Candidates at Tuesday night’s League of Women Voters forum in Langley kept mostly subdued and agreeable with their opponents, with one exception.
Ed Jenkins, who is challenging incumbent Port of South Whidbey Commissioner Curt Gordon, immediately used his time to criticize the port’s efforts to bring overnight parking to Mukilteo, management of the fairgrounds and large investments in the marina.
“We’re doing all the wrong things,” Jenkins said.
Typically, Gordon ignored his opponent and answered questions without engaging in a back-and-forth exchanges. He said South Whidbey needs more economic development and argued expanding the harbor helped and investments in the fairgrounds will help.
“We need more medium-paying jobs, and we need more middle-class people,” Gordon said.
He also said the commissioners are going to start the process of creating its long-range comprehensive plan. Part of the plan will be to analyze needs and business trends.
The incumbent said he thought that, in general, the port was doing “alright.”
“I guess my definition of doing ‘alright’ is a little bit different,” Jenkins responded.
Jenkins argued there have been no returns on investments in the marina and that more effort should have been spent trying to bring tech jobs to the region. He also argued there is no business plan for running the port-owned fairgrounds.
“The port does not have the expertise to run a business as large as it is,” Jenkins said. “It just does not happen. We keep stumbling after these situations, going from one hand to the other.”
Gordon said the port needs to focus on bringing in more young people to help spur economic development on South Whidbey.
South Whidbey’s aging demographic was a common theme among candidates from the different races throughout the evening.
South Whidbey School District board candidates agreed that declining enrollment can cause issues for the district because funding is allocated based on the number of students in the schools.
Incumbent Linda Racicot, president of the school board, said many of the factors leading to the lower numbers are outside of the district’s control, such as a lack of young families and the types of jobs that would support families.
She noted that last month, however, the district’s enrollment numbers were up for the first time in nearly two decades.
Her challenger Brook Willeford argued that there is more that could be done to make the schools desirable for students and families. He said in talking to families, he’s heard that the lack of programming and poor communication with the district are reasons some parents pull their children from the district.
He argued for building up successful programs like the school garden and trying to get the community more engaged in volunteering within the schools as well as the students more engaged in the community.
Racicot said the board had worked hard over the years to make South Whidbey public schools “exciting” for students and pointed out that test scores and graduation rates had been on the rise.
She said her experience as an educator, volunteering with the district and as a board member will serve her well if she’s re-elected.
“Being a team player is a requirement,” she said. “We can only make decisions as a group.”
Willeford is a graduate of South Whidbey High School and has a 3-year-old daughter.
Langley City Council incumbent Bruce Allen and his opponent Craig Cyr focused on the need for affordable housing. Both of them said growth is necessary and expressed support for a large proposed development on Coles Road.
Cyr said he’d work to ensure the housing stays affordable, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which means a household would not pay more than 30 percent of its income on housing costs.
Allen said the city’s younger residents are also struggling with low wages, and there needs to be more higher-paying jobs to help stimulate the economy. He said his vision for the city’s future is to attract more young families and keep improving upon efforts Langley has already made.
Cyr offered specific goals he had in mind if elected. He said he’d try to ban fireworks because of the number of complaints he’s heard from residents.
He said he’d also like to ensure speed limits are enforced more strictly and add more community gathering spaces, such as a dog park.