Former state representative Kelli Linville, who served 17 years in the Legislature, has thrown her hat into the race for mayor of Bellingham. She has received endorsements from the Bellingham Police Guild, the Whatcom County Association of Realtors, and the Bellingham city employees union.
BBJ: What do you feel are the two most pressing issues facing the city of Bellingham?
Linville: The two most pressing issues are jobs and the economy, and quality of life. Everything that we do, every decision we make, every investment we make I believe has to contribute to making Bellingham the most livable city in the nation.
The city doesn’t create jobs, except for the appropriate ones we have in the public sector. But the city can kind of set the table so that our existing businesses want to stay and grow, and new businesses want to move and do business here.
Bellingham has a reputation for not being business-friendly. Whether it’s true or a figment of someone’s imagination, that is not a good reputation to have. There’s a lot of things we can do to change that.
Small businesses from 10 to 99 employees are where the economy is growing right now. But the larger employers are the ones that employ many of our construction workers, our laborers, our skilled tradespeople. We have a sector of our economy that would benefit from an intense, focused, practical public works investment by the city. We could do that. We have a water main to Wade King Elementary School that’s not big enough, nor is the water tank big enough if there was a fire. It’s one little anecdote that shows that if we looked at our capital plan and focused our resources, we could put people back to work in our community that have been hardest hit by the recession.
We also have a wonderful educational system in Bellingham where we have the university, the technical college and the community college. They are willing and ready to partner with us to prepare the next generation of workers. Not every community has that resource.
There are partnership opportunities that we are not having happen now, like the partnership that could exist between the city and the technical college on the maritime center hatchery. That is a partnership that could exist that is not proceeding. You can ask both the city and the technical college why that’s not happening. There are a lot of things we could be doing if we looked to our institutes of higher learning.
BBJ: What can the city do to help ensure that the business community here remains vibrant and varied?
Linville: Overall, it’s having transparent, predictable, consistent rules that everybody has to live by. I think that’s what having accountable government does — there are no surprises for the citizens or for a business. You know what the rules are, you play them and everybody is treated fairly.
I think we need to review our impact fee policy to make sure that it’s actually meeting the intent that it originally had, which was to have an impact on growth. It’s not just a formula by which we generate revenue. We should make sure that permit fees are covering the cost of getting the permit and basically aren’t generated to pay for other programs that aren’t related to planning and development.
Any economic development in Whatcom County affects us all. If it’s revenue generated to county, we all benefit from that. So I think we need to have better relationships with our economic partners, whether they’re private sector or public sector, to work through zoning issues, urban growth areas between municipalities and EDI (Economic Development Investment) funding decisions.
BBJ: What skills/experience do you have that makes you the better choice for mayor?
Linville: I think it’s important to know your community well. I believe you have to have served your community so that people know your style, they know what you’re able to do.
I know my community and I’ve served my community, both before or during my 17 years in the Legislature. I have relationships with every existing political elected official at the federal, state and local level, including small town mayors, which gives me an advantage in representing Bellingham’s interests. I can choose first to negotiate first with people and second to go to court. I think going to court is a failure of the system.
And I have respect for public process. I would never have signed a contract on a piece of property that assumed all the liability, multi-millions of dollars of clean-up, and let the owner of the property off the hook. I would not have done that, and that’s what the mayor did on the R.G. Haley property.
I would never have signed a contract with a national corporation that would allow them to directly sue the city and try to keep an initiative off the ballot, like with the red light cameras and ATS (American Traffic Solutions).
I would have used our Greenways committee and parks committee anytime I was thinking about using funds that the citizens have voted to allow us to buy property. They voted to give us their money so we need to include them when we decide to spend it — and not how we’re going to pay for it, but what purchases we’re going to make.
The mayor’s job is to manage the budget and the employees. The council’s job is to make the policy decisions and adopt a final budget. If the council doesn’t have the information they need from the mayor — if information is withheld or incorrect information is given — then the City Council can’t do their job. So the first thing you learn in politics is your word is your bond. If you don’t give everybody all the information they need to make a decision and they’re the one’s that have to make it, then a bond is broken.
I have a record of results. The current mayor has talked a lot about things, but I see an empty waterfront. I see lake quality continuing to decline. I see a business climate that if anything has gotten more difficult — and it’s not just because of the economy, because we have other places in the state and in the county that happen to be doing better.