Planning volunteer picked for vacant seat

Russell Sparkman takes the oath of office after being appointed to the Langley City Council on Wednesday. - Kathleen Landel photo
Russell Sparkman takes the oath of office after being appointed to the Langley City Council on Wednesday.
— image credit: Kathleen Landel photo

LANGLEY — One thousand people live in Langley and there are probably 1,000 opinions on what Langley should look like in the future.

That was the view of G. Raymond McCullough, one of four candidates vying to fill a vacant seat on the Langley City Council. And a variety of viewpoints became clear as council members grilled council member wannabes for nearly two hours during a special council meeting Wednesday night.

After the extended interview session, the city council picked a new member who they believe can deal with the multitude of opinions in town.

Russell Sparkman was unanimously appointed to replace Neil Colburn. He beat out Sharen Heath, Craig Moore and McCullough to fill the seat vacated by the former mayor. Colburn quit his council job in December just a month after being elected because he got fed up with the harsh criticism sent his way in an online forum.

Sparkman took the oath of office after the council vote. He will serve until the seat is up for election in November 2009.

It was Sparkman’s experience as the chairman of Langley’s Planning Advisory Board and his work on the rewrite of the city’s growth plan that gave him the edge over the other applicants.

“There is a short time to deal with the complexity of the issues on the council,” said Langley Councilman Bob Waterman.

“Russell has had the experience with the comp plan as a leader of a group,” Waterman added. “He can be up and running and move into the code work that needs to be accomplished. He is a known quantity, which is important for a small council.”

Earlier in the meeting, Sparkman had admitted that serving on a board in Langley can be rough.

“All you have to do is being the chair of the Planning Advisory Board in a meeting that went to hell like the one in November,” Sparkman joked, refering to a discussion about the waterfront that drew a large crowd and further fueled the controversy over seaside development.

The controversial topic was a main focus during the council candidate interviews, too.

Sparkman said development along the shoreline offers Langley a unique chance to try forward-thinking concepts, many homespun in Langley.

He should know. As the chairman of the Planning Advisory Board, Sparkman has studied options and city rules for more than eight months.

“The waterfront really does offer a test case for the really great concepts that come out of the comp plan,” he said.

McCullough agreed that the waterfront will change.

“I see the waterfront being developed, probably not obscene, but it will be developed,” he said.

McCullough disagreed with Langleyites who have said changes to city rules regarding future development should wait until all the revisions that result from the comp plan update are implemented.

“Sometimes the worst decision is not making a decision,” McCullough warned.

Moore, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the council last November, said avoiding the chance to deal with growth issues is a mistake. And while some people feel Langley doesn’t need more projects now, Moore explained that work done today will shape development down the road.

“I hear a lot of people why we shouldn’t develop, but I don’t hear often why we should. Maybe because people are shy about speaking up,” he said.

“Many development projects won’t happen until five years from now,” Moore said.

Heath, who has been one of the city’s most outspoken critics of waterfront development in recent months, said the community has to stand together to protect its beauty and environment. She also said that the city has to be picky about development.

She also criticized the recent proposal by the Port of South Whidbey for improvements to the city’s small boat harbor. Heath said the rebuilding project was not family-friendly enough. The marina plan needs more work to make it appealing to all of the marina’s users, she said.

“Listen to the stories we hear about the past that we want to carry into the future,” Heath said.

Candidates also focused on economic development and an aging population. All said revitalizing the local economy is key to attracting younger families to Langley.

Moore said a multitude of factors contributes to bringing a younger demographic to Langley.

“You can’t put up a sign saying, ‘Please, young families, move to town,’” he said, adding that jobs and housing must be available.

McCullough said as much as he loves living in Langley, he was shocked to learn how few children lived in his neighborhood when he moved to town in 1996.

“I envision a community that has kids,” McCullough said, adding that he hopes Langley will become a place where young people want to stay.

“I hope when my son turns 18 years old he says, ‘You know what, dad, I want to stay here.’”

Council members also wanted to know how the candidates viewed the relationship between the city staff and council.

Sparkman said the trained professionals who work for Langley are a great resource for the council.

“Staff has a richness of experience in areas that I don’t have. They are a wonderful resource,” he said.

Other candidates said it was important that the roles of elected leaders were clearly defined.

Moore said he thinks it’s important that the mayor is the executive officer, and that city staff should get their direction from him, not the city council.

The council sets policy that is carried out by the mayor, he said.

McCullough agreed.

“Role ambiguety causes confusion,” he said.

In her closing remarks, Heath stressed the gender imbalance on the council.

“Somebody asked me about gender imbalance on the council and I said the best qualified should fill the seat,” Heath said.

“That said, we need more women on the council and I am not shy about saying that. Gender balance on city council is a worthy aspiration,” she added.

Councilwoman Rene Neff is currently the only woman on the five-member panel.

In the end, balancing the male/female ratio on the board was not a deciding factor.

Councilman Robert Gilman said the decision came down “to small distinctions.”

Neff pointed to Sparkman’s experience and leadership qualifications.

“I have served on a comp plan group with Russell and feel comfortable with him. He is a good leader. We can benefit from his knowledge as chair of the Planning Advisory Board,” Neff said.

Council members said picking a new council member was a tough decision. They said the candidates were highly qualified and they invited them to find other ways to participate in city government.

As news traveled through the South End, other public officials said they welcomed the council’s new addition.

Port manager Ed Field, who will deal extensively with city leaders as the port moves to take over the city marina in 2009, said he was pleased Sparkman was picked.

“I know Russell to be a reasonable person,” he said. “I expect him to bring a realistic perspective regarding all the issues related to the marina.”

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates