Port election hinges on economy
October 21, 2009 · 8:25 AM
Three Clinton residents are hoping to find the right message that will help them win voters by Election Day.
Running for Position 3 from Clinton — the former seat of Lynae Slinden, who resigned in August — are Curt Gordon, Ed Jenkins and Mona Newbauer.
A fourth candidate, Callahan McVay, dropped out of the race last week, though his name will still show up on the ballot.
During the past six years, the port has undergone a process of redefinition. It has grown from a small agency devoted to providing recreational water access for boaters and fisherman to a prime mover for economic development on South Whidbey.
That change was sparked in January, when the port assumed ownership and control of the Langley Marina. Commissioners have long held fast to a vision of a small-boat harbor that would welcome boaters from all over Puget Sound as well as small passenger and charter boats bringing sightseers — and their discretionary income — to Whidbey.
But when the port went to voters last November and asked for an increase in property taxes to pay the $9.2 million needed to expand the harbor, it was soundly rejected.
So commissioners are edging into the marina business with a $1.2 million rural development loan and hope to get more from state and federal grants.
Mona Newbauer, 48, owns Island Angel Chocolates in Langley, but lives in Clinton. She was approached by Slinden to run for her former seat on the commission.
“I’d never thought about it before, but Lynae convinced me I could do it,” Newbauer said. “In order to make a difference, you have to take a stand, to be a voice for the people.
“The port’s mission is three-fold: recreation, the environment and industrial development,” she said. “As a Langley business owner
I support the marina, but it’s clearly important for the entire South End.”
She’s convinced that the Langley boat harbor has the charm and, when fully built, the facilities needed to draw people to the island.
“Businesses will be helped and, through rents, taxes and employee wages, it will be redistributed through the whole island,” she said.
She said that she is a champion of the Clinton community and approves of the way merchants are starting to rally in order to make the town more of a destination than a drive-through for visitors.
She favors creative thinking as a way for the port to be more active in the community and, as commissioner, would push to get more partnerships, public and private.
“The port and the parks district are a natural fit,” she said. “A collaboration with the parks and the school district makes a lot of sense.”
She said running for office has been fun and has given her a chance to hear from all sides.
“There are those who insist a fueling station is needed at the marina, while others don’t want to change the rural atmosphere,” she noted. “There is passion on both sides, and I see my job as studying this or any other issue, and coming up with a reasonable response after hearing from everyone.”
Newbauer said that as a business owner for nine years, she has an understanding of some of the arcane aspects of business.
“But the biggest thing for me is to encourage an open-door policy to the voters,” she said. “I’d want to hear from them before any decisions are made. I’ll push lots of meeting and community input on every issue.”
Ed Jenkins, 64, retired on Whidbey after a long business career that included being a race-car driver, and owning a four-wheel drive outlet and clothing stores throughout the West.
“I feel I represent the spectrum of business owners on the island,” he said. “I also worked on a number of presidential and gubernatorial races in California.”
Last year, he was a main spokesman for the Yes on Whidbey PUD campaign to wrest control of local power generation and distribution on Whidbey Island from Puget Sound Energy.
“I still believe that local control over our power is essential,” he said.
One of his primary reasons for running for port commissioner is to address some serious deficiencies in how the city of Langley is handling its responsibility to the marina.
“I’ve seen the way this local government has blundered in the way it deals with business in the downtown area,” he said. “There’s simply no plan in place to cooperate deficiencies in how the city of Langley is handling its responsibility to the marina.
“I’ve seen the way this local government has blundered in the way it deals with business in the downtown area,” he said. “There’s simply no plan in place to cooperate with the port.”
Another concern is marina funding. “A huge percentage of tax dollars is going into the marina. It must become self-sustaining so the revenue helps the entire South End. We need to tie the marina into the larger picture and ensure the port can return a profit.”
Jenkins said he sees generating revenue for the port as his main goal because he would love to see commissioners be able to cut taxes that people pay to the port.
While he said that marine recreation is certainly important, striking a balance between what the port should do and can do from a financial standpoint is very important.
And cutting taxes wouldn’t jibe with his views on an industrial development district. An IDD is a state-authorized method for port districts to raise money for specific projects without a public vote.
“There is nothing so important, in my view, that justifies raising taxes without the consent of the taxpayers,” he said. “Frankly, I’d be out the door if my fellow commissioners voted that way.”
Another concept he espouses is putting the vast knowledge of island retirees to good use.
“One thing the port could do is tap into this base of retirees, working through and with other public agencies with the goal of making Whidbey financially stable for young families,” he said.
“If elected, I can promise no one will ever wonder where I stand on an issue,” Jenkins said. “My views stem from a belief in fiscal conservancy, and I think taxpayers can relate to that.”
Curt Gordon, 52, has lived most of his life on Whidbey Island, graduating from Langley High School in 1975 and owning Clinton’s Island Asphalt for 25 years.
Gordon is no stranger to public service. He was elected to the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District board in 1986 and served for 18 years. In that role, he ran several successful bond and levy campaigns.
He’s also served as a technical advisor for the Conservation Futures program, and was chairman for 10 years.
Now, he wants to be a port commissioner.
“The port district is bound by original state statutes to promote economic development, and that includes tourism,” he said. “But the only way we can get visitors to come and stay is through a functional transportation system.”
Gordon believes the port should be taking an active role in getting people out of their cars.
“Rather than fight, we should be working closely with Mukilteo, the ferry system and Department of Transportation to see how we can contribute,” he said.
He advocates more predictable Island Transit routing and expanding service on weekends, including Sundays. And he said that passenger-only ferry service is a realistic goal in the not-too-distant future.
“The port commissioners are already planning to allow charter and small passenger cruise vessels at the marina, and we can expand on that,” he noted.
He’s followed the debate over the marina closely, believing that the community needs to feel it has ownership before it can benefit from the marina.
He, too, thinks on IDD is a form of taxation without representation.
“The only scenario I can see for such a drastic action is some project that would offer a solid, foolproof rate of return to the South End,” he said. “I don’t know what that would be.”
He agrees with those who think an industrial park might offer value to the port as a way to generate revenue.
“We should examine all options, but the idea of a 200-employee software company coming here would be wonderful, but not practical,” he said.