Vancouver council candidates offer differing visions

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver’s city council candidates made one thing clear Thursday evening: They all like police, fire and transportation.

But the six candidates for three positions on the seven-person city council offered different visions about how the city can best function during a candidates forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance at the Vancouver Community Library less than a week before ballots are mailed on Oct. 19.

Candidates for the Nov. 8 general election had their speeches interrupted by microphones cutting in and out, but all still managed to convey their opinions on topics from the Columbia River Crossing to fireworks before a full house in the library’s community room. Local school board candidates, and 49th District Democratic Rep. Sharon Wylie and her challenger, Republican Craig Riley, also spoke.

City council challengers criticized standing council members for failing to listen to citizens and for taking on “special projects” while not prioritizing core services. Incumbents touted their track record of accomplishments and said they take citizen input into account. Candidates are elected to four-year terms that pay $21,372 a year plus health benefits.

Last to speak were the candidates in what may be the closest race, Anne McEnerny-Ogle and Bill Turlay. The two moved on from the primary vote in August when they unseated incumbent Councilor Pat Campbell for Position 6, with Turlay claiming 34.61 percent of the vote and McEnerny-Ogle taking 33.27 percent.

“It really comes down to a liberal community organizer and a conservative … businessman,” Turlay, 75, told the audience of the non-partisan race. “It depends on which direction you want the city to go.”

Turlay, who runs a beverage distribution company from his east Vancouver home, touted his small business experience and called for a simplification and even elimination of some rules and regulations regarding businesses. He did, however, say that impact fees on businesses are an “absolute necessity.”

McEnerny-Ogle, 58, said that she’d like to find a way to phase in permitting and other startup costs to small businesses, so that they could pay over several years what they now have to pay upfront. She also called for the creation of an ombudsman position that could help those new to the system successfully start a business.

“It’s very difficult to navigate the many different regulations,” said McEnerny-Ogle, a retired math teacher and president of the Shumway Neighborhood Association. “We need someone to kind of help work through that system.”

On fireworks, McEnerny-Ogle said she worked with the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance to draft a proposal that sales be limited to July 3 and 4 only. Then, the issue could be put to voters. Turlay said he’d like to see a ban, noting his wife, Stephanie, who has lobbied the city council to end personal firework use, is “Mrs. Ban the Boom.”

Public safety, CRC

Candidates for Position 4, Josephine Wentzel and Councilor Bart Hansen, largely covered the topics of public safety and the CRC. Both candidates said they have strong ties to and belief in public safety. Wentzel, 52, was a former police detective in Guam; Hansen, 36, is endorsed by the police and fire unions.

Wentzel, public relations director for U.S. Digital in east Vancouver, said she was motivated to run after seeing light rail and the Columbia River Crossing progress with the council’s support.

“I would stop the CRC,” she replied when asked what programs she would either start or end if she could. “Why are we building on a bridge that is over capacity” when at least one new bridge should instead be built on N.E. 192nd Avenue.

She pointed out that Mayor Tim Leavitt ran on opposing tolls, which means that they are a city issue. The state Legislature holds final approval of tolls, with prices set by a governor-appointed commission.

“I’m not going to sell you on something I can’t deliver,” Hansen replied. “Instead, I’m going to tell you what I’ve done.”

Hansen, office services manager for Clark Public Utilities, pointed to his spearheading of a program that allows city water customers to add money to their bills, which is then used to help qualified low-income residents with their water bills. He said that he’s working to help create an Elder Justice Center to fight crimes against seniors and would like to see a detective dedicated to that function.

Hansen said a ban on fireworks “is not what we need right now,” but said sales should be shortened; Wentzel said she’d like to let the citizens decide.

Business fees

Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Smith and Cory Barnes also squared off, although they were largely in agreement over the need to keep business fees low.

Barnes, 24, a first-time candidate and computer store manager in Longview, said he wanted to run because he believed that citizens were being kept from a vote on the proposed extension of light rail into Vancouver as part of the CRC and to cut business regulations.

“We need a change of leadership,” he said. “We need to cut services that are not needed and we need to lower impact fees.”

“I have the experience, the leadership, the understanding and skills to move our city forward,” said Smith, 69, pointing out that he’s fought a Business and Occupation tax since he was elected to council in 2004. “The B&O tax is abusive to business.”

Barnes criticized Smith for voting in favor of a tax break for developer Elie Kassab to build apartments downtown, for his support of long-range land use planning and also for Smith’s support of public-private partnerships.

Smith said it was business, not government, that creates jobs and that, increasingly, specialized development agreements help owners get moving.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall