On the cusp of the November 2023 general elections, the Carnation Chamber of Commerce held a city council candidate forum on Sept. 25. The event was hosted by commerce secretary Nancy Gass at the Sno-Valley Senior Center.
The seven candidates — running for positions one, two, three, four and five — were asked questions that were submitted by residents, then summarized into concise questions that every candidate had 90 seconds to answer.
Candidates were queried on safety measures concerning the Tolt Dam, management of the city budget, crime, community involvement and outreach, supporting small businesses, accommodating traffic congestion and the sustainability of Carnation’s roots and economic growth.
Q: What do you believe the city’s budget priority should be? Give specifics on how you plan on accomplishing that.
Many candidates agreed the budget would continue to look healthy for the next few years, but after this, issues will start to present themselves. All candidates were against increasing housing development and touched on economic development through infrastructure and new small businesses.
Candidate Brodie Nelson (position three) felt the priority should be filling open lots and properties with new businesses instead of housing. He made a point to mention the need to generate more revenue once the housing surplus dries. Nelson did not entertain the potential of raising property tax prices. He said Carnation collects $700 per year, per household — which is not a lot — and no one wants to pay more property taxes.
Candidate Tim Harris (position three) touched on bringing in new businesses, then pivoted to the benefits he saw in the city preventative maintenance program, which repairs city equipment and infrastructure instead of replacing it. He said this reduces city costs and creates more wiggle room within the budget. Additionally, Harris said he wants to adjust the 40% police budget.
“We don’t have a ton of extra money,” he said. “It was pointed out almost half our budget goes to the King County Sheriff. I would love to be able to change that line item if we could get a deal that would provide the services we need for less money.”
Candidate Jessica Merizan (position five) expressed the same belief that bringing in small businesses will generate revenue, as well as events. Merizan focused her answer on the type of customer. She believes the biggest bang for Carnation’s buck is eco-tourism, bringing in people only for the day.
Merizan also spoke of budget allocation and staying within the numbers.
“We can get a better deal for what we have,” she said after stating the police absorb 40% of the budget.
Her counterpart, candidate Dustin Green (position five), focused less on infrastructure and more on the structure of the budget itself. He believes making the budget bi-annual and structuring it — which he helped transition the city to — has helped the city better evaluate the budget and allows the city and council to look further into the future. Green finished with his support of the annual council retreat, noting it is another tool to locate the priorities and goals of the budget.
Candidate Adair Hawkins (position one) pointed out that Carnation had a growth cap. She said once the city caps off, the budget should prioritize business economic development, but keep Carnation’s unique charm in the design. Hawkins focused on the need for better transportation connections. She explained the difficulties of traveling around the city, especially if people don’t own a truck. She shared her desire for every Carnation sidewalk to be accessible, especially for stroller and wheelchair users.
Q: Crime has been on the rise. What would you do to keep Carnation safe and friendly?
When talking about crime reduction, most candidates fell into two positions: increasing police coverage or increasing preventative programs and resources for people experiencing poverty, addiction and homelessness. However, all candidates mentioned the importance of knowing the familiar and unfamiliar faces in the community and being aware of your surroundings.
Although both candidates Green and Ryan Burrell (position three) mentioned other forms of crime prevention measures, the candidates shared their support for increasing police coverage, especially at night, as well as putting pressure on King County to reconsider the city police needs.
“Our police contract makes it kind of hard to have some flexibility in there. I think next time our contract comes around…we are going to need to ask for further concessions for when we get more police coverage. It needs to be more randomized,” Burrell said.
However, candidates Hawkins (position one), Merizan and Max Voelker (position four) felt adding more police coverage was not the solution. Instead, they supported resource and program-based preventative measures.
Hawkins said she supports organizations like Empower Youth Network, which provides youth mentorship and parenting and drug prevention classes. She said these programs, and connecting with people who need help, can help stop crimes.
“Instead of an altercation, what we focus on here is relationships before things start, and it’s really really helped,” she said.
Merizan said most crimes in Carnation are acts of desperation or opportunity, and believes the remedy to reduce crime is not increasing cops. Instead, she wants to use the multitude of nonprofits in Carnation and provide more behavioral health programs.
Voelker echoed Merizan’s notion that the crimes in Carnation are acts of desperation. He said most of these people are experiencing poverty and addiction. He said to reduce crime, the best tools are each other, but providing help and resources will be very beneficial.
“Treat poverty and treat addiction, and you treat the root of the crime,” Voelker said.
Nelson and Harris added their solutions, which stood out from the group.
Nelson mentioned keeping King County accountable. However, he swayed from the group of candidates when he suggested mimicking a model from another city, which centers on community patrol in the absence of police.
Harris mentioned he aligned with getting to know your community. However, he honed in on the benefits of community safety training from police. He provided an example of police showing residents how to install outside house cameras.
Sustainability and economic growth
Q: How do we remain uniquely Carnation while protecting the environment and still having a viable economic community?
Some candidates quarreled about the relationship between environmental and economic growth.
Harris saw a trade-off relationship between environmental and economic growth. While counterpart Nelson felt there could be a balance, candidates Voelker and Merizan felt the two could grow simultaneously.
Harris said solving an economic problem comes with environmental problems and vice-versa. He said the beauty and small size of Carnation are its greatest asset and challenge. He suggested changing codes to mitigate harsh environmental impacts when building infrastructure, such as planting more trees on the lot or managing water runoff.
“Building the building will have an environmental impact,” Harris said matter-of-factly.
However, candidates Voelker and Merizan said there did not need to be a trade-off.
“Economic success and maintaining what makes Carnation, Carnation is attainable,” Voelker said.
Merizan agreed and noted the lack of progress and focus she saw when it came to environmental conservation and that changes in codes and ordinances are not sufficient.
“I completely disagree with any assertion that environmental conservation and economic deployment and vibrancy are at odds — they can work together,” Merizan said.
Instead, she believes Carnation needs to implement design standards that bake sustainability into it.
However, candidates Green, Hawkins and Burrell heavily supported the increase in planting trees and overviewed the existing unique water and sewage filtration system, which keeps from contaminating rivers. Hawkins and Burrell noted that the majority of cities pay fines and let unfiltered water run into the rivers.
Hawkins and Burrell mentioned their full support for King County to take down the levies — natural or artificial walls that manipulate water flow, blocking it or pivoting its natural path.