Money a top issue in Lynnwood’s City Council races

LYNNWOOD — This is the year of the newcomer in Lynnwood’s City Council races.

Three first-time candidates are vying for three seats. The four-year part-time, nonpartisan position pays $19,800 a year plus medical benefits.

Position 1

Two newcomers are seeking the seat vacated by Lisa Utter, who lost her primary race for mayor.

Kimberly Cole, who grew up in the city, is one. She served for the past two years on the Stevens Hospital board of directors. As a council member, she said, she’d have an influence on a broader range of issues than she did on the hospital district board. Mostly, she said, she’s running to bring greater financial responsibility to the council.

Cole is critical of Mayor Don Gough’s decision to make across-the-board 3.5 percent budget cuts. Public safety should be fully funded, she said, “above and beyond all other things.”

Her opponent, Dan Swank, is another newcomer to city politics.

Swank, a 17-year resident of the city, said he entered the race because he wants to have a say in how financial decisions are made.

“I have begun to see some poor stewardship by our existing administration,” he said.

Swank, co-founder of a telecommunications company, said he was discouraged when he tried to move his company to Lynnwood.

“I really wanted to relocate our business to Lynnwood and yet I could not find the kind of commercial space that would support my business,” he said.

Spending $25.5 million plus to rebuild the city’s recreation center was excessive spending, he said. Instead, the city should have opted for the least expensive $9 million remodeling option that the council considered and rejected.

In talking to residents, Swank said, he’s usually asked three questions: How the economy can be improved and property values increased, where the money goes, and whether he’s related to Hilary Swank.

He’s Hilary’s older brother and owns a new wind power company with her.

Position 2

Craig Parsons jumped into politics for the first time after he led efforts in his south Lynnwood neighborhood earlier this year to oppose elimination of street parking for new bicycle lanes.

In the end, the city agreed to allow parking on one side of 208th Street SW, where he lives.

Now he’s challenging Mark Smith, the councilman he says pushed the hardest to add the bicycle lanes.

“The farther I got into this, the farther I realized the damage it does to the city as a whole by reducing the tax base, devaluing property,” he said.

As with other challengers, Parsons is critical of the way the city spends money.

“As a business owner, I’ve seen our taxes just skyrocket,” he said. “This council, in particular, just can’t seem to say no, with the exception of (councilman) Jim Smith.”

High on his list of overspending: the new recreation center and a 10-year lease on a single-story central Lynnwood office building originally planned as a new municipal court facility.

Mark Smith, who won 51 percent of the vote in the August primary election, disagrees that Lynnwood residents are overtaxed.

“We have some of the lowest taxes in all of Snohomish County,” he said. Besides, he said, how much tax someone pays is the wrong way to look at things.

“Any city is a service organization,” he said. “We don’t sell widgets. We’re in the business of providing services. The question is, are we providing services that residents want at a level of taxation that is acceptable to them? The struggle is to find the balance.”

Smith said he’s seeking a second term because he enjoys the work and wants to be there for the completion of projects he helped move ahead, including the Highway 99 revitilization plan and the nonmotorized transportation plan that Parsons has criticized.

“We need people on the council who understand this is a period of transition and want to be proactive,” he said.

Position 3

In her day job, Kerri Lonergan is a vice president and corporate controller for the Lombardi’s Neighborhood Italian Restaurants chain in Seattle.

“I’m a business owner,” she said. “In order to survive, we have to constantly innovate.”

She’s challenging longtime councilwoman Ruth Ross for her seat.

“I feel very strongly that especially at the local levels of government, we need to have individuals who are more fiscally responsible and believe in commonsense solutions.”

Council President Ross, 49, has served for eight years. She said she’s seeking another term because, like Mark Smith, she’d like to see projects in the works come to fruition.

Ross said her experience on the council and the seven years she spent as a city employee gives her a perspective that should work to her favor.

“I think I do a good job and represent people’s voices in the community you don’t see at council meetings,” she said.

She said she’s concerned that Lynnwood has lost its leadership role in the south part of the county.

“We used to be a leader in the area,” she said. “That is not the case anymore. Unfortunately, I think some of the other cities are finding their feet and becoming the example.”

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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