Renton City Council candidates weigh in about pressing issues facing the city

Candidates discuss the city’s growth, housing and other issues at the debate held on Sept. 28.

Editor’s Note: To watch the entire candidate forum, visit the South King County Neighborhood Action Council’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/1300904210018292/permalink/1321916441250402/.

On Thursday, Sept. 28 the six candidates vying for Renton City Council Positions No. 1, 2 and 6 gathered for a public forum.

Position No. 1 incumbent Randy Corman and his opponent Neil Sheesley, Position No. 2 incumbent Armondo Pavone and his challenger Diane Dobson and Position No. 6 incumbent Ruth Perez and her opponent Jami Smith answered a number of questions about issues facing the city of Renton and its residents.

The forum was held at Carpenters Hall and was cosponsored by the South King County Neighborhood Action Council and Renton Resist.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7 and ballots will be mailed out on Oct. 18.

The forum began with a “Rapid Fire Round” where the candidates answered a handful of quick questions by writing their answers on a whiteboard.

The evening began with candidates sharing how long each candidate has lived in the city of Renton.

Sheesley and Smith have both lived in the city for five years and Perez has lived in it for 11 years. Corman has spent 32 years living in Renton, Dobson has lived in the city for 42 and Pavone has spent the longest amount of time in the city at 51 years.

The candidates were also asked what they think is the city’s top priority.

Corman said solving the opioid crisis should be on the list of top priorities and his opponent Sheesley said safety and security are big issues.

Pavone and Dobson agreed that public safety is a top priority for Renton.

Perez said quality safety is a top priority and Smith was the only candidate to mention economic development.

After moving on from the first rapid fire set of questioning, the six candidates were given the opportunity to introduce themselves to the public before moving on to question one.

Similar to the previous rapid fire round question, the candidates were asked what they saw as Renton’s major challenges and assets.

Sheesley continued discussing the issues of safety and security as a challenge the city faces, especially in the downtown core area. He added the city has a lot of transients and the city needs to focus on separating transients from those who are truly homeless.

He said the city needs to find a way of figuring out how to get the transients out of neighborhoods.

Corman agreed with Sheesley and his assessment of the issues Renton is facing in the downtown area.

In the past Corman said the city has done outreach to help assist those who are temporarily down or homeless because they lost their home for one reason or another. He added that typically those people have a will to work.

He said the city is really seeing a lot of problems due to the opioid crisis. A number of people struggling with this addiction, Corman said, tend to commit crimes and create havoc and Renton is seeing its share of it.

He said the city is currently working with the county, the state and federal government.

Pavone got the first stab at question one.

He said while crime and the opioid problem is a challenge, he doesn’t see it as the city’s biggest challenge. Pavone said annexing and supporting infrastructure in the Cascade area that the city annexed nearly nine years ago is something the city needs to focus on. He said when the city took over that area, the agreement included a reduced excise tax in place that is now expiring. He added the city needs to be creative when it comes to managing finances in the future.

Pavone said it is his personal feeling, that this issue is the most pressing issue the city is currently facing.

Dobson said one of the biggest challenges she sees Renton facing is the rapid growth within the city without proper foresight to infrastructure. She added that this then leads to back ups in congestion with traffic and transportation.

Dobson also mentioned the increase in taxes with the lack of implements like with ST3.

Also, the inability to meet certain service level demands including the student to teacher ratio set in place in the Renton School District. The ratio, she said, is 24 to 1 ratio while the new school is already at a 30 to 1 student to teacher ratio.

In Pavone’s response, he mentioned the city has gone through more than its fair share of growth but a lot of that growth has been good including the commercial growth, bringing jobs to the area. He said the growth is something the city can manage.

Perez said because of the amenities the city has to offer and because its location, the city has to be smart about the way they are growing. She added they need to be able to provide the needed infrastructure before they continue growing the way they have been. Perez also said the city needs to be careful to provide quality services to residents.

Smith agreed that rapid growth is a challenge facing the city. She added that with rapid growth another issue the city faces is balancing the growth and reducing harm to those already living in the city.

Next the candidates were asked what investments Renton should be making in infrastructure to accommodate the city’s growth.

