Notes from the chamber of commerce debate

Debates are the political equivalent of speed dating. Candidates have snippets of time to define themselves, differentiate themselves from their opponents and connect with the crowd.

We at the Kitsap Sun will be doing in-depth articles articles on local races and ballot issues. Debate coverage, on the other hand, could be seen as more superficial but also more immediate.

Here’s what I took away from this morning’s debate hosted by the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce. Races featured were the Port of Bremerton Commissioner, District 3, and Kitsap County Commissioner, District 1 (North Kitsap), neither of which I’m doing the in-depth coverage on.

In the commissioners’ debate, Republican Chris Tibbs took every opportunity to set himself apart from incumbent Commissioner Rob Gelder. Gelder was appointed in March to fill Steve Bauer’s position.

Interestingly enough, Tibbs considers himself an “independent moderate” and has contributed to Democratic campaigns in the past. His goal in this race seems to be to diversify the all-Democratic board of commissioners.

“We have not had an independent voice on the board since 2008 (when Republican Jan Angel’s term ended),” Tibbs said. “I think we need a voice to look at the interests of what the minority are.”

Democrat Gelder countered that he doesn’t automatically align with fellow commissioners Charlotte Garrido and Josh Brown.

“I maintain my own independent voice,” said Gelder, whose background is in nonprofit management, most recently at Martha & Mary Health Services of Poulsbo. “What I uniquely bring to the board of commissioners is the perspective of service.”

Gelder said his goal is to “re-size government to a more sustainable level,” while advocating for “the most vulnerable.”

Tibbs, director of sales and operations for Ootopia coffee roasters, touted his business experience and said he would run the county with a more stringent eye to the bottom line, fully funding justice, roads and land use, and cutting as needed in other departments. Tibbs would be looking to “shed layers of employees” but also wants to restore the county to 5-day per week service versus the current 4.

Tibbs blasted the county’s “lack of transparency,” citing the Shoreline Master Plan Update process and the county’s legal tangle with Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club as examples.

Gelder, now on the defensive, said the county has come a long way in increasing transparency, especially in the budget process. (Both Gelder and Tibbs served on the county’s budget advisory committee). Concerns that the Shoreline Master Plan will decimate individual property rights are not justified, Gelder said. The public has and will continue to be involved in the planning process.

Gelder said the county has made strides toward a sustainable budget and the board is on track to rebuild the general fund reserve account. He cited recent refinancing of bonds that will save an estimated $1.7 million over time as an example of the county’s more proactive approach to balancing the budget.

Gelder also defended his background in nonprofits as valid experience for the job of commissioner. “Running a not-for-profit requires you to be even more creative to make payroll,” he said.

The two candidates hold 180-out positions on Kitsap County’s membership in the Puget Sound Regional Council. The council, which also includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, oversees distribution of state and federal transportation funding.

Tibbs says Kitsap’s interests are not being represented in the PSRC. He advocates the county withdraw and establish its own stand-alone entity. “We have no reason to be with this organization,” Tibbs said. “We could be a stand-alone and receive the same or more monies.”

Gelder said the county can’t afford to distance itself from the PSRC. “It’s the reality we’re operating in,” he said. “We need to be a player around the table. If we’re not there, they basically will roll right over us.”

In the nonpartisan Port of Bremerton debate, candidates Axel Strakeljahn and Shawn Cucciardi had a harder time setting themsleves apart from one another.

Both said the port has not yet fully recovered the public’s trust since 2007 when it passed a poorly publicized tax increase of 45 cents per $1,000 for the Bremerton Marina. Cucciardi called it a “stealth tax.” Strakeljahn dubbed it the “midnight tax.”

Both candidates talked of the port’s need for a solid short- and long-range business plan to promote economic development. Both touted their business experience as credentials for the job. Strakeljahn manages the Port Orchard Fred Meyer. Cucciardi manages McCormick Woods Golf Course & Clubhouse.

Cucciardi said he’d pump up marketing of the port. Strakeljahn said he’d make sure any business decision made by the port commission pencils out. He would “hold the line on taxes” he said.

Cucciardi said his style is to take “positive approach” to problem solving. Strakeljahn spoke of his immigrant parents, who taught him the value of hard work and “attention to detail.”

So there you have it, just a few notes from the debate, for what it’s worth.

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