Wentzel, Hansen contrast in council race
Incumbent, challenger both familiar at meetings
Friday, October 21, 2011
Vancouver City Council Position 4
Background: Public Relations Director, US Digital. Service with Clark County Elections Advisory Board; Washington State Faith & Freedom Coalition; and Chamorro Community Outreach.
Funds Raised: $5,017
Major Endorsements: Commissioner Tom Mielke; Rep. Paul Harris; Vancouver Port Commissioner Jerry Oliver; and David and Donna Madore.
Background: Office Services Manager, Clark Public Utilities. Vancouver City Councilor February 2010 to present. Serves on Children’s Justice Center Board, Elder Justice Center Board, C-TRAN Board of Directors, Downtown Rotary, Knights of Columbus, Leadership Clark County and CYO Football.
Funds Raised: $12,835
Major Endorsements: Vancouver Firefighters Union, Vancouver Police Officers Guild, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, Clark County Association of Realtors.
Live chat with Hansen
Bart Hansen will be available to answer readers' questions in a live chat at Columbian.com on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at noon. To sign up for an email reminder or join the chat, visit www.columbian.com/chat/. Josephine Wentzel did not respond to The Columbian's invitation to live chat.
The race for Vancouver City Council Position 4 features a candidate who has campaigned three times in as many years and a local political newcomer.
While incumbent Bart Hansen and challenger Josephine Wentzel both say public safety is their top priority for ever-scarcer city funds, the pair differ on many other issues.
As full-time Clark Public Utilities employee, city councilor and father of two, Hansen said it’s been a hectic three years.
“If I didn’t want it this bad, I wouldn’t be doing it,” said Hansen who first ran in 2009 and lost, was appointed in 2010 and had to run then to keep the seat. “It’s that opportunity to help people. It’s really easy to protect something, you simply vote yes or no. It’s extremely difficult to create something.”
Wentzel, public relations director at US Digital, has become a familiar sight at city council meetings, where she’s spoken often against tolling and other aspects of the Columbia River Crossing. It was a feeling of being silenced and ignored by the majority of the council that motivated her to run.
“They surprised me in a bad way that they have their minds made up — hearing from citizens is just a formality,” Wentzel said. “I will welcome citizens and will be open to input if elected to the Vancouver City Council.”
Here’s where the two stand on city issues:
Columbia River Crossing
Probably the pair’s strongest contrast lies in how they think commuters should cross the Columbia River.
Wentzel said that light rail, tolls, final federal decisions and other key elements have been steamrolled ahead without a vote or without heed toward cost or impacts.
While the city council approved the preferred alternative of a bridge with light rail in 2008, and federal approval is expected before Wentzel would take office, she has said that the CRC is a mountain that can yet be moved.
“Hopefully, there are people who feel the same way,” she said of other anti-CRC candidates also running for office, that she says, if elected, could force a change of plans. “We’ll go from there. We can ask (the CRC) to reevaluate, ask them, ‘Let’s do a vote on this.’”
In her campaign kickoff speech this year, she mentioned her relationship with Mayor Tim Leavitt, as the pair have sparred in council chambers over the CRC.
“Let me tell you, I will be the mayor’s worst nightmare,” said Wentzel to applause.
However, she later said she sees herself as working well with all members of the city council. When she said she would be Leavitt’s nightmare, she explained, she meant she would provide a counterpoint to his views, not that they wouldn’t have a respectful working relationship.
“(Leavitt) doesn’t want me to be in there,” she said. “He knows I’m going to be asking questions. He doesn’t like that.”
Hansen said he’s in favor of the project, including light rail. For the last year, he’s served on the C-Tran Board of Directors, which is set to put a vote on light rail operations and maintenance before voters next year, he said. He said he’s waiting to hear the results of an expert study before he decides whether the sales tax vote should be districtwide or within a subdistrict.
As for the rest of the CRC, he said the city council’s time for influence is largely done.
“I’ve never promised people something I can’t deliver —we’ve heard that promise before, and look at where we are now,” Hansen said. “The state legislators are going to have the greatest impact on this crossing project.”
Among Hansen’s top goals is adequate fire and police coverage. He often points out that he was the only council member to vote against the city’s last budget because it contained cuts to public safety. Vancouver also needs a detective dedicated to investigating crimes against the elderly, particularly as that segment of the population grows, he said. Keeping detectives on the Children’s Justice Center team is also a top priority.
But that costs money — and times aren’t flush.
Hansen pointed toward further tweaks in the city’s contracts with its unions — employee salaries and benefits consume about 75 percent of the city’s $181.5 million general fund.
“If you want to right the ship, that is where it has to happen,” he said. “I think the agreement with the firefighters paved the way.”
Hansen, who is backed by the firefighter and police unions, called the August agreement groundbreaking. The contract includes no cost of living raises for two years, followed by a 3.7 percent increase and a 2 percent increase. The union is also going to establish its own separate insurance pool, which is expected to cut projected health care cost increases by half.
Wentzel, however, called the negotiations “disgraceful” and blasted the union for asking for an 8.2 percent raise in the first place.
“I’d like to see the union negotiate in public — those are taxpayer dollars,” she said.
But like her opponent, she said police and fire are the city’s core services that must be protected. She said that the city needs to reprioritize its spending, and also said an increase of volunteerism and fundraising could be used to back city services like police, she said. She called for coordination between the city and churches to coordinate disaster relief programs, where the large buildings of churches and plenty of parking would make them natural havens.
“It doesn’t have to cost taxpayers,” she said. “Nonprofits can work together.”
Vancouver must cut permits, impact fees and other costs to help businesses develop, Wentzel said. She pointed to cases where fees have been in the tens of thousands range simply to expand.
“I would like to consult with businessmen and women on issues coming up,” she said. “We need to allow business to thrive.”
Special interests should no longer get tax abatements to build on their properties, Wentzel said. She referenced the deal approved by the council in July, that gave developer Elie Kassab a property tax break that will save him $1.1 million over the next 25 years. In turn, he is building 92 apartments on the site of downtown Vancouver’s Burgerville.
She also noted that the Al Angelo company got a similar deal for its construction of the Heritage Place condos at Eighth and Columbia streets. Both Kassab and members of the Angelo family have donated to campaigns. The most Kassab gave was $750 in 2009 to Leavitt; he’s given Hansen a total of $500 in the last two years.
“It’s not a necessary thing,” Wentzel said. “That’s $1 million that could have gone into the community.”
Hansen, however, called the arrangement exactly the type of deal that can spur development.
“It’s about government getting out of the way, like what we did with Elie Kassab,” he said. “Or with Heritage Place (condos), the government got out of the way and let private development come in. That property is now back on the tax rolls.”
In looking back over the last year and a half, Hansen said he’s proud of spearheading the creation of a low-income utility assistance program, that after $100,000 in seed money, is intended to be supported by donations private citizens can add to their water bills.
“I can look at that and say I did it,” he said. “It’s one of the things I’ve been working on ... that I want to develop and continue to make sure they’re on the right path.”
Wentzel said to watch carefully who is behind her opponent’s campaign. Many of them, she said, stand to profit from light rail or CRC contracts.
“I believe in God,” she said in her campaign kickoff speech. “And I believe that our God will reveal the truth and there will be transparency moving forward.”
Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall