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Editorial: Tolbert fully deserves 4th term as Arlington mayor

She has led the city through recession, disaster and pandemic and prepared the city for its success.

By The Herald Editorial Board

The race for mayor of Arlington features a rematch from four years ago, in which the election came down to just 148 votes of the 4,368 ballots cast, a difference of less than 1 percent.

Three-term Mayor Barb Tolbert is challenged by Don Vanney, who after losing the mayoral election in 2019, was appointed to the Arlington City Council in 2020, and ran unopposed for the council seat in 2021.

Tolbert, before her tenure as mayor, was a member of the Arlington Airport Commission and the executive director of the popular Arlington Fly-in aviation festival, which got its start in 1969. She has lived in Arlington since the 1980s. She has completed college courses in accounting and business finance. Tolbert has an advanced certificate of municipal leadership through the Association of Washington Cities.

Vanney, a lifelong resident of Arlington, retired in 2019 as a contracts and capital projects manager in the timber and aerospace industries. He has completed college courses in purchasing, contract management and negotiations. He also volunteers with Special Olympics.

The candidates met separately with the editorial board in September.

Vanney said he’s running again for the mayor’s office because he wants to continue giving back to his community and believes a change is needed in the city’s administration. Vanney said he hears concern among residents regarding the growth of Arlington, which now has a population of more than 21,000 residents, an increase of about 3,000 in the last 12 years.

While that growth can’t be stopped, Vanney said, it can be managed to protect Arlington’s “small-town feel.”

Specifically, Vanney said he’s concerned about the construction of large apartment buildings in the city, calling them “instant ghettos,” and believes that trend is providing fewer home-buying opportunities to young families. He’d prefer to see developers provided incentives to build more townhomes.

With about two and a half years of service on the council, Vanney said he believes the current administration attempts to micromanage the council and doesn’t provide council members with full information, although when asked, he could not give a specific example of an issue where the council was not sufficiently briefed.

Vanney also said he hasn’t seen much support for initiatives proposed by himself and others on the council. He said he returned from a national cities conference at which he learned of opportunities for grants. Seeing a problem with the community’s teens released early from school on Fridays, he brought back information on a grant that could have helped convert the old high school into a youth and community center, noting that the Boys & Girls Club near the airport is too far from downtown to easily attract students. Vanney said his proposal and grant information were ignored.

Tolbert disagrees, however, that the idea was rejected out of hand. Such proposals, Tolbert said, because of the planning process and costs are generally presented at annual retreats that help set budget priorities for the city. Grants can be key to projects, Tolbert said, but they require time to apply for, are not “free money,” and don’t provide all of the funding necessary, requiring significant matching funds. Aware of the concerns about the early releases, which have since been scaled back, Tolbert said the city is working with the school district to provide transportation to the Boys & Girls Club and has also organized with the Boys & Girls Club and Youth Dynamics to offer actives at Legion Park on Friday afternoons.

As for considering proposals and concerns from the council and residents, Tolbert said each city council meeting provides set times for those discussions, as do the city’s annual retreats and regular council committee workshops.

Vanney also raised concerns for public safety and the perception among some teens and young adults that bad behavior won’t be punished. To counter that perception, Vanney said he wants to see the city add police officers, and believes the department — to serve a city of 21,000 — needs 10 more officers.

But the city currently has about 39 funded positions in the department — about 10 more than Vanney estimated in his interview — up from 27 when Tolbert began serving as mayor 12 years ago. The department has one current vacancy; and next year’s budget is expected to add another officer, Tolbert said, continuing a practice of steadily adding to the department over time and within the city’s budget.

Tolbert also noted that public safety requires more than a fully-staffed police department: “It’s how we build roads. It’s how we light our streets. It’s safe pedestrians. How we take care of our parks. And so we gave every department in the city a responsibility for public safety,” she said.

Further, Tolbert has been active on the board of the county-wide Mayors and Business Leaders for Public Safety and its successful efforts that pressed for changes to state law regarding law enforcement and penalties for drug possession.

Tolbert pointed to other recent success, such as the city’s police patrols with embedded social workers that have helped move about 175 people into drug treatment programs and the placements of 110 people into permanent housing in the city.

On growth, Tolbert said Arlington was already moving in the direction that the state Legislature set this year to increase residential density and building opportunities. In the years following the Great Recession when there was a construction slowdown, she said, the city has encouraged a mix of residential and commercial business in zones, that increases the supply of housing while preserving space for retail businesses that supports the city’s sales tax revenues, pointing to development in Smokey Point as an example.

The era of “Gleneagle” type developments with 7,200-square-foot lots is likely over in Arlington because the land simply is no longer available, Tolbert said. So the city is adapting to what is available to encourage “master-plan neighborhoods” that provide a mix of starter homes, condos and single-family residences that increase the stock of housing and can help keep home prices within reason.

Arlington, even with impacts such as Amazon’s new 2.8 million-square-foot fulfillment center, also has planned ahead to prepare transportation and other infrastructure for that growth, and Tolbert has been key in winning state and federal funding for roads and transportation needs in the city and the region.

Vanney deserves credit for his service on the council, his desire to give back to his community and his commitment to Arlington’s best interests. But — as we noted four years ago — he competes with a record of success and competence to which Tolbert has only added.

Tolbert in her first term, steered the city through the lean years that followed the recession, was a regional leader who offered emotional support and coordinated economic recovery efforts following the Oso landslide in 2014, and in her recent term has helped the city navigate the difficulties of the covid pandemic and continued preparations for the city’s growth and its impacts that make it a livability leader in the county.

Tolbert easily warrants a fourth term from voters to lead Arlington.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated Barb Tolbert’s work with the Arlington Airport. She served on the airport commission.

Nov. 7 Election

Ballots for Snohomish County voters are scheduled to be mailed on Oct. 19, and must be returned to ballot drop boxes or mailed by 8 p.m. Nov. 7. The county voters guides will be mailed Oct. 18, but are now available online at tinyurl.com/SnoCoVoterGuide23. More information on the election, ballot drop box locations and registering to vote is available at tinyurl.com/SnoCoVote23.

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