Renton City Council candidates final round | DEBATE

Council candidates rebut final round of questions and share closing statements.

  • Thursday, July 6, 2017 1:37pm
  • News

Editor’s Note: Renton City Council has Position No. 2 and 6 on the upcoming August primary election.

Armondo Pavone is the incumbent for Position No. 2 and he is running against Diane Dobson and Max J. Heller III.

Ruth Perez is the incumbent for Position No. 6 and she is running against Carl Eshelman and Jami Smith.

These six candidates are participating in an in-paper debate. The candidates had the opportunity to respond and/or rebut to their opponent’s answers. Below are their rebuttals to the final two questions along with a closing statement from each candidate.

Ballots for the August election will be mailed out on July 12 and election day is Aug. 1.

Question No. 3: Some residents in Renton are fearful of the federal government in regard to immigration and deportation — as an elected official what would your stance be on these issues?

Armondo Pavone (Position No. 2)

An inclusive city is one that values all people and their needs equally, where all residents have a representative voice in governance, planning, budgeting and access to basic services. In our efforts to become an inclusive city, I believe it is important we don’t lose our focus. Through the city’s leadership, inclusion is becoming woven into the very fiber of how we conduct business. It is important we nurture this progress and not become sidetracked by divisive arguments. We have never checked for immigration status and I would not support any plan to start checking. I will continue to support the meetings with community leaders and members of our immigrant communities to assure them we have no plans to check on the status of those doing business or requesting services from the police. Only through continued community engagement will we continue to remove barriers and make all the residents in Renton feel safe and welcome.

Diane Dobson (Position No. 2)

Immigrants of all sorts from all areas built Renton and as a result, it has become one of the most diverse and culturally rich places to live and raise our families — learning from each other’s perspectives, experiences and cultures. (My family too immigrated to America at one point, settling in the Renton area in the late 1800s … before Renton was even a city).

These relations are important to me. The Renton-Nishiwaki (Japan) Sister City Association was co-founded by my father, Wyman Dobson, in 1969 and I was a founding member of the Renton-Cualtla (Mexico) Sister City Association in 2001. These associations work to enhance citizen understanding and appreciation for other cultures and promote international goodwill and cooperation through people to people relationships worldwide — especially within the city of Renton.

It is important to continue to foster that feeling of welcoming inclusivity, promoting legal steps toward citizenship while respecting the laws keeping our communities (including all of our citizens) safe from crime.

The city of Renton continues to have a welcome and inviting approach in this sense that we can be proud of.

Max J. Heller III (Position No. 2)

In the incumbent we see a prime example of how the current administration has failed to do their job, while he has indeed pointed out that Renton’s economy and job market is growing, there is a large portion of our friends and neighbors living below the poverty line in Renton — 12.2 percent. Renton is doing better than the national average of 14.7 percent but that is still too many families trying to get by on incomes that are inadequate, even in a two income household, it is not enough in today’s marketplace to make ends meet.

We need to do more, we need to get the minimum wage up and make it a livable wage, we need to make higher education more accessible for everyone so higher paying jobs are within everyone’s reach, we need to address the housing situation and ever increasing rent that families are being forced to pay. Rental rates are skyrocketing out of control at an alarming rate and making it impossible for low income families to afford, we need to address this and bring more affordable housing to Renton.

Average apartment rent in Renton is $1,623 and a two bedroom on average is $1,723.

That is a lot to pay out in rent when the average family living on minimum wage is only bringing in $1,760 a month. And this is assuming they are working 40 hour weeks, in reality most minimum wage jobs are below 40 hours, simply put more needs to be done to ensure fair housing opportunities for low income families. As it is now, not enough is being done.

Ruth Perez (Position No. 6)

As discussed in my previous answer, the fear of our immigrant population is real and it’s justified. Under the Trump administration families are worried about being pulled apart and young people are worried about being deported back to a place they haven’t seen since they were very small children. Immigrants have built their lives here, contributing to our city’s successes and opportunities.

