Sammamish Comment recommends Pam Stuart for election to City Council Position 7.
Note we write “Recommend” and not “Endorse.” “Recommend” falls well short of an “Endorsement,” for reasons that we will detail in this lengthy column.
Either candidate will serve the citizens of Sammamish well. There are key differences in philosophy on which voters may well align themselves with the conservative Robinson or the liberal Stuart. This is a perfectly legitimate distinction over which we have no quibble. Our approach to City government trends more toward Stuart’s philosophy, although there are things about Robinson we like a lot.
Both candidates have serious flaws that give us serious pause, detailed below. Therefore, we are reduced to “Recommend” vs “Endorse.”
Getting into details
Stuart proved through two Candidates Forums, her Candidate Questionnaires to The Comment and our endorsement interview to have a better grasp of the issues than Robinson. This is not to say that Robinson is superficial or uninformed. He is not. Robinson attended many Council meetings over the summer and clearly has researched issues. Nevertheless, while Robinson has a good grasp, Stuart’s is better.
On the big issues, such as transportation, growth, tree preservation and the like, there is little difference between them. But in other key areas, there are differences.
One key difference is staffing.
Stuart has a better understanding of staffing requirements than Robinson, who wants to cut staff by 10% through attrition. Stuart understands that the staff is already over-worked. The City Council often assigns new tasks that the City Manager notes will stress staff work load and which means other work may have to slip in priorities. Council Member Tom Hornish often raises this issue whenever Council looks to add work to the staff agenda.
Robinson’s answer is to reassess who works on what and reassign more efficiently. This is a good theory but in city government, specialized skills don’t necessarily translate to other tasks. For example, environmental expertise doesn’t translate to transportation concurrency and vice versa. Stuart gets this; Robinson doesn’t. He is insistent and laser-focused on cutting the head count.
Robinson doesn’t have an answer as to why there has been a wave of staff resignations. Stuart thinks it’s because staff hears talk of cutting jobs so they go out to find a new one before it happens. Whether this is the reason, or there are others, or both, may be speculative—but Stuart is unwilling to jump on a general job reduction bandwagon.
Stuart recognizes that cutting jobs will affect levels of service. Robinson thinks “lean” practices (think Six Sigma) will protect against LOS declines. To be sure “lean” should be considered at any time, but it’s not a panacea here.
One area that separates the two distinctly is the employment status of each. Robinson is retired; Stuart is fully employed. Robinson says he can devote full time to the City. Stuart says she will strike the balance needed to do so.
Knowing how much time is involved in being a Council member, we believe Robinson has the clear advantage. We don’t believe Stuart has a good understanding of this. For example, Hornish freely admits he had no clue the amount of time required when he ran for office. At times, he’s had challenges balancing the demands.
Meeting the people
The approach by Stuart and Robinson to campaigning is telling.
Stuart ran an aggressive, energetic campaign. She claims to have door-belled 3,500-4,000 homes, with a 62% “at home” rate. Robinson claims to have door-belled 1,000 homes with a poor “at home” rate. He says he’s passed around fliers and information to about 1,000 more people.
While there is no independent way to verify either candidate’s claim, one piece of information that emerged from our endorsement interview came from Robinson himself.
Door-belling in suburban city council races is retail politics at is most basic. A candidate faces the citizens, conveys his/her message and most importantly, can hear directly from residents about the issues that concern them. For Robinson to disdain this one-on-one raises the question to us just how much he wants to interact with potential constituents and how well he will tolerate Public Comment and Public Hearings.
Retiring City Council Member Tom Odell’s impatience with public comment, especially on those occasions when it stretched to two hours or more, is well documented. This was one of our biggest and long-standing criticisms of Odell during his current term. (Odell did a lot of door-belling in his first campaign, however.) Citizens don’t need another Odell on this issue in Robinson.
Stuart “gets it” when it comes to the benefits of retail politics. Robinson does not.
But Stuart didn’t vote
Stuart may understand the benefit of retail politics and civic involvement, but she hasn’t put her X on the ballot in a Sammamish local election, ever, until her own this past August primary.
There is no more basic, simpler way to be involved in the community than to vote in elections. However, according to records obtain by The Comment (for all candidates), Stuart, who has lived in Sammamish 15 years, didn’t vote in a single city election until this year’s primary in which she was a candidate.
When shown the King County Elections record of her voting, Stuart reacted like Richard Sherman being flagged for holding: Who, me? This can’t be right!
Hearing her response: the ruling on the field stands.
After reviewing the record following our interview, Stuart said she remained shocked she hadn’t voted in off-year elections, professing ignorance of the elections existence and promising to do better in the future. The explanation simply doesn’t resonate.
How she could drive by the candidate sign pollution every two years, sometimes including billboards, and not realize there is an election is an excuse that simply defies belief.
We are frankly offended by anyone who runs for elective office who hasn’t bothered to vote in 15 years for the office involved.
But to continue the football analogy, Robinson and Stuart have off-setting penalties.
Both candidates have other flaws that give us pause. This is why we came to a “Recommendation” instead of an “Endorsement.”
The final, deciding difference
As noted, Sammamish voters will be credibly served by either candidate. The vote may well come down to ideological lines more than the big issues, over which there are few differences.
There is one more difference between the two we feel to be what brings Stuart across the goal line, if only for a field goal.
We think Stuart’s going to work harder and more aggressively and hold the City administration to a higher level of accountability. We think she’s the kind of person who will dig into weak excuses and flimsy data, push back on bad ideas, and relish every minute of it. We think that’s what Sammamish needs now.
By Scott Hamilton and Jen Baisch.