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Incumbent Briere faces off against Asher for council seat
Of the two contested City Council races in Renton, only one pits a seated incumbent against a challenger for her spot on the dais.
This fall, local community activist Beth Asher is challenging Terri Briere, who has been on the council since 2000.
Briere is a lifelong Renton resident who lives in the Highlands neighborhood. She was first appointed to the council and then won re-election in 2002. She holds a degree in advertising and marketing. She and her husband Bill own a general contracting firm where Briere serves as president. The couple has two grown children and two grandchildren. Briere has served on several boards and commissions and was named 2011 Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women of Washington.
Asher is a community activist best known for her work with the group “Save the Cedar River Library!” She lives in the Renton Hill neighborhood with her husband Norm. The couple have two children and one grandchild. Asher works as a whole goods broker’s assistant and is a part owner of a small business. Asher has a history of volunteering for various local charities, including Kiwanis, Special Olympics and others. This is her first run for public office.
The Renton Reporter submitted the same set of questions to each candidate. Their answers are printed here. Answers may be edited for space and style, but the content was not changed.
Asher’s answers are presented first because her name is first alphabetically.
1. What do you think are the two most pressing issues facing Renton?
ASHER: Renton has several pressing issues; economic development for our struggling small business community and downtown core, continuing to fund basic services like public safety, affordable housing, and preserving the makeup of our unique neighborhoods. Two issues that seem most pressing to me are our city budget, and the way the regional transportation crisis is affecting quality of life in Renton.
BRIERE: First, Public Safety; Residents need to have confidence that our police are here to protect them, and that well-trained firefighters will respond when needed. Our police officers and fire fighters have continued to provide quality service for Renton residents and the business community but the pressure of continued financial restraints challenges service delivery. Second, Transportation on both a local and regional level affects our daily lives in Renton. Within the city, traffic flow, functionality, pedestrian safety, school area transportation, and transit mobility are just a few of the concerns. Regionally, we are just a small part of a very large state and county issue. Transportation problems create challenges for businesses by requiring more time commuting and impact decisions about expanding or choosing to relocate here.
2. How will you work to solve them?
ASHER: There are real limits on what a city can spend and I support a responsible, balanced budget. Our city has no money to waste. We need to ensure our city can weather another economic downturn, but we don’t want to cut away our community’s future by cutting public safety or other pressing needs. Radical cuts may be short-sighted - we need to work on strengthening our local economy for the long term. Renton needs good transportation infrastructure, including public transit, to attract businesses, keep businesses we have, and provide jobs. Renton will need to look beyond city boundaries and form partnerships with other cities to work on regional issues that are affecting us here at home.
BRIERE: Public Safety is easily impacted by Renton’s ongoing financial constraints. These departments rely mainly on manpower to deliver services. Working smart to identifying new efficiencies to improve productivity, new tools to improve safety and finding better ways to serve the public will help us to maintain services. Evaluating and maintaining programs to help people feel safer in our parks and the transit center including educational materials, signage, and volunteer programs and enhancing pedestrian safety and improved street lighting. It may also be necessary to review and adopt ordinances to deal with problem property owners and landlords where illegal activity continues to occur. Transportation issues need to be part of our comprehensive planning process especially incorporation of major projects. Redevelopment should enhance function, pedestrian safety, attractive landscaping and improved street lighting. Regional representation on transportation and transit boards is imperative to make sure that Renton’s interests are maintained.
3. Why do you want to be on the council?
ASHER: Renton residents have told me we need open, inclusive city government and have asked me to work with them to make a change. To make a difference council members can’t just sit and listen, they should act on opportunities and concerns presented to them and give feedback to our community. Council members must actively support all voices being heard so that policy decisions benefit the majority of the city. I would be extremely honored to work with and for our community and be a voice of change for Renton.
BRIERE: I am proud of my commitment to our community and hope to continue my work with a focus on improving quality of life, including opportunities for our citizens of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, and ages and abilities; enhancing Renton’s neighborhoods and housing; and sustaining and bringing new business to the community. I want to build on the cities prior accomplishments and make investments in programs and services that enhance our quality of life.
4. What do you believe is the role of the City Council member? (Please share a little of your philosophy of governance.)
ASHER: City Council members have the basic job of setting policy. To do that we must engage with businesses large and small, residents and community groups so that we can respond to our diverse community’s needs. City government is designed to be representative, so one of my primary roles as a council member will be to actively include our community members in forming the city policies that affect them. A concerned community acting together will be a powerful force in moving the city forward.
BRIERE: Officially, City Council duties include making public policy, adopting and enforcing ordinances and authority over the city’s budgets. They also receive and consider public input, make appropriate decisions in a manner that encourages full and open discussion, and exercise all the powers that state statutes and city ordinances empower to lawfully govern the community. Additionally, I believe it is important to be open minded, collaborative, flexible, informed and accessible to the residents, business owners, staff and administration.
5. What are your top budget priorities?
ASHER: Restore Renton’s emergency fund levels - the city could face significant hardship in the future and we need to strengthen our city economy for the long term; Fund basic needs like public safety so that we can keep necessary services and continue programs like police in schools; and begin funding upcoming infrastructure improvements and pre-fund bond issues.
