Values vs. experience in City Council race

The ballot for city and school district officials in the November election is light. Of the seven open positions in total for the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors and the Mercer Island City Council, only one citizen has come forward to challenge the status quo.

Debbie Bertlin is running against three-term incumbent El Jahncke for Position 7.

Bertlin graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1982. She attended college at Stanford University, where she earned degrees in sociology. She was the 1988 recipient of the Mercer Island Rotary graduate scholarship that paid for studies in the U.K., where she earned a Master of Arts in political science. She has spent most of her professional career working for Microsoft.

Bertlin and her husband have two children, ages 4 and 6, and live on First Hill.

She is active in many community organizations, including the Mercer Island Preschool Association, Emmanuel Church Day School, and is the chair of the Conservancy Trust. She has hands-on experience with planning and procuring playground equipment and sidewalks through the city and other channels. She calls herself a “parks person,” and is a lifelong swimmer.

Bertlin was one of 17 applicants who applied in January for the Council seat left vacant by Steve Litzow, who was elected to the state Senate last November.

She told the Reporter in June that “she wants to know if Islanders find the Council relevant to their daily lives.”

She voices a concern that the Council’s communication style, or lack thereof, puts people off. “It is not only about family values in the old sense,” she explained. “For singles and older citizens, it might need to be directed to a person’s sense of, ‘What about me?’”

Her top three priorities center around transportation issues, both on the Island and region wide; improved city-school district cooperation and a Council that will “consistently acknowledge and address the needs of a diverse Island community.”

El Jahncke has lived on the Island since 1978. He and his wife have three grown children. He has served on many community governing boards. They include the school district’s Strategic Planning and Facilities Committees during the 1990s, the city’s Utility Board, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation and Public Safety Committees. Jahncke holds a degree in political science from Stanford and a MBA from Columbia University.

A decorated military veteran, Jahncke entered the Navy through Officer Candidate School and became a Navy SEAL. He made two combat tours to Vietnam and was a leader in the NASA Apollo 12 and 13 ocean recoveries.

Jahncke’s website offers this summary of his business experience: 30 years of investment, management and financing experience in commercial real estate. For the past 20 years he has been a principal of an investment management company with $2.6 billion of labor union pension assets under management.

Jahncke also emphasizes his ‘green’ side in his work, pointing out that it has involved multi-million dollar finance deals for construction of energy-efficient buildings.

In a discussion last week with both candidates, the Reporter asked about the  repercussions of the Lindell lawsuit and its settlement.

Both candidates note the difficulties that the city faces in the aftermath of the lawsuit brought against the city by former city attorney and assistant city manager, Londi Lindell.

“It has not been a happy environment,” Jahncke noted, “nor a constructive one.”

Bertlin said the key to repairing the damage is to do an analysis of city human resources policies and work with staff to avoid future conflicts.

“There has been paralysis over the (Lindell) lawsuit,” she said.

“I and many I have talked to, have questions about the legitimacy of transparency of the city government,” Bertlin continued.

Jahncke answered that the Council and staff were forbidden to speak about such matters while the case worked its way through the court. The Council has constraints on what can be discussed in public regarding personnel or other matters.

Regardless, he said, more information about the lawsuit is imminent.

“An evaluation of HR and the city manager is coming,” he said. “It will be made public.”

Bertlin counters that what you do and how you do it establishes leadership.

But beyond perceptions, Jahncke says the city is well managed, well run and boasts a healthy surplus.

“These are the result of a cumulative diligent effort over a long period of time,” he said.

About budget cuts to programs that impact residents and families, Bertlin noted that some did not make sense in terms of parks and safety.

Jahncke replied that decisions to cut were made in order of “sticking to priorities.”


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