Mayoral debate: Leavitt, Turlay spar on jobs, CRC

Light rails also a point of contention heading into November election

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and City Councilor Bill Turlay both prefer cooking to gardening, rank the Columbia River Waterfront Renaissance Trail as their favorite place to walk in the city and agree that chronically congested Mill Plain Boulevard and Chkalov Drive rates as the worst intersection.

The differences between the two mayoral candidates came out Wednesday not during the getting-to-know-you questions lobbed at them at the end of a debate at Clark College's Gaiser Hall, but when they were asked to describe ways to attract more jobs to the city.

Turlay, who opposes light rail and believes the federal government should pay a greater share of the Columbia River Crossing, described building on the city's economic foundation with the help of the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

Leavitt agreed that CREDC plays a key role, but said the city won't grow jobs unless it strengthens its connection to Portland and improves the Interstate 5 corridor.

The CRC, which was declared dead after the Washington Legislature adjourned without approving $450 million to match what had been approved by Oregon lawmakers, has been back in the news. On Sept. 26, a 5-4 majority of the C-Tran Board of Directors, including Leavitt, approved a set of draft agreements with TriMet that includes a plan to pay C-Tran's annual share of financing a light-rail extension to Clark College.

The next day, the U.S. Coast Guard granted a crucial permit allowing the CRC to build a new I-5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland.

While there's still plenty of uncertainty about the $2.7 billion megaproject — Oregon lawmakers adjourned Wednesday from a special session without reauthorizing funding, for example — the controversial topic remains front and center in Clark County. Leavitt has been repeatedly criticized for supporting bridge tolls after pledging during his 2009 campaign to fight them.

Turlay asked Leavitt if he thought the C-Tran Board of Directors' vote on light-rail funding violated the city council's compact that was adopted in July. Among other things, the compact said councilors shouldn't have hidden agendas. Leavitt was joined by Councilors Larry Smith and Bart Hansen in voting yes on the C-Tran agreement, but the rest of the city council never reviewed the proposed agreement.

"Does this act build a culture of trust?" Turlay asked.

Leavitt said he found it ironic Turlay was referring to a compact that he, along with Councilor Jeanne Stewart, refused to support.

Leavitt said C-Tran board members had two days to review the agreement and pointed out that it doesn't include a tax increase. He said he was proud the C-Tran board found a way to finance light rail without raising taxes.

Turlay said the only reason the agreement was rushed through was to try and influence Oregon lawmakers before they went into a special session.

'Lean machine'

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 16 for the Nov. 5 general election.

Wednesday's Official Vancouver Mayoral Debate was sponsored by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Clark College, the Vancouver Business Journal, the League of Women Voters and CFM Strategic Communications.

Leavitt and Turlay asked questions of each other and took questions from John McDonagh, publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal.

McDonagh said the questions had been submitted by neighborhood associations, community groups and student groups.

Both Leavitt and Turlay took the opportunity to talk about how the city has cut spending, refinanced debts and improved its credit rating.

"The city is a lean machine," Leavitt said.

Turlay said he would consider a bond measure to pay for infrastructure, but added he can still make cuts so taxpayers are reassured the city isn't wasting money.

Approximately 100 people attended the event, which McDonagh warned was not a campaign rally.

Leavitt, 42, was appointed to the city council in 2003. In 2009, he defeated Royce Pollard, who had been mayor since 1996.

Leavitt confirmed in February that he would seek a second term.

Turlay, 77, was elected in 2011 to his first four-year term. He filed to run for mayor just before the deadline in May after nobody else stepped up to challenge Leavitt.

Turlay, a retired Navy pilot, said he is winding down a beverage distribution business he runs from his home.

Leavitt has $65,938 in his campaign account, more than three times as much money as Turlay, according to records filed with the state's Public Disclosure Commission. Leavitt has spent $54,030 compared to Turlay's $6,346.

Leavitt's expenditures include $5,525 he reimbursed himself for lost wages for taking time off from his engineering job at PBS Engineering + Environmental to campaign. The mayor and city council typically meet four times a month and set policy, while Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes is responsible for the day-to-day operations of city government.

The mayor currently earns $26,624 a year, while councilors earn $21,372 a year. All members of the council are eligible to receive health benefits.