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Langley’s future on the line in primary vote

Campaign signs line the roadway on Sandy Point Road.  - Brian Kelly / The Record
Campaign signs line the roadway on Sandy Point Road.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

It’s nigh time for the undecided to make a decision.

Ballots are due Tuesday, Aug. 16 for this year’s Primary Election.

On the South End, the focus is entirely on Langley. There are two three-way races for two council seats on the ballot, which may be a first in the city’s history.

The bigger item, though, is Proposition 1 — a measure that would change the way the city is governed.

If passed, Prop. 1 would eliminate the position of an elected mayor. Instead, the council would hire one of its own to serve as mayor, and they would also hire a professional city manager to run the day-to-day operations of city hall.

Prop. 1 has prompted vigorous debate about the merits and demerits of changing Langley’s model of government away from the council-mayor form, which has been in place since the city incorporated nearly a hundred years ago.

Despite the draw of Prop. 1, voter turnout so far has been low among Langley voters for the Primary Election.

Deputy Auditor Michele Reagan of Island County’s elections office said most of Langley’s active voters have yet to submit a ballot to the county.

“Everything that came in through yesterday has been put into the mix, and we’ve received 350 ballots total between the two precincts,” Reagan said Thursday.

Langley has 831 active voters.

“You’re looking at less than 50 percent [turnout],” Reagan said.

After Tuesday, the top two candidates in Langley’s two contested council races will advance to the November election.

Robin Adams, Jim Sundberg and Kathleen Waters are running for Position 3 on the Langley City Council.

Bruce Allen, Thomas Gill and Jonathon Moses are seeking election to Position 4 on the council.

The current state of turnout for the election follows historical trends.

In past elections, the biggest bulk of ballots arrive for counting at the county after the final weekend prior to the election.

No matter who advances to the November election, Langley city government will undergo an extraordinary change this year.

This year’s election has three of Langley’s five council seats on the ballot, and with two incumbents not running, the changeover in city government will be substantial, especially in light of veteran councilman Robert Gilman’s recent resignation and an appointment to fill that seat. Add to that Mayor Paul Samuelson’s decision not to seek another term, and Larry Kwarsick, the city’s planning director, taking over as mayor if Prop. 1 is defeated at the polls. (Kwarsick is the only candidate in the November race for the mayor’s position).

Councilman Hal Seligson — appointed to the council in December — is running unopposed and will be sworn in to Position 2 once the November election is validated.

The winner in the race for Position 3 — either Adams, Jim Sundberg or Kathleen Waters — will also be sworn in after the election is official.

That will leave only Councilwoman Rene Neff, out of six elected officials, who has been a city officer for more than a year.

Despite the looming changeover on the council, most attention in Langley has been focused on Prop. 1.

On the northeast edge of town, white signs promoting Prop. 1 dot the yards in Edgecliff, the neighborhood that largely spearheaded the petition drive that put the measure on the ballot.

Opponents of the proposition have been out in the streets, too, collecting signatures on a well-distributed flyer that points out the downfall of the suggested changeover.

Leanne Finlay, a real estate agent who does much business in town, has been one of the ones gathering signatures in opposition to Prop. 1. She said the group that put together the “vote no” flier has already collected more than 110 names against Prop. 1.

She said the effort was aimed at “folks who are sitting on the fence.”

The signatures include a wide swath of people inside and outside of Langley, from in-town residents, to business owners, to people who shop and play in the Village.

“They want to see Langley thrive,” she said of the signers, which include some who don’t live in town. “They feel like this is something that they can do, because some of them don’t get to vote.”

Others outside Langley hope the measure is defeated as well.

Include Debbie Mahler of Clinton in that group. She’s been the city treasurer and clerk in Langley for 18 years.

Mahler spoke out this week against the measure, but was careful not to do it at city hall to avoid any appearance of campaigning while on the city’s time or turf.

“I just think it’s a ridiculous idea for a city our size,” she said. “It’s way too expensive and it’s totally unnecessary,” she said.

The budget would need to be changed to reflect the higher cost of a city manager, Mahler added, and no one who has supported the measure has said how exactly the city would cover the higher expenses that would result from keeping a professional manager on staff.

Proponents of Prop. 1, however, have claimed the city will save money over time, as the expertise of a hired manager at city hall will help reduce legal costs.

Mahler said that’s not so.

“There’s nothing about being a city manager that makes someone a legal expert,” she said.

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