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HR Council Candidates: Q and A

News staff writer

October 25, 2006

Arthur Babitz

1. What is the top growth concern that you feel the city still needs to address?

Our communal fear is waking up to explosive growth like Bend or housing prices like Aspen. In the past year the city has made some good code changes to address neighborhood livability issues identified by residents, but when it comes to growth we're really playing catch-up. Water system, sewer failures, housing affordability, traffic, parking, annexation, industrial lands ... we're stuck reacting to the next crisis like the arcade game "whack-a-mole.” I can suggest the next item to whack, but the one-at-a-time approach is part of the problem. A great city needs great urban planning. The surge in development has city staff working hard just to process applications and deal with immediate concerns. If we're mostly reacting to the effects of growth after it happens, we're not choosing our own path. Growth affects every part of city infrastructure and services. It isn't a part-time job and it isn't the responsibility of a single department. As we emerge from the current application load and budget crisis, we need a full-time focus on growth and its effects. We're not the first city to face this challenge -— we can learn by studying the best examples across the country.

2. How would you make a decision on an issue that is unpopular with constituents?

You can't please everyone always, but you can always do your job well. I think any decision must pass three tests

1) Is it legal? To maintain its respect and authority the council must clearly and strictly obey current law.

2) Can we afford it? The council cannot do things we cannot pay for, no matter how much we want them

3) Does it broadly benefit the citizens of Hood River? City Council must take actions that it believes will provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of its citizens.

None of these principles is absolute. Legal decisions are not always black and white, and the harm to the few can offset the benefit to the many. That's where judgment comes in. City voters have to evaluate the character of the candidates based on very sparse information. If you haven't had a chance to meet me, I hope you will have a chance to learn how I think and how I solve problems by reading some of the articles on my Web site: http://ArthurForCouncil.blogspot.com, or by giving me a call.

3. What is your top management strength and how would it benefit citizens?

I've managed high-tech product development for more than 20 years, and I've owned my own business for the last 10. I've learned many tricks over that time, but the single most important tool for overseeing complex operations is to do your homework so you can ask good questions. It's not as easy as it sounds. Turn on C-SPAN for a few minutes if you're not sure what I mean. Questions can needlessly prolong a deliberation, they can insult the presenters, and they can confuse everyone. But a single well-constructed question can get at the truth, get everyone up to speed and shorten deliberation. Ask a good question, then listen carefully to the answer.

4. Should the city provide funding for the waterfront park and how much, if any?

City residents, businesses and visitors are already funding the waterfront park. Several hundred people and businesses have contributed almost $200,000 because they believe in the vision, and the Parks and Recreation District has pledged an additional $200,000. Many of these supporters share my excitement not only because they want to see a great park in our front yard, but because after more than 20 years the city and the port are taking steps toward a sensible waterfront development plan. With the Lot 6 park in place, the path to reasonable mixed use development will be far clearer.

I'm not ready to reverse my previous response on city spending. We can't spend money we don't have. But we can leverage funds raised to win grants to do the basic park construction in phases. The next question is maintenance, estimated at $45,000 per year for the completed park. We need to construct a plan to cover that expense through a combination of user/event fees, contributions, and bequests.

5. What steps would you take to prevent the city from incurring another budget deficit?

First, let's not forget that the city is still in a budget deficit. We have an $800,000 balance on a $3,000,000 general fund. That's a big problem. Though we have a plan to eliminate that deficit over the next 2-3 years, it's just a plan. We are not out of the woods.

Second, let's recognize that each year between 1997 and 2005 the city spent more than it took in to the general fund. Each year the hole got bigger, but it was only when it reached $1.2 million that the warning bells sounded. City council oversees city government, so it bears full responsibility for any budget deficit. Our city manager has worked with staff to reform the budgeting process so we won't make the same mistakes. But the system will fail us again if the city council doesn't consider fiscal oversight its top priority.

Paul Blackburn

1. What is the top growth concern that you feel the city still needs to address?

Housing cost increase is the number one fallout from our recent, dramatic growth. Hood River has been growing in popularity as a tourist destination for 20 years or more, but in the last few years there have been so many magazine articles and “Top Ten” rankings that have really turned up the pressure. As we have watched the prices of modest homes pass the $200,000, then 250- then $300,000 mark, it’s been hard not to become very concerned about our town becoming unlivable for working people.

We’ve had some success on council addressing this decrease in livability. I had the opportunity to sit on the Affordable Housing work group that made numerous recommendations that have already been implemented: accessory dwelling units are now allowed in higher density residential zones, selected parcels of land can be permitted to have denser zoning where compatible, staff collaborates with developers to give them incentives to include some workforce housing in their projects.

2. How would you make a decision on an issue that is unpopular with constituents?

It is extremely important for councilors to listen to the arguments presented in public hearings. When a council meeting draws a crowd, we know that some folks care enough about the topic to spend time on it, but it can be difficult to know how many people are represented – it might only be a very active few. In general, citizens do not attend meetings to urge us to vote yes on a good idea or to express that we are on the right track. So the balance is to take into account the reasoning that speakers present; if a small group of folks are strongly against a proposed rule change, it may be to the benefit of many more. In these, and in all cases, council has to think hard about what is best for the City.

3. What is your top management strength and how would it benefit citizens?

An asset I bring to the council is that I do not have a narrow, specific agenda that I am trying to further. I am willing to spend the time to be on council because I want to help create the best town we can for us all to live in. I also feel really good about the tone that the current council has established, due in large part to the mayor. We do not agree on all topics, but we treat one another kindly and with respect. I think I have contributed to this positive environment.

4. Should the city provide funding for the waterfront park and how much, if any?

This is a topic that the city council should not decide. We need to take this question to the voters of our community.

