Executive candidates blast county management at forum
June 26, 2009 · 4:38 PM
Poor management was a recurring theme Thursday as six King County executive candidates discussed their bids for election at a forum in North Bend.
Each person had different answers for who was a fault for the county’s woes and who is best suited to fix the problems, which include a $110-million general-fund deficit and an expected shortfall of $168 million for Metro Transit.
County Council member Larry Phillips placed part of the blame on former executive Ron Sims, who recently left office to take a federal appointment with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He says Sims lost focus during his third term.
State Representative Ross Hunter isn’t letting the council off so easy. He says the county government grew increasingly irresponsible while candidates like Phillips and fellow councilmember Dow Constantine stood by and watched.
Hunter cited a recent state audit that said the county’s financial system is open to potential abuse of public funds, and he castigated the council for failing to take action when the county auditor recommended establishing an audit committee back in 2007.
“Calling for a plan now is like yelling for the horses after you’ve left the barn door open all night,” Hunter said in a recent blog post on his campaign web site.
Hunter also criticized the council for giving raises to county employees when the region was suffering from an economic decline.
“No other government in the area was giving raises,” he said at the forum. “Microsoft wasn’t even giving cost-of-living raises.”
Candidate Susan Hutchison didn’t cut Hunter any slack for his work with the legislature.
The former KIRO-TV news anchor slammed state lawmakers for failing to take action on a recommendation from the regional transportation commission to consolidate the Puget Sound’s various transportation agencies. She described mobility as the most “significant issue in this county, period.”
Hutchison appealed to the forum’s rural audience by accusing the county government of acting arrogant toward its outer jurisdictions.
Candidate Alan Lobdell seconded that notion.
“I’ve seen the disrespect that King County management shows the smaller cities, the rural cities, and the property owners in the east side and south side of this county,” he said.
Lobdell, a former Marine and political outsider, is a longtime public-works manager who has worked with various jurisdictions throughout the state, including Snoqualmie, Kent, and Tukwila.
Sen. Fred Jarrett described himself as a consensus builder who could use his experience in both the public and private sector to achieve accountability with the county government.
He suggested that the county should be split into separate regional and municipal service-delivery areas.
“They have different problems, they have different funding sources, and so that’s the way I’d like to go,” he said. “I think it’s about 30 years late.”
Phillips, who leads the fundraising race with nearly $373,000 in campaign contributions, suggested that his executive experience in both the public and private sectors has set him apart from the other candidates.
“I know how to hire people, hold them accountable, and make sure that good things are done well,” he said.
Constantine told the audience that he plans to open the executive’s office to “innovation, change, and renewal.” He’s already started down that path with a proposal to make the county’s high-salaried, non-union employees pay for a portion of their health care benefits.
Constantine cautioned the mostly rural audience that he is a Democrat who supports environmental protection.
“If those things make your hair stand on end, then I’m probably not your guy,” he said.
Constantine also defended the County Council’s performance, saying it had done the best job it could while making up for Sims’ deficiencies.
Spontaneous applause broke out when the introductory speaker mentioned electing a new executive in November, suggesting that many in the audience agreed with the idea that Sims’ management was lacking.
Candidate Goodspaceguy was also at the forum, but he was not invited to join the panel for discussion. Contender Stan Lippman, a disbarred attorney, was also absent from the panel.
By Joshua Adam Hicks / Bellevue Reporter — special to the Snoqualmie Valley Record.
Joshua Adam Hicks can be reached at 425-453-4290.