Web site for his plans on "pushing back on individual expenditures and holding people accountable not for what they spend but what they deliver."
He said the questions and answers on his Web site are an indication of "what you will do in office. We need to hold people accountable."
In support of brown bag lunches, "when people work together as a team, you get better products and services."
As for land use, "religious institutions are not the only ones who have permit issues. Schools and businesses do, too. ... It is incumbent to make building permits predictable and reliable."
Hunter: "King County is a wonderful place to live but there is a tremendous amount of regional dysfunction." He said cities must work together on transit, land use and development and learn to deal with health care costs and hiring freezes.
In responding to constituents, "I would be very public," the exception being in legal situations where confidentiality is mandated.
On fostering understanding, "You have to consider the right strategy to learn how to get people to get along ... not just to get along but to get the work done. Brown bag lunches are a good idea but clearly, we have to go further than that."
Issues within city governments complicate the county permitting process, he admitted.
"We have to provide fairness for everyone and make sure everyone can worship without thinly veiled opposition to certain groups. We need to improve the system so it does not drive up costs."
Goodspaceguy: "Think of Earth as a space ship and how to make King County the best possible space ship. He wants to see "employment for everyone, education for everyone." Establishing free parking outside of colleges and universities would be a step toward wider access, he said.
"We need openness, not only in government but in all of society," he stated, criticizing the Seattle Times for an editorial that said there were only six candidates for King County Executive and that those without money would not be successful.
On diversity issues, "I was taught as a child that God created us and we are all descendants of the same family. I want you to think of yourself as crew members of space ship Earth. We're one human family."
Pertaining to land use, "I want to keep separation of church and state," yet "as we look at Palestine and Israel, the Mormons, the Lutherans, the whole homeland is space ship Earth."
Constantine: Pointing to his record of working with diverse communities, "to advance civil rights and greater understanding," he mentioned a measure to prohibit Public Health from demanding to know a person's immigration status before offering care to them. He compared "what we saw after 9/11" (mistrust of Muslims) to suspicion toward the Japanese after World War II.
He referenced ways that he has challenged the county on controversial issues such as reform of animal shelters.
He praised King County employees as "a magnificently diverse and creative workforce ... that can change society well beyond their job descriptions." He said he strongly supported the move to make Martin Luther King, Jr. the symbol of King County and hoped that brown bag dialogues would embrace this ideal.
On land use, he acknowledged that the biggest problems were in rural areas, due to infrastructure such as sewer systems, but "we continue to work with mosques and churches in our area."
Lobdell: "The Executive needs knowledge from the inside out .... from the trenches, the ground up. Why we're $40-some million in the hole is because of a lack of attention to the basics."
Aside from personnel files or litigation records that are sometimes closed, he said he'd provide full public disclosure: "I have nothing to hide. We're serving you, the public doesn't serve us."
In favor of brown bag meetings, "You can sit across from a person your entire working life, but to really get to know someone, you need to do a social effort.
He said his own church in Maple Valley has been trying to build for four years and the permitting process "takes too long. It doesn't work for anybody."
Lippmann: "My campaign is about ideas, not money. It's about the will of the voter. ... American history has been governed by secrecy and fraud. We have to have a second American revolution."
Regarding diversity, "It's not supposed to matter how we look," but he also noted that relationships "can't focus on political correctness."
Also, "I believe in harmony and peace and part of the reason we haven't had that is that we need more neighborhood representation. There is much too much concentration of power in too few hands."
The Aug. 18 primary election will narrow the field down to two candidates for King County Executive.