Pavone said the city should continue doing what it has been doing — finding the funds it can, continue to build out the streets and the roads, continue to build infrastructure downtown and make sure they don’t add anything new that they won’t be able to service.

The community is a great way to lessen the impact on some of the city’s resources, Dobson said, like community based policing and volunteering throughout the community.

A smart and wise investment, Dobson said, is in the schools. The children are our future, she added.

She also said it is important for the council members to have a voice and really protect the interests of the city’s residents.

As council members, Perez said, they have a tough job of approving the budget. She said an issue the city has is never having enough money for the infrastructure that is needed.

Smith said expanding current programs such as Sunset Terrance — it starts with managing certain programs already in place, she said.

Being proactive and smart about those moving into central and south Renton as they get priced out of Seattle, in an effort to keep people in the city.

Sheesley said he sees traffic being impacted by city’s growth. He said if more apartments and single family homes are being built, there needs to be better roads. Sheesley added he wasn’t sure why traffic wasn’t addressed prior to three new hotels being built near Gene Coulon Memorial Park.

Corman said there are still some areas that the city needs to work on with regards to infrastructure. He agreed that traffic is one of the biggest things dogging the city right now. Corman added that 60 percent of traffic doesn’t stop or start in Renton, there is so much pass through traffic. There are ways to deal with some of that cut through traffic Corman said including making sure ST3 delivers on its promises.

The third question touched on environmental protection programs and what each candidate would like to see.

Following a second “Rapid Fire Round” the candidates returned to the topic of the opioid crisis.

They were asked what they would doas a council member to combat (the opioid crisis) and protect young residents from the crisis.

Corman, who already spoke up on this topic, started off by saying this is a difficult issue that can be tackled by working together.

Currently Renton Mayor Denis Law is part of a King County Task Force that offers direction to cities. Corman said a lot of the direction provided includes policing and forms of recovery. He added that more funds are also needed in order to address this issue.

All politics are local, Corman said.

“We are close to those impacted and we can work to keep others from becoming addicted and find different, non-addicitive painkillers for those already affected,” he said.

Sheesley said the council needs to partner with who they can in order to provide services to those affected, while putting pressure on drug dealers.

Dobson said a way to combat the crisis is for municipalities to put more pressure on those responsible and benefiting from the opioid crisis. She added she would like to see a more proactive approach when it comes to those already on the street.

As local a jurisdiction, Pavone said the council needs to focus on the people in its city — starting with the youth. We can spend more time with education, he said.

When asked, Smith said she wants people to know this is a public health issue and it does not just affect young people.

She said the first thing she would do as a council member is work with hospitals to find alternative pain management strategies. She said she would also work to provide support to those already affected as they move toward rehabilitation.

Smith added she would also want to train police officers to deal with as a public health issue as opposed to a crime issue.

Perez said a big factor in combating the opioid crisis is education. She added you can’t solve the problem by putting everyone in jail.

Smith responded by saying that the city actually needs to figure out what they want to do and then actually implement it.

The six candidates moved on to discuss affordable housing and how they would bring that to residents of Renton before answering the final question of the night.

They were asked if they support Initiative 940, which would require more mental-health training along with de-escalation training for law enforcement officers in Washington. I-940 would also make it easier to prosecute police over alleged misuse of deadly force.

All six said they agreed with the initiative.

Part two of the question referred to what they would do to ensure Renton police are “second to none when it comes to de-escalating situations without deadly force”

Smith said it is good for the department and a good way for them to get the support and training they need. She added I-940 allows cities and departments to be held accountable.

Perez stressed on the importance of being proactive, and understanding that police are here to make citizens feel safe.

Corman said he is already proud of the Renton Police Department for their usage of appropriate force.

Sheesley said Renton police officers are awesome. He said in the North Renton neighborhood, they work closely with the officers.

He added that officers are working to get to know community members so they become familiar with them when there is an emergency.

Dobson said that any training is beneficial. She said the mental health training is also a huge part of this initiative.

Pavone said he spoke with the Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich who said the department’s training is already higher than what the initiative would include.

Another important aspect Pavone said is first aid training for officers.

The evening wrapped after nearly an hour and a half with closing statements.

The Reporter has sent out questions to each candidate and will run the first round of an in-paper debate next week in the Oct. 13 issue.

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