BRIERE: Ensure accountability and fiscal responsibility. Renton’s council and administration have worked diligently to ensure the stability of the city’s finances. It is not an easy task as funding opportunities diminish. As chair of the Finance Committee, it is important to me that we continue to look at long-term needs and strategies that include putting aside additional rainy day funds for future emergencies. It is important that we maintaining Public Safety and encourage creative ways to deliver city services that control costs and save taxpayers money. Continue and enhance our economic-development program, attracting jobs, shopping and revenue diversification can help maintain services without raising taxes. Secondly, planning may not sound important but planning establishes a long-term vision for the city. Community planning is a partnership with our citizens and community leaders; in recent years we have we developed the City Center, Sunset Highlands and Benson Hill Community plans and the Parks, Recreation and Natural Areas Plan to name a few. Along with the Comprehensive Plan that is being updated this year, they provide a roadmap for future growth and development. It is imperative that we continue to work on neighborhood plans to include the remaining areas of our city.
6. Perhaps the biggest issue the council has dealt with in the past two years has been the library annexation and rebuilds. What are your thoughts on this process and would you support de-annexation if the issue arose?
ASHER: Saving the library was a true grass-roots effort and shows the power of residents who are working together, engaged in finding a solution. This type of participation and commitment is Renton at its best. Working together, we have the creativity, resolve and know-how to tackle our community’s biggest challenges and enhance the Renton we love. I strongly believe that voting on issues is the way our system is designed to work, and de-annexation would be an issue to be decided by a vote of the people.
BRIERE: Several years ago the library master plan was completed. It showed the city was very far behind in offering the library services that our residents deserved. It was also apparent that we were not in a financial position to improve the library to the level needed. The decision of the council was to ask our citizens if there was an interest in annexation to the King County Library System, which they affirmed. Locating a new library in the downtown area in the Big 5 space, the council believed offered an exciting catalyst to redevelopment of the downtown, coupled with the close location of the high school and St. Anthony’s it seemed an ideal location. The council listened and responded to the concerns of the community regarding moving the location from the river. The council covered the election expense and has authorized funds to expand the library based on public comment. I believe the process worked. Personally, I would never promote de-annexation from KCLS based on the information I have heard from the community. The majority of the users love the expanded services offered. Given the financial position of the city, the alternative would be a library with less service than what is currently provided and I believe that is unacceptable to our residents.
7. If money was no object, what would at the top of your wish list for the city?
ASHER: As a resident of 38 years who has raised my family here I’m passionate about revitalizing our downtown core and other small business corridors, like the Highlands and the Cascade/Benson Hill area. I’ve twice presented a proposal to the city council of using the old Big 5 site to create an arts and culture center. This “seeding” would let us attract public and private partners to redevelop our core. The proposal is on my website. Then we link our retail districts by using shuttles carrying the “Ahead of the Curve” logo to help our small business corridors thrive. Our three triangular retail corridors also include amenities like Carco Park, Liberty Park, the library, and civic destinations like City Hall and the transit center. Convenient linking could lower congestion and encourage a more walk and bike friendly Renton.
BRIERE: Parks! The city with local funding partners is just completing the accessible Meadow Crest Playground in the Highlands. In the past few years Renton has had to close park buildings and limit programs because of funding shortages. Park development is expensive and the park waiting list span decades into the future. The Tri-Park Master Plan for Liberty and Cedar River parks and Ron Regis Park Plan would include active play areas, additional fields and much more. The Benson Hill Community plan outlines parks need design plans done. And lands need to be purchased for new parks and trails. Our residents love our parks and trails but the city could offer so much more if more funding was available. In the meantime we continue to look for grants and other funding opportunities and partners to continue development of our wonder full park system.
8. You and your opponent both obviously care very much for the city. Why should voters choose you over your opponent?
ASHER: I’ve demonstrated that I’m willing to go to bat for Renton residents. We all want local leadership that gives us common sense solutions and works toward a thriving Renton community. Engaging our diverse groups of residents in decision-making, and partnering with businesses and community groups will give us better ways to address community opportunities and concerns. Empowering residents to shape Renton’s future will improve local decision-making, create a shared sense of ownership, and strengthen Renton’s cultural and economic makeup.
BRIERE: I am a lifetime resident of Renton and passionate about my community. I believe I have the knowledge, expertise, judgment and integrity, including strong financial, employee and customer-service skills, the ability to balance many needs and demands, the vision to see the big picture and leadership to make the tough decisions for the city. Working on City Council is being part of a team, with the council, mayor and staff, to address difficulties and opportunities effectively. Issues can be controversial and include working diligently with diverse interests to try to find consensus on many difficult topics. I am proud of the work we have done to engage all the interested parties and work through the issues one by one. Of course, not everyone will be happy with the outcome but I believe that most understood the decisions and were able to abide them.
9. Finally, what is the current council and administration doing right?
ASHER: Our city has weathered a severe economic crisis and wisely drawn on volunteer organizations for help. Renton will continue to be a roll-up-the-shirtsleeves and volunteer community, and I’ll be proud to work with city staff on our integrated budget and with our entire community to create a healthy, safe and economically vibrant Renton.
BRIERE: Economic Development and Planning. Renton has done a good job maintaining our financial stability through economic development. Renton has diversified our employers so we are not totally dependent on Boeing for employment. But we are committed to doing our part to protect Renton’s position as the center of aerospace in the Puget Sound area. In Olympia we are working to secure funding for the Central Sound Aerospace Training Center at Renton Airport. We also worked with Boeing in the last decade to find uses for the acres of parking they no longer required. This became the Landing and the 880 apartments in the area. And now we are working closely with the owners of 21 acres just south of The Landing to ensure this property is developed to the best and highest use. Discussions continue on a possible office complex at Southport, at the south end of Coulon Park. We have brought the Seattle Seahawks Headquarters to Renton. That brings more than 20,000 to the annual training camp in Renton during the summer. And plans are being developed for the 20-acre Port Quendall site on Lake Washington next to the Seahawks headquarters. Other employers continue to relocate or expand in Renton making more opportunities for residents to live and work here.
Ballots are due Nov. 5.