So You Want to Be A Public Servant?

Candidates for public office in 2007 will want to mark their calendars for June 4 through 8, when the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office will be accepting filing applications. Updates on who has filed for what seat will be posted twice daily on the county’s home page,
Although this is an off election year — no presidential, legislative or judicial races, at least in Kitsap County — several local races are already drawing attention. Among the most high profile contests, City of Port Orchard residents will decide who will replace outgoing Mayor Kim Abel, who has decided not to seek a second term, and long-time Port of Bremerton Commissioner Mary Ann Huntington will defend her seat following a large port levy hike in 2007.

About 25 people showed up Thursday evening for a candidates workshop hosted by the City of Port Orchard. County Auditor Karen Flynn gave them a primer on filing protocol, campaign funding regulations and other housekeeping issues. The candidates also got an earful on the rewards and pitfalls of public service from past and present elected officials who are not running for office this year.
“It has in some ways opened my eyes,” said Port Orchard City Councilman Fred Chang, who still has two more years to serve in his first term. “Not that I agree with everything the council has done, but I don’t disagree with them as much as I thought I did.”
One of the hot campaign issues identified by panel members is the need for economic revitalization in downtown Port Orchard. The Port Orchard City Council has incurred public criticism for dragging its feet on its downtown revitalization plan, while others have complained that the plan is unfavorable to current homeowners. Many of those who attended Thursday’s workshop are the same people who regularly have sat in — and spoken out — on public hearings about the city’s downtown development plan.
Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel, calling it quits after a single term, has said she wants to pursue other opportunities, perhaps political, but she hasn’t identified specific plans. Over the past year, Abel has lead the city council in a prolonged effort to establish the downtown plan, which has been touted as Port Orchard’s best hope for revitalization. The plan, now in the final tweaking stages, is still weeks from ratification.
The city council has five seats up for election this fall, including those of two long-time council members Bob Geiger and John Clauson. Geiger has sat on the council for 45 years and says he is not planning to run again. Clauson has sat on the council since 1983. He has not made up his mind whether to run again, he said.
“This last four years have been the hardest years on the council,” said Clauson, who was not at the workshop, and who cited lack of consensus and public criticism as contributing factors. “There have been a lot of changes in City Hall in the past four years. I don’t think we’ve gone forward; I think we’ve gone backward.”
Long-time Port Commissioner Mary Ann Huntington, who was elected to the port in 1989, announced Friday that she will run again. Huntington will likely be the lightning rod for public ire over an eye-popping port tax increase that went into effect this year.
The port established an Industrial Development District last year to help pay off a $17.7 million bond issue it secured to improve the Bremerton Marina. The marina work will cost $22.9 million, with $4.5 million coming from the federal government, leaving taxpayers to pick up the rest. The new taxing district encompasses large areas of Bremerton and South Kitsap not exactly within spitting distance of the water. The port, as allowed by the state legislature, increased its tax by 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The new tax will add $90 per year on a home valued at $200,000.
“The Port spent six years researching and analyzing numerous ways to finance a new marina and decided the IDD levy was the only way we could build the complete project which is very important for the economic development of Kitsap County,” said Huntington. “I don’t like taxes any more than anyone else, but this project is an essential part of a healthy and strong economy for the whole county.”

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