I am proud that Renton is now considered an inclusive city, one where families can know that they don’t need to fear our police officers and public officials. I will continue to work tirelessly for each and every resident of Renton, no matter their country of origin, their income level, or the color of their skin. Every person deserves the chance to build a life for themselves and their family and I will work to protect that right every day as your city councilwoman.

Carl Eshelman (Position No. 6)

Again, the three candidates running for position No. 6 are in agreement that the current federal policies concerning undocumented immigrants are not healthy for the residents of Renton. We agree that living in Renton without proper documentation does not make one a criminal. And we agree that we need to make it easy and fear-free for all residents of Renton, documented and undocumented, to approach the police and report crimes.

Undocumented immigrants are a vital part of the Renton economy. Undocumented immigrants are not stealing our jobs or raising our crime rates. Undocumented immigrants are not criminals and we should not treat them as such unless they actually commit a criminal act.

Jami Smith (Position No. 6)

While national immigration policy is and remains a source of frustration and concern and reform is needed, it is dangerous to view undocumented immigrants as simply “working at jobs that American citizens are no longer willing to do.”

It is (essential for) community leaders to focus on specific ways that we can ensure safety for all Renton residents, including advocacy for our undocumented residents. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, and we can find innovative ways to communicate that those protections exist.

This includes passing and enforcing ordinances that clearly communicate our position that simply being here does not qualify as a criminal offense, that asking residents for or sharing immigration information in civil cases is not our practice, that federal officials may not pose as Renton law enforcement, and much more.

This means that immigration status is only disclosed if it is pertinent to a defined criminal charge and executed arrest, NOT if a person is simply “suspected of a crime.” This means we treat all residents equally, and not require immigration status based on someone’s visible ethnic background.

Question No. 4: What is your position on how the city should combat crime and keep neighborhoods safe? And what can the City Council do about it?

Armondo Pavone (Position No. 2)

It was disappointing to hear my opponent’s response to your question last week, implying the council needs to “LISTEN” more. Last year as the chair of the Public Safety Committee, I was contacted by the North Renton Neighborhood Association, which my opponent used to be an active member of, expressing concerns regarding the increase in vagrancy, code infractions, homelessness and crime in their neighborhood. The association leadership invited us to witness their concerns first hand.

Two of my council colleagues and I, along with members of the neighborhood, walked the area and listened to their concerns. This was followed by a very well attended North Renton town hall meeting, which included the city administration and most of the department heads. Police and code enforcement staff followed up with several meetings. The result was a better understanding by all, and some immediate action that resulted in praise from the neighborhood association leadership. That communication continues today.

As a follow up to our tour last year, four council members, including myself, attended the May 16, 2017 North Renton Neighborhood association meeting. This provided us a chance to further engage and listen to the residents. The council has demonstrated that it is committed to listening to the concerns of our residents and working with the administration to address public safety issues while seeking solutions to complex challenges that impact the community.

Diane Dobson (Position No. 2)

As a citizen, I have already PROVEN that public safety IS my top priority as I have been actively working on improving the safety and integrity of our neighborhoods and community, including the downtown core.

We have worked within our neighborhood — re-energizing our neighborhood association; promoting block watch participation; opening communication with our Renton Police Department; conducted a Town Hall Meeting that brought city leaders, department heads and police officials together to hold City Hall accountable on items critical to our public safety and function; and brought about actual changes to ordinances and policies in making them more contemporary and applicable (including, most recently, developing ordinances relating property/vehicle trespass and encouraging changes to the dangerous dog laws).

In the downtown core, we are encouraging business owners to join and support the Downtown Business Partnership; participate with the Business Watch program (including personally meeting with business owners to encourage the use of tools like the Business Trespass Authorization) and also lead by example with proactive steps to keep their own areas free of debris and crime.

Council members do have the ability to think outside the box, work together with communities toward solutions, influence change in policies and help citizens with these processes.

Max J. Heller III (Position No. 2)

The incumbent also states that identifying homelessness is not a valid way to evaluate the success we have enjoyed from Renton’s economic development efforts. I was not trying to, I was pointing out homelessness because it is a large issue that HAS gone largely ignored by the city government, it is time to develop a plan to help rehabilitate the homeless, get them the help they need to acquire employment and get into housing and off the streets. It’s time for serious people to get the job done.

