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Larson and Harrelson eye Snoqualmie mayor's spot this fall - Greg Harrelson
SNOQUALMIE - Snoqualmie mayoral candidate James "Greg" Harrelson has never held public office, but his passion for the city made this year a first one of political action for him.
He has held opinions about the way things should be in Snoqualmie for a long time. His father told him, however, that he couldn't complain about anything unless he got involved in an effort to change it. Following some contentious city issues earlier this year, Harrelson put the advice to practice and submitted his name to run for mayor. He got the second-highest number of votes (28.9 percent) in last month's primary.
Following is some background on him and some of his thoughts on major issues facing the city in coming years.
Harrelson was born and raised in Texas. He and his family spent some time in California's Bay Area before moving to North Bend in 1995, drawn by Harrelson's new job at Microsoft, the beauty of the area and good local schools. Four years later, the family moved to Snoqualmie.
Harrelson said he has kept abreast of the city's politics, but only recently decided to become involved. He said discussions in the city over the past year regarding police services compelled him to run for office.
He is married and has one son.
City financial situation and
Harrelson said the city's finances can be managed by keeping to the "need to haves" and "want to haves."
He said the "need to haves" are critical city services like police, fire and utilities. Those services should be funded. The community center, on the other hand, is a "want to have.".
He said he has yet to see a financially sustainable option for a community center with a pool, and the fact that other communities are shutting down their pools should give Snoqualmie residents pause before approving any bonds to build their own.
"Everybody wants a pool, I want a pool," he said. "Right now, though, no one has presented a viable plan."
The community center is also tied into another issue Harrelson thinks the city needs to consider, the rift between the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood and the city's historic downtown. He said he would not want a majority of people (Ridge homeowners) voting to put in a pool when downtown residents may not be able to pay for it or wouldn't want one anyway. He said such a move would widen that perceived rift, especially since other city facilities have gone to the Ridge. He also disputed the notion that moving facilities out of the downtown area's flood plain should be the primary reason for moving them to the Ridge.
"Snoqualmie has been around for 100 years; it has managed to survive the flooding up to this point," he said. "If you are worried about flooding, you should be more worried about moving people out, not buildings."
Harrelson said he could make few campaign promises on the city's budget since the situation is so fluid, but said one of the first things he would do is reduce the mayor's salary (presently $20,000 a year) by at least half.
Police and fire
Keeping, and therefore funding, local police protection is an election promise, Harrelson said. Harrelson said having a local police department is one of the main reasons his family chose to live in Snoqualmie, and he cited a previous experience in North Bend when King County Sheriff officers took 45 minutes to respond to a call he made as an example of why he wants his hometown to have a local department.
"I need that sort of [local department] response time," he said.
Rather than looking at the police department as a revenue liability, he said the department can be seen as more of a revenue source. Harrelson said that recently 100 percent of all the money Snoqualmie collects from traffic tickets goes to Issaquah because that is where they are processed. Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer said the court in Issaquah that handles the tickets has gradually taken a bigger chunk of the fine to cover its costs. Now that's it's reached 100 percent, Schaffer said the city may join a consortium of other cities to process their own tickets before they start paying Issaquah out of pocket for the service.
Harrelson also suggested that Snoqualmie approach North Bend about offering police services to that area. He said North Bend would benefit from a force based in a neighboring city, as opposed to one in Seattle.
"We've got the infrastructure, we've got the police officers, we've got the cars, we've got the local knowledge," Harrelson said. "There is no reason we can't be providing that service as opposed to somebody else. We can keep local money local."
Harrelson said numbers presented in the past year by members of the City Council that paint the police department as too big and too expensive have been misleading. He said showing Snoqualmie alongside other cities in different parts of the state is not fair since the cost of running a department in this city is so much more than one in Eastern Washington, for example.
"We weren't really comparing apples to apples," he said.
Keeping a local police department could also help local business, Harrelson said. He said businesses will be more willing to set up shop in a city patrolled by local police, and that Tacoma aggressively touts its local police when it markets itself to companies as a place to do business.
Police service is not the only way a city can attract business. Harrelson said the city must do whatever it can to bring in business, including a reconfiguration of business permit fees. Presently, Snoqualmie charges a permit fee based on how many employees a business has, a policy that discourages big commercial companies from coming to the city. Harrelson said that should be reversed so big businesses are given incentives to come to Snoqualmie. He also said some of the city's strict planning standards (which he said may have driven away potential grocers to Snoqualmie Ridge before Village Foods signed on) need to be looked at.
"Our city is not being very well promoted," he said.
He said the city should try to get more services in town so residents will spend their money in Snoqualmie. Citing a recent study that labeled the city as being "leaky" in its ability to retain local dollars, Harrelson said more services will prevent residents from spending their money in Seattle and the Eastside.
"People don't have anywhere to spend their money here. I can't do all my business here. Why not?" he asked.
Such a revitalization would be at the core of keeping the city together, as well, Harrelson said. He would discourage new retail that would compete with current businesses and said Snoqualmie Ridge businesses should work in tandem with downtown businesses to help create the "One City" mentality that Snoqualmie is working toward.
"We need each other because we have the houses and the retail base that comes from up there [Snoqualmie Ridge], and in downtown we have all the potential to capture all the tourist dollars. We can't have one without the other," he said.
Vote for me, not the
While Harrelson's lack of political experience may be seen as a liability, he said his business-minded approach to management would be a refreshing change at City Hall. Through his work at Microsoft, Harrelson said he has directed budgets bigger than Snoqualmie's and has developed a management style that brings out the best in his employees.
For example, if the police department budget was too big, Harrelson said he would give the department a number to work to and rely on Schaffer to scale the budget back. If Schaffer couldn't do it, the city would get someone who could, but the first step in management should always be to approach the expert about their department, Harrelson said.
"I had not been involved in politics before and I can't say that I have ever really been interested in politics before, but I am pretty passionate about what I am passionate about," he said. "The city is a really cool city and when I see people doing things going again