If Edmonds residents can’t find a mayoral candidate to their liking in the 2007 primary election, it’s not for lack of choices.
Three candidates with different skill sets, management styles and opinions on how to best direct the city’s future are vying for the job. It carries with it a four-year commitment and a salary of about $100,000.
As overall manager of this city of about 40,000 people, the mayor oversees about 270 employees and manages an annual budget of around $70 million. The position is non-partisan.
Incumbent Gary Haakenson is trying for an unprecedented third term. He’s being challenged by assistant city engineer Don Fiene and City Councilwoman Mauri Moore.
The two highest vote-getters in the Aug. 21 election will advance to the Nov. 6 General election.
Here’s a look, in alphabetical order, at the three hopefuls:
Fiene (pronounced “Feen”), 49, has worked in the city’s engineering division for about 15 years. Although he said he literally knows the city “inside and out,” Fiene isn’t in the public limelight to the extent his publicly elected challengers are. But he is banking on impressing voters with his experience in budget and funding development, infrastructure needs and public-safety issues.
Among the accomplishments he boasts are forming the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee and developing funding strategy to help solve the city’s transportation capital-funding problem.
Disturbed by the City Council spending “valuable time that should have been spent on long-term finances, infrastructure needs, downtown revitalization and public-safety issues … monopolized by cat-roaming regulations and endless debates over small building-height differences…,” Fiene said he decided to throw his hat into the ring. As mayor, he said, he will use his “experience, background and logic-driven approach to concentrate on the issues that really matter to Edmonds residents.”
Financial challenges Fiene sees for Edmonds include limited property-tax revenues resulting from a voter-approved state initiative, “virtually frozen” city staffing levels and an increase in demand for services. He said he will approach those problems with quarterly discussions and analyses with the City Council, evaluate departments as cost centers and make them accountable for their spending and work on improving business-corridor rights-of-way and streetscapes to draw more customers and increase sales revenue.
He does not favor filling the vacant post of director of economic development, which he figures with salary and benefits carries compensation of $125,000. “This is the role for a chamber of commerce, not a city,” he said.
Concerned about what he said is a nearly 52 percent increase in police calls for services over the past five years, Fiene said public safety should be a regular topic of discussion at council meetings.
Fiene has chosen not to spend more than $3,500 on his campaign and the Public Disclosure Commission Web site shows no contributions.
His Web site is www.fieneformayor.com.
Haakenson, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, said he “still has the fire” to lead the city another four years.
A desire to have a hand in the progress of five projects in particular are what prompted the former J.C. Penney manager and co-founder of Zumiez, Inc. to try for a third term. Those projects are redevelopment of the Harbor Square/Waterfront Antique Mall area; Firdale Village; Five Corners business section; the corner of 220th Street and Highway 99, which contains Funtasia Family Fun Park and several other businesses; and the former Doce’s site that holds a mall anchored by Burlington Coat Factory.
He said he’s also excited about the broadband initiative the city is pursuing, which, along with underutilized property in the city, represent positive revenue streams.
Haakenson, who calls himself a fiscal conservative, said the “financial stability of the city continues to be the number-one challenge.
“Payroll costs are what really hit you hard,” he said of the city. He noted that this year Edmonds will undergo contract negotiations with all four unions with which it deals. Those contracts constitute an issue the public should bring up to candidates for City Council, the body with the final say on the budget, Haakenson said.
Unlike challenger Fiene, Haakenson believes Edmonds would benefit from a director of economic development and is in the process of assessing candidates for the job. Moore also said she supports the filling of that position.
The former city councilman who grew up in the Edmonds area said he enjoys the very public role he has as mayor. “I love going out to their (residents’) homes to solve small problems and big ones, too,” he said.
Haakenson said he, like Fiene, becomes frustrated with the “inordinate amount of time” the City Council spends “miniscule items.” But “if they choose to spend time on cats or quail … that’s their prerogative. The mayor’s job is to run the city day to day. The council’s job is to create policy.”
All three candidates said they either favor (Haakenson) or are interested in looking into (Fiene and Moore) Edmonds switching from a strong-mayor form of government to one that employs a city manager. That change in city leadership is one voters ultimately would decide.
Haakenson has earned the endorsement of Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, state Senators Paull Shin and Darlene Fairley, state Representatives Brian Sullivan and Mary Helen Roberts and the mayors of most south county cities. A check of the PDC Web site on July 31 showed he has attracted just over $25,000 in campaign contributions. Among the contributors were Kevin Hanchett of The McNaughton Group, who donated $1,000; and Edmonds Shopping Center Associates of which developer Al Dykes is majority owner, which gave $550. Both own land in the Harbor Square redevelopment area.
Haakenson’s Web site is www.garyhaakenson.com.
Moore, 56, said someone told her “Edmonds is too stodgy to change,” but she wrote in a statement to The Enterprise she doesn’t believe that. “I think this city is full of vibrant, idea-driven people who would love to see us become part of the new urban vision, where people can walk to everything they need, where diverse population is welcome and finds housing they can afford…”
If Moore, who has lived in Edmonds for five years and Woodway 13 years prior to that, sounds like a big-picture thinker, that’s because she sees herself as one. With a resume that includes television-production responsibilities, she points to communications, organization and management as strong suits.
Recently she began a full-time job with Fisher Communications as a news producer. She said she has launched the first Spanish-language newscast in the northwest.
Moore contends she can “move beyond day-to-day city-manager work and prepare the city for the future by leading the council through critical policy issues and strategic planning.” Edmonds, she said, needs a leader who can “create a professional strategic plan, a work program with annual goals, management skills and a vision.”
Like the incumbent, Moore said she supports redevelopment of the Harbor Square/Waterfront Antique Mall site. She said work on neighborhood centers such as Firdale Village and Five Corners should be moved up the Planning Board’s agenda.
An area in which she has focused attention lately is improvements in the building-permit process. She said she will, as mayor, begin an “immediate independent audit of the building department.
“It’s the source of most of the complaints I hear on City Council,” she said. “I’ve never been able to get to the bottom of ‘why.’”
Moore was the organizer of the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee and sees the broadband initiative it proposes as a potential revenue producer for the city.
Moore defends the council’s attention to matters brought up by a lone resident. “One woman brought us the issue of condo-conversions forcing her to move from affordable housing. One person brought it to our attention and by exploring it, we discovered an important housing issue for all of Puget Sound,” Moore wrote The Enterprise.
She has said, though, she will “spare the council work on petty issues and ask them to focus on big-picture policies.”
To date she has raised about $4,150 with $850 of it from builders and/or developers Eric Theusen, Rob Michel, Evan Pierce and Goodnight Brothers Construction. Major local contributors have been Roger Bowlin ($500) and Connie and Eric Falk ($500).
Moore said she has “yet to start tapping my national and international connections,” but added she “won’t pick pockets for votes.”
Her Web site is web.mac.com/maurimoore.