Mercer Island City Council candidates shared their ideas on how to improve the city’s transit options, business climate and financial standing, among other issues, at a forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 21.
The featured candidates included Mark Coen and incumbent Benson Wong running for Position No. 6 and Joy Langley and Tom Acker running for Position No. 4. Salim Nice, who was appointed to the council to fill a vacancy in July, is running unopposed for Position No. 2 and did not attend the forum.
The community will have a chance to vote for these candidates during the Nov. 7 General Election. Ballots will be mailed Oct. 18.
Kicking off the forum, Wong, a lawyer and longtime community volunteer, said that his first priority if re-elected would be to preserve the Island’s mobility and prepare for light rail. Wong voted against the city’s $10.1 million settlement with Sound Transit, which passed 5-1 on May 31.
Wong said that going forward, the city must use the money wisely to address transportation concerns. He said he would like to work with the chamber to address parking issues, and look at hiring an economic development coordinator to attract and keep businesses on the Island.
Coen, a mental health specialist and neighborhood advocate, also saw transportation and commerce as interrelated. He said he would like to see some of the the Sound Transit money used for a driverless electric shuttle system to help Islanders, especially seniors and kids, get to the Park and Ride and Town Center.
He criticized the current council, and its “poor decisions and lack of transparency that have impacted transportation issues, residential development and poor financial planning,” emphasizing that “fresh voices are needed.”
Acker, a human resources manager and Save our Suburbs (SOS) founder, said he supports “logical solutions for I-90 and transparency.” On his website, he said that the city has a “fantastic opportunity to leverage technology and implement progressive solutions… including automated transportation vehicles and systems, electric vehicles and buses, and multi-modal systems to improve accessibility and parking for Islanders.”
Langley, a government affairs manager and chair of the Mercer Island Arts Council, said that the city needed to identify “last mile solutions.” She also said that Mercer Island should explore carpool apps, and develop a comprehensive parking plan.
Wong said that he would work to maintain the city’s current level of service in light of future financial challenges. Annual revenue growth is not keeping pace with annual expenditure growth in Mercer Island, and the city is facing a deficit of about $2 million in 2019. The council will need to either cut expenditures or raise taxes, or a combination of the two, Wong said.
“What the council does will be in part be based on the actions and the work of the community advisory group that is being formed by the city manager,” Wong said. “They’ll look at the level of service that the community wants and expects, and also looking at different ways of perhaps raising funds for the council to consider.”
Coen said he was concerned about Mercer Island’s environmental and financial sustainability. He said he has found the current council to be “reactive” and “constantly in crisis mode.” Wong also said that the “the city needs to be more proactive in the next four years.”
“We must be able to streamline our operations, without losing valuable entities like the Youth and Family Services counselors in our schools,” Coen said.
Acker wrote that “raising taxes should not be the first step to balance the budget, it should be the last.”
Langley said that Mercer Island needs to “fix our financial house” while balancing the value of city services with the increased cost to residents, especially seniors. She said that she would like Mercer Island to have a “robust Town Center,” with a home for a co-working space and the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) downtown.
Langley said that she saw Mercerdale Park as the “only path forward” for MICA for now, though she expressed her commitment to the Island’s parks and open spaces. Acker said that he started a community fundraising campaign to buy land elsewhere in Town Center for MICA, such as the former Hines property or current Freshy’s site, though he said he supported Youth Theatre Northwest and wants to keep it on the Island.
Acker, who serves on the PTA advocacy group, also said he would like to improve the city’s partnership with the school district.
Wong said he would like to enhance the city’s emergency preparedness.
Langley emphasized her willingness to listen, and writes on her website that she believes “broad citizen engagement and transparency are the lifeblood of responsible government.”
Coen said he would capitalize on citizen energy and activism, not suppress it, and would like to start a Mercer Island Youth Corps to encourage volunteerism and community involvement among younger generations of Islanders.
The candidates also addressed residential development and the recent code rewrite, mostly agreeing that the city needs to proactively plan for growth while maintaining the character of Mercer Island neighborhoods.
The Mercer Island Beach Club will hold a debate from 7-9 p.m. on Oct. 16 between candidates for Mercer Island City Council and School Board, and the League of Women Voters and PTA Advisory Council are sponsoring a voters’ forum from 7-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 at West Mercer Elementary.
Tom Acker: www.anislandtogether.com
Joy Langley: joyelangley.nationbuilder.com
Mark Coen: www.coenforcouncil.com
Benson Wong: www.electbensonwong.com