Mercer Island citizens organized and hosted a candidate forum for two open positions in the city council and school board on July 15 at the Mercer Island Library.
Three candidates for city council Position 7 and three candidates for school board Position 5 discussed their perspectives on various issues facing the community.
The King County Primary Election is on Aug. 6, followed by the general election on Nov. 5.
City Council Position 7
Debbie Bertlin, Robin Russell and Jake Jacobson represented the candidates for city council Position 7. Popular questions presented by the public primarily revolved around the Tully’s project, Mercer Island Center for the Arts and the bus intercept.
“I am here to ask you to return me to office for another four years,” said Bertlin during introductory statements. She expressed her determination to improve the Town Center and better the financial situation within the city.
Jacobson explained that his experiences with Sound Transit and King County Metro makes him stand out as a candidate for city council. He emphasized the importance of mobility in relation to the current issues with a bus intercept.
“There are just too many surprises coming out of City Hall,” Russell said. After the attempt at private development at Mercerdale Park, she spent time learning about zoning and parking regulations, environmental impacts, transportation studies, and memorandums of understanding.
When asked about being more inclusive with youth residents, Russell and Jacobson mentioned increased use of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor. Bertlin responded with efforts to explain civics with elementary students and high school teenagers and give them real life scenarios about how to be involved with the government.
Local wine bar owner Joe Kennedy expressed his concerns about current business regulations during public questioning.
“Amen, brother,” Jacobson said.
Russell suggested the creation of a special task force within city council for small businesses in order to improve communication between the north and south sides of the island. Bertlin encouraged an open conversation to further understand frustrations on both sides.
School board Position 5
Linhui Hao, Tam Dinh and John Rivera-Dirks each conveyed their desire to be elected to the school board. Topics ranged from mental health in schools to personal definitions of equity.
Rivera-Dirks opened with a story about a traumatic experience with his 7-year-old son at school and the importance of mental health counselors. With a background in business and the public sector, Rivera-Dirks believes that he is uniquely qualified to help solve financial issues within the schools.
“I benefited from the American school system and I want to give back to help students recognize their many different pathways,” Dinh said in her opening statement. She advocates for a safe and supportive learning environment, with emphasis on mental health and inclusive curriculum.
Hao wants to use her background in STEM and education to make tough decisions and win community support. She believes her experience as a scientist will be useful in finding well-researched solutions. Hao is the founder and board member of the Mercer Island Chinese Association. She explained her intention to bring diversity to the school board, especially with such a large Chinese community on the island.
“We have to look at the larger system,” Dinh said in response to a question about finances. “We need to engage the community.” She referenced the strong relationship between the school board, city council and Youth and Family Services as they work toward improving mental health resources.
“Let’s get creative,” said Rivera-Dirks. “That’s really important.” He suggested looking at both the city council and school board budgets to work together and find sustainable funding. Hao highlighted the significance of generating a clear plan for how to spend money.
In a question about the challenges currently faced at the schools, Dinh replied that compensation for teachers and staff is severely lacking. She proposed alternate solutions to support educators, such as providing housing or additional incentives.
Hao emphasized the barrier between advanced students and those that need extra help in the classroom. She aims to bring forward a more structured curriculum to meet the gifted nature of some children and improve learning habits for others.
Rivera-Dirks answered that most parents are worried their children are not receiving the skills necessary to survive beyond high school. He aims to increase access to technical skills in order to be successful in the ever-changing job market.