Ruth Perez (Position No. 6)

Safety and crime continue to be at the top of many of our neighbors’ minds. It is the conversation that I have most frequently while knocking on doors, regardless of neighborhood. I’ve heard stories of mail theft, of vandalism, of car prowls, and of burglaries. It is clear that we must do more to stem this tide of crime in our city and region.

First, I believe we must invest in community policing. This gets police officers out of their cars and engaging with our residents, building trust between the police department and our neighbors. A community policing program is part of that ounce of prevention that we need to prevent the pound of cure down the road.

Second, we must make sure that our police department has the resources they need to do their jobs.

Finally, we have to be actively pursuing innovation and creativity in our police department. Whether it’s reducing response time or building out educational and prevention programs, our police department can and should be looking for new solutions in our continually growing and changing region. As technology changes, so must our ways of harnessing it to keep our communities safe.

Carl Eshelman (Position No. 6)

This topic is vital to Renton’s future. We have to get our rising crime rates under control if we want to continue to attract new businesses and residents. Jami Smith stated in her original response, “crime and general public safety are key indicators of the health of a community…” That statement is completely accurate. How do you get the residents of a city to be proud of where they live if they are afraid to walk down the street in some parts of town? It seems almost weekly we hear about another shooting or stabbing in town. How do you get businesses, large or small, to move to a city when they are afraid of their facilities and workers getting shot at? Just two weekends ago a Boeing aircraft under construction was shot twice while it sat at the Renton airport. A neighbor’s house was burglarized twice within one year. Once while they were gone for only 30 minutes. What would have happened if they’d arrived home a few minutes earlier?

We need to mobilize the community to look for and report suspicious activities, fund our police department, and improve our education system to get the crime rates to decrease.

Jami Smith(Position No. 6)

While I agree that full funding of our police department and the Law Enforcement Academy is a priority, I believe that simply increasing policing is treating the symptom and not the root cause of what really is a complex and multi-faceted problem.

As the cost of living rises in Renton and surrounding cities, many people of all ages and all backgrounds are falling through the economic cracks into homelessness and desperation. Without services to treat the mentally ill, support for children experiencing domestic violence, or re-training opportunities for workers who find themselves jobless, we see an environment for crime as a way for people to feed and shelter themselves. Expecting public safety officers to deal with social support needs is not a solution.

As a city council, we can transform Renton into a place that views crime as a measure of the overall health of our community, and not as evidence that this is a bad place to live. There is room to improve, and a city council that is proactive and forward-thinking in balancing both public and private support services with smart, community-oriented policing can be integral to that improvement.

Closing Statements

Armondo Pavone (Position No. 2)

It has been my humble honor to serve and represent the residents and businesses of Renton. I feel privileged to work on behalf of all my constituents to ensure Renton continues to provide the services we all count on. The community has been extremely supportive of my family and I, starting with the opening of Armondo’s Café Italiano in 1985, to our current business, Melrose Grill. During this time, I have been an active civic member and serving on the Renton City Council has allowed me the opportunity to give back to the community in a meaningful way.

We live in a very desirable and growing city. The challenges and opportunities we face will need to be met by a well informed and collaborative city council. I have proven my ability to listen to input from all my constituents and work effectively with my colleagues. Therefore, I ask for your support and vote in the upcoming election. Thank you.

Diane Dobson (Position No. 2)

My passion and love for serving my community has been life long and I recognize there is a difference between customer service and community service.

In 1985, I was part of a group of youth who petitioned the city for a new local playground — gathering public support, presenting ideas to council, working with Environmental Protection Agency and Parks Departments, presenting at contentious public hearings and seeing the process through until we had a new park for the kids to safely play at. I was 10 and this was just the beginning.

In 2003, the city of Renton recognized me with the highest recognition of service the city bestows — Citizen of the Year.

I have been blessed to have opportunities for giving back and supporting our community through groups like Renton Lions Club, the North Renton Neighborhood Association, Habitat for Humanity, Renton Clothes Bank, Lions in Sight, Special Olympics, CISR and School District, Leader Dogs for the Blind, Emergency Feeding Program, River Days, City-wide cleanups, coaching youth sports….

