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Five men vie to be mayor of Langley

Clockwise, from top left, candidates R. Bruce Allen, Hal Seligson, Edwin Anderson, Fred McCarthy and Thomas Gill will interview with the Langley City Council on Monday, Feb. 18 to be appointed the city
Clockwise, from top left, candidates R. Bruce Allen, Hal Seligson, Edwin Anderson, Fred McCarthy and Thomas Gill will interview with the Langley City Council on Monday, Feb. 18 to be appointed the city's interim mayor.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Five men will try to impress the Langley City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

They aim to be the mayor of Langley, complete with a $53,000 salary and host of projects in the works and on the horizon.

Among the candidates are two city councilmen, a retired school district superintendent, the city’s planning advisory board chairman and a professor.

Langley was suddenly left without its top administrator when former mayor Larry Kwarsick resigned Jan. 7.

A legal battle with Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks over a falsified document ended with Kwarsick entering in a plea agreement, 15 days in jail and a court order to never hold public office again.

The council has the power to appoint an interim mayor until the next general election in November.

After a brief period of open application, five candidates submitted themselves for consideration.

The three council members not in the running for mayor will interview the  candidates in an open meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, when the council will appoint Langley’s new mayor.

Meet the candidates.

R. Bruce AllenR. Bruce Allen

As an elected councilman since 2011, Allen has represented a stern voice on the city council. He has lived in Langley since 2008, but has family ties that date back to the early 1900s. Allen, 72, served on the board for the HUB, a youth hangout after school, both before it closed and after it reopened, and still volunteers during its open days, cooking food for teens.

If appointed mayor, Allen’s priorities would be the immediate and impending projects. Major works like the First Street waterline replacement and the Second Street redesign project would command the former Army Reserve command sergeant major’s attention.

All of his duties, Allen said, would be to “reinvigorate the city and promote tourism, which is what the city is.” Focusing on promotion for tourists and, if elected in November, affordable housing to draw younger families to Langley were a couple of items he would like to change about the city.

“I don’t dislike anything,” Allen said. “I think the city council has been a good group of folks that work well together.”

“Every one of the staff people is excellent at what they do,” he added.

Edwin R. AndersonEdwin Anderson

Teaching computer concepts for 20 years, Anderson has some know-how about technology. That was one reason his focus as mayor would be communication. Given he would only have eight months until the general election, when he would seek to be voted in by Langley residents, his immediate priority would be to include the city’s goals and measures to its projects, then add the funds.

“What you gain from that is anybody looking at it can tell if the city got its money worth,” Anderson said.

“Everybody can make it clearer to themselves.”

Retaining the mayor as a full-time position was a major change Anderson would push for with the city council. That would allow for more communication between the mayor and the council and with the public, which Anderson said is one of the mayor’s paramount duties.

“I think the mayor’s position is as the center of communication of where Langley is and where it’s going.” Kwarsick worked part time on the job and turned back part of his full-time salary to the city.

Priorities Anderson acknowledged include the Second Street redesign and the Langley Marina improvements. Both are important projects that the mayor should ensure “go smoothly” and solve any conflicts.

Improving the perception of Langley held by Whidbey Island residents is another task Anderson noted, citing image problems due to Kwarsick’s resignation, previous Mayor Paul Samuelson’s salary scrutiny and other political drama.

“I think that’s an inappropriate evaluation,” Anderson said. “As a citizen, it doesn’t seem to me anything is broken.”

Thomas E. GillThomas Gill

Protecting city employees who report malfeasance was the top priority for Thomas Gill. The 29-year-old has served on Langley’s planning advisory board for two years, during which time he saw Kwarsick ousted because of a whistle blower complaint.

“The biggest (priority) is to make sure we get all of our ducks in a row in terms of whistleblower complaints and the ethics committee,” Gill said.

An ethics committee is in the process of being formed by the city council. As mayor, Gill would work to expedite the Second Street redesign. Langley plans a major public works overhaul of Second Street to install new waterlines, lighting and paving.

“I’d hate for us to languish for 10 or 15 years and rush to get it done when the road fails,” Gill said.

Opening Langley is one change Gill said was important for the mayor. That would mean more businesses operating at night.

“I’d make it more open and do what can be done at a government level … to be more inviting to the surrounding community and be open later,” Gill continued, “to be more cosmopolitan, anything to encourage business and residents to locate here.”

Trusting the city staff to know their jobs, duties and the codes that accompany their fields has been an issue with past mayors, Gill said. As the city’s top administrator, Gill would run ideas through Langley’s department heads for advice before presenting them to the council or forging ahead.

“Whoever is mayor needs to rely on the staff of the city,” Gill said. “Any ideas should go to them, not just the council.”

Fred C. McCarthyFred McCarthy

South Whidbey’s former schools superintendent, Fred McCarthy, is accustomed to public service. McCarthy led the school district for 5 years until he retired after 30 years working in education as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent.

Coming in as mayor, were he appointed by the council, McCarthy would take time to familiarize himself with the city’s staff, projects and activities.

“My priorities would be to meet all the staff and council and citizens involved in various initiates in the city,” McCarthy continued, “and learn the strategic plans of the city.”

Not that he’d waste time before getting to work. McCarthy said many of the city’s endeavors are on the right track already, and he wanted to avoid entering the position with an agenda before he fully understood what he was trying to change.

“A lot of the things the city is about, in terms of economic plans, are right on,” McCarthy said.

In time, and if he was elected in November, improving citizen relations, especially in terms of public policy, is one change McCarthy has in mind. Referring Langley residents to the city’s website works with some people but not all the time.

“Sometimes when people ask a question, they are directed to a website,” McCarthy said. “In a city this size, getting a personal answer, when practical, is preferable.”

Hal SeligsonHal Seligson

Langley’s mayor pro tem and city councilman Hal Seligson had eyes to promote the city’s economy. Legislation like creating a light industrial commercial zone for aquaculture and publicly funded artwork are just a couple of ideas he has to bring visitors and money to the city.

“I would like to continue supporting our traditional tourist-based economy,” Seligson said.

“We have such an amazing arts community here with really talented people in a variety of media, we’re just the right place to encourage that further.”

Improving access to waterfront in Langley was a priority for Seligson. During his time on the city council, Seligson pushed to install signs directing visitors from First Street to the beach at Seawall Park.

Increasing public participation in city affairs is one change Seligson envisions in Langley’s future. To him, that means bringing the city to the 21st century by webcasting or televising the council’s meetings. That way, even if residents could not physically be at City Hall, they could still engage in the public comment process.

“It’s more democratic,” Seligson said.

Seligson as mayor pro-tem has already brought about that change to the council’s affairs. Council members may attend the meeting from a remote location if they are unable to be at City Hall.

As for whether he would run for election in November, Seligson said it is too early to tell. Time spent running the city of 1,000 residents would decide for Seligson whether or not he would seek the public’s support.

“I accomplished several things in teamwork with the council and former mayor,” Seligson said. “I’d like to be able to accomplish several more. If I’m able to do that, I’d be encouraged to pursue that further.”

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