5. What steps would you take to prevent the city from incurring another budget deficit?

I have worked closely with the mayor and city manager to get us out of the hole we are in. When I arrived on council two years ago, the deficit was over a million dollars. Last year we climbed out of that hole by nearly $400,000. We are on track to a balanced budget in just a couple more years. Continued prudent management by staff and oversight by council will bring this about.

Martin Campos-Davis

1. What is the top growth concern that you feel the city still needs to address?

Growth in general is a major concern. We are destined to grow and that's a fact we need to embrace it rather than fight against it and be prepared for managing that growth. The best way to do that is to be prepared for it.

1. Have a vision of Hood River for the next 25 years — a vision that comes with broad support from all sectors of our city.

2. Policies and ordinances that can accommodate expected growth, not only residential growth but also business growth.

3. Reconsider our urban growth boundaries — we will at some point run out of buildable lots in the city and we have a responsibility to ensure we have adequate land available for continued growth.

4. City services will need to keep up with the projected growth and deliver services its citizens expect either by updated technology or adding personnel.

5. Effectively communicating with all our residents, visitors, and businesses. Folks that do business in our city and residents need to know how we come to decisions and should feel welcomed to contribute in that process.

2. How would you make a decision on an issue that is unpopular with constituents?

Flipping a coin is probably out of the question. I would certainly consider the facts and welcome public input on how that particular issue affects them. Once that review has happened I would take into account how that decision aligns with the long term interests of city residents, businesses and the city itself. I ask myself, does this make sense for us to take this option? How does this decision align with our goals?

Rarely do we have the opportunity to pass a resolution or make a decision representing our constituents that will have 100 percent consensus. But, by making these tough decisions popular or unpopular we hope to keep the city moving forward.

3. What is your top management strength and how would it benefit citizens?

I have a good capacity to listen which is much different from just hearing.

In the case of council I want to be able to not only hear concerns brought forward by constituents but I want to be able to listen and understand those concerns. I also feel that the people of Hood River want to see results. The path to having good successes and positive results is by having a vision with measurable goals.

How do our citizens know we are doing a good job running the city? Is it by us telling them we are? Or can they point to specific goals met and know that for a fact? It's one thing to say we are on track to reduce our deficit, quite another to point to a $400,000 reduction in the deficit to provide something measurable toward that particular goal.

4. Should the city provide funding for the waterfront park and how much, if any?

The waterfront park has been a concept for a number of years and it is now here in front of us. We didn't get to this point by going it alone and I don't feel the city should go it alone now.

It is estimated that it will take about $40,000 a year to maintain the park. That $40,000 doesn't have to be represented by cash up front from one single entity. It can be approached from a consortium perspective. Maybe we get one entity to supply paper products, another to keep the lawn mowed, another to exchange maintenance of equipment.

The major entities involved each have their strengths as an organization and resources they manage. Maybe we can institute a barter of services between those players to keep the park maintained, so that we avoid any single entity coming up with the early cost out of their budget. Before I consider the city providing funding for the park I would want to explore the bartering option to its fullest.

5. What steps would you take to prevent the city from incurring another budget deficit?

We are on the right track right now. We need to stay vigilant regarding our expenses and keep in place the cost-cutting measures we have started until the deficit is gone. When the deficit is gone we should continue those practices and start building up a rainy day fund. Now, we may not get there just by cutting our expenses because if we just keep cutting expenses we are really talking about cutting services by means of reducing staff. At some point we will hit a plateau in what we can save just by cutting expenses. Knowing that plateau is coming it would be irresponsible of us not to start considering expanding the revenue streams that are coming into the city now. So, in addition to keeping on top of the current deficit reduction plan, we need to start planning for the future, the 25 year vision, by exploring new revenue streams. Public input on this topic is critical in regards to how we can be extracting more savings from our current processes and to what new revenue generating streams we should be considering.

Carrie Ann Nelson

1. What is the top growth concern that you feel the city still needs to address?

Affordable housing for the people who live and work here. Allowing developers free rein to develop maximum density is not the answer. In the recent past, this has contributed to real estate price escalation, parking problems, and opportunities for flashpoints between neighbors that affect all of us. Retail and service professionals/employees must be provided choices other than commuting from remote locations to be able to work here. They are a valued and essential part of our community.

2. How would you make a decision on an issue that is unpopular with constituents?

Common sense is a good tool that I use. It is important to make decisions based on the facts and realities at hand. None of us like to pay more for city services, i.e. water, but sometimes in order to keep a business running, you have to make a decision that is for the good of all the people.

3. What is your top management strength and how would it benefit citizens?

I feel my top management strength is the ability to listen to all views and make decisions based on those. Owning and running a successful business in Hood River for almost a decade involves many essential management skills that are just as relevant to the functioning of city government. Motivating employees, responding to customer needs, balancing the books, and financing business improvements are business skills that help improve the functioning of the city as well.

4. Should the city provide funding for the waterfront park and how much, if any?

The city has never agreed to fund the waterfront park. This is why we asked for volunteers to form the Park Development Committee. Isn’t it basic that providing additional revenue sources to fund new projects be pursued just as vigorously as the projects themselves? In addition to searching for outside funding for the park, I’m hoping the Park Development Committee will research ways to finance the continuing maintenance of the park.

5. What steps would you take to prevent the city from incurring another budget deficit?

The city needs to continue to operate as a business. We have a fine city staff who have worked diligently to reduce our deficit. We need to monitor our budget continually, and adjust as needed, i.e., watch labor costs, continue to apply for grant funding, and continue to gain efficiencies in day to day business. The city, as a municipal entity, has the ability to apply for funding for alternative revenue sources, perhaps to develop hydro or wind power which could benefit the community as a whole.

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