Mayors’ Forum: “No 800-Pound Gorilla in Here”

At a mayor’s forum today, featuring Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, Bremerton resident Klaus Golombek asked, “Where are the 800-pound gorillas?”

The event, at Port Orchard City Hall, was hosted by the Bremerton and Port Orchard chambers of commerce.

Before the Q&A, both mayors highlighted the positive side of their respective cities. Lent touted public and private development projects completed and in the pipeline. Coppola, whose city is still trying to get multiple major projects shovel-ready, noted that his city is financially “in much better shape than most other cities” due to conservative budgeting.

The tone of their comments was not derogatory, and neither mayor appeared to be trying to one-up the other.

Lent, in response to Golombek’s question, talked about fiscal challenges the city faces and will continue to face under the “new normal.” The city in 2010 eliminated 34 positions through layoffs, buyouts, early retirement and unfilled vacancies. A total of 17 individuals left the city. City workers in Bremerton, as elsewhere, will continue to have to do more with less for the foreseeable future, Lent said.

Councilman Jerry Childs brought up what has been an 800-pound gorilla, Bremerton’s annexation of the South Kitsap Industrial Area and Gorst sewer project, which cast uncertainty on Port Orchard’s plans to provide SKIA with sewer. But as you’ll read in the story, both mayors said they could sit down and come up with a resolution to this and other areas of conflict.

Lent, a former county commissioner who was sworn in as mayor in November, 2009, said she was against the SKIA annexation. “I never wanted that airport to be annexed by any cities,” she said. “I thought it should be a regional airport, but I was out of office.”

Lent continued, saying Bremerton has a “great relationship” with the Port of Bremerton, SKIA’s major property owner. So, basically, she’s willing to work with what she “inherited” from former Mayor Cary Bozeman, now CEO of the Port of Bremerton.

Another thing she inherited but didn’t seem too keen on was the Bremerton ferry tunnel. Phone calls to her office criticizing the tunnel have subsided, Lent said, in response to a question. The tunnel is doing its job, which is diverting traffic to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. “People seem to be used to it now,” she said.

Golombek thought the mayors, particularly Lent, side-stepped the gorilla question. He’s still smarting about the Port of Bremerton’s marina expansion. He thinks increased revenue from the marina should go toward paring down the bond. Less should go to the city’s general fund, he said. Looking ahead, Golombek’s got concerns about Bremerton’s planned Youth Wellness Center, which he thinks could become a financial burden on residents.

As for the rapport between Bremerton and Port Orchard, however, there doesn’t appear to be any gorilla in here. At least as far as the two mayors are concerned. Port Orchard Councilman Jerry Childs said the two councils may be a different matter. The only interaction they’ve had was over SKIA, and it wasn’t pretty. Competition for state and federal funds is another potential area of conflict for both cities.

“It makes it difficult for our cities to get along, because we’re both fighting for a piece of the pie,” Childs said.

The Port of Bremerton, too, should be included in talks on potential areas of collaboration and conflict, Childs said.

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