I now ask for YOUR support as a community — to enable me a voice at the table, to hear the challenges we face as and use my wisdom to make a guiding difference. I ask for your vote this year as your candidate for Renton City Council, Position No. 2.

Max J. Heller III (Position No. 2)

In conclusion, my candidacy is the result of growing frustration in the city government.

And the inability to address problems that need to be addressed and solved.

I am a person, that if confronted with a problem that can’t be solved because of different opinions and disagreement, I reach out and find that common ground that IS shared and where we CAN agree and I use that as a starting point to work out a problem. That is how the job gets done and a resolution is achieved!

Collaboration and team work. Regardless of party affiliation or differences of opinion.

I have worked and volunteered for three presidential campaigns —

• John Kerry in 2004 and Hillary Clinton in 2009 and 2016.

• I was an elected Democratic PCO from 2004-2008 and appointed in 2017 a candidate for state rep 2nd LD Pos. 2 in 2006.

I have been a caregiver for my late father whom passed from Alzheimer’s in 2013.

Currently a security guard at the Tacoma Dome and a Seattle Mariners employee.

I am openly gay and am happily married to my husband of five years, Jeremy.

I will work hard for the citizens of Renton and work to improve the quality of life for EVERYONE in our community.

I welcome you the opportunity to visit my campaign website at or contact me directly with your comments or concerns at

Together we can make a difference.

Thank You.

Ruth Perez (Position No. 6)

Two years ago, I was honored to be elected as your city council member. With more than 30 years of business experience working in local and international companies, local and state governments and as an entrepreneur, I was ready to get to work to make the city we love an even better place to live.

Now, my commitment remains unchanged. My top priority has been and will always be our residents here in Renton. I’m proud to fight for you and for our city at every turn, in every situation. I am proud to bring your voices to the table and to advocate for our neighborhoods, our schools, our streets, and our safety.

I am honored to have earned the endorsement of Attorney General Bob Ferguson and more than 70 local elected officials, city commissioners and advisory boards members, neighborhood association presidents, community leaders, and organizations, including our Renton Fire Fighters and the 33rd District Democrats. Thank you to the Renton Reporter for this opportunity. I appreciate your vote!

Carl Eshelman (Position No. 6)

Renton is a wonderful diverse city with a bright future and amazing opportunities but there is a lot of work to do as well. To continue improving the quality of life of the people who live and work in Renton we need to lower our crime rates, improve our school system, enhance our infrastructure, continue revitalizing downtown, and make smart investments in parks and recreational facilities. This all needs to be accomplished without losing track of fiscal responsibility.

As a fiscal conservative and social liberal, my priorities include encouraging economic growth, improving our education system, ensuring a safe community, and using your tax dollars responsibly.

I’m not a politician. I have no ties or commitments to any PACs, special interest groups, or large donors. This frees me to do what is best for the residents of Renton without concern about losing endorsements or donors.

I have spent the last 30 years in private industry learning fiscal responsibility, building consensus, and solving tough problems through win-win solutions. With your vote, I can use this experience to help create solutions that will make Renton an even better place to live and work.

Jami Smith (Position No. 6)

I am the best choice for Renton’s City Council because:

• Renton is the future of Washington state. We can be a forward-thinking community that balances excellence with empathy to create an environment that works for all residents.

• I get things done. My track record is full of achievements that show my ability to both create an overall vision and to make it happen.

• I believe in opportunities and solutions. My career has been focused on using technology and science to build on our current foundation to create durable and restorative solutions.

• City council members must stay connected. We can turn challenges into opportunities and problems into solutions.

• Local leaders reflect the community they serve. Local government is an expression of how we take care of each other and a reflection of our highest priorities.

I believe in balanced criminal justice. Those entrusted with public safety must be moral, empathetic, and understanding of human nature and work in tandem with services provided by the community they serve.

• Education is a basic human right that requires that local leaders work with school board leaders and school administrators to prepare our children for the world and the economy that awaits them.

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