Marysville Tulalip Chamber hosts Snohomish County Council candidates forum

Marysville School District Director District 1 candidates Chris Nation, left, and Heather Thweatt, right, flank candidates forum moderator David Toyer Sept. 18. - Kirk Boxleitner
Marysville School District Director District 1 candidates Chris Nation, left, and Heather Thweatt, right, flank candidates forum moderator David Toyer Sept. 18.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

TULALIP — A spirited exchange between the Snohomish County Council candidates, on issues including land use and relative experience levels, followed the less contentious talking points of the Marysville School District Director candidates, at the forums conducted during the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce's Sept. 18 Business Before Hours.

Snohomish County Council District 1 incumbent John Koster (prefers Republican Party) and challenger Ellen Hiatt Watson (prefers Democratic Party) participated in the second candidates forum at the Business Before Hours, moderated by David Toyer.

In response to Toyer's opening question, both candidates declared their support for a four-year university in Snohomish County. Hiatt Watson deemed it "an opportunity to bring economic development to the community." Koster noted that "I still have the relationships" to work toward that goal.

When Toyer asked the candidates about their positions on expanded commercial service at Paine Field, Koster pointed out that he was the only member of the current County Council who voted in favor of it. He cast the absence of commercial air service at Paine Field as a hindrance to bringing new businesses to the area, by explaining how it takes less time to drive to Spokane than to drive from Snohomish County to Sea-Tac Airport and fly from there to Spokane.

Hiatt Watson expressed sympathy for the neighborhoods surrounding Paine Field, but stated that those areas never should been zoned for residential development in the first place. She went on to express the opinion that the Arlington Municipal Airport is underutilized, and even suggested the formation of a county port district. Koster followed by voicing his desire to see greater economic diversity in the area.

When Toyer asked the candidates to identify the "guiding principles" by which they would evaluate land use agreements and code amendments, Hiatt Watson pointed to the attempted development of the Seven Lakes area as an attempt to violate county planning laws, codes and equity, and took pride in spearheading an effort to push back against such development. She called for "the rules to be clear," to ensure that smaller builders and property owners maintain as many rights as larger ones, and spoke out against the process being affected by the money of special interests.

Koster cited his own efforts since 2001 to streamline the permitting process, identifying the "deny and delay" approach to permitting eight years ago as one reason why developers were choosing not to do business in Snohomish County back then. He admitted that the process is still "convoluted," but he asserted that significant progress has been made in clarifying it since he first took office. Hiatt Watson followed by expressing concern that it still "takes citizens showing up at meeting after meeting" to watchdog the process.

Koster laughed in response to Toyer's question about how the candidates would address the "perception or reality of dysfunctional communication" between the branches of county government, since he sees the dysfunction as occurring not as a result of the branches themselves, but because of mandates by Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. He deemed such restrictions on direct communication unproductive, especially as the task of budget-planning approaches.

"I have a better relationship with the county executive than anyone else on the council, and I'm a Republican!" Koster laughed. "It's imperative that we talk. Out citizens expect better."

Hiatt Watson agreed that the problem does not lie in the departments themselves, To counter Koster's assertions about his working relationship with Reardon, she held up her endorsement by Reardon, as well as by Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick and all the members of the Snohomish County Council, aside from Koster himself.

When Hiatt Watson went on to mention a voicemail message from Koster to Reardon's office, which Reardon had released to support his assertion that Koster had asked Reardon to veto mini-cities, contrary to Koster's claims otherwise, Koster denounced "partisan personal attacks."

When Hiatt Watson was given time to ask Koster a question, she condemned his record of accomplishment, particularly on issues such as the Growth Management Act, and asked him to defend it. Koster acknowledged that the current code "needs tweaking," but cited the years of work that he's put into it thus far. He also proudly held up the fact that the general fund portion of Snohomish County's property tax has not been raised in eight years, and characterized the current County Council as "voting 90 percent unanimously on the issues."

When Koster was given time to ask Hiatt Watson a question, he cited the estimated increase of 350,000 residents that's expected in Snohomish County by 2025, and challenged her position on land use, asking if she would advocate "five-acre developments all over the county." Hiatt Watson asserted that she is not "anti-growth," but that she instead believes that Fully Contained Communities are a "bad tool." She expressed her support for Transfer of Development Rights, and asked the county to "look at what growth we want, to protect our environment and quality of life."

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