Candidate Q&A: City of Walla Walla Position 1

This Q&A is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2013 elections. For a complete list of races, endorsements and other candidate Q&As, please visit our Elections Center.

Walla Walla faces a number of social, finance, infrastructure and spending issues its City Council must address. On Nov. 5, voters will elect council members in three contested races.

Mayor Jim Barrow and challenger Paul Mobley are running for Position 1; Robert Smith and Richard Morgan are in a contest for Position 2; and incumbent Conrado Cavazos is facing a challenge from Allen Pomraning for Position 3.

The Union-Bulletin submitted six questions to all six candidates. Below, we have printed biographical information and responses from Jim Barrow and Paul Mobley, the candidates for Position 1. Please see our Position 2 and Position 3 pages for information on other candidates.

Jim Barrow

Age: 72

Occupation: Mayor of Walla Walla

Education: Attended University of Hawaii and attended Tulane law school in Tulane University, New Orleans

Personal Statement: I consider being the steward of our exceptional community to be a great calling. I would hope to continue helping guide our progress for these next few years.

Paul Mobley

Age: 51

Occupation: Owner, Aloha Sushi

Education: Walla Walla High School, Walla Walla Community College, Eastern Washington University

Personal Statement:I am a small-business owner who knows how to listen, think out-of-the box and facilitate discussion. I will bring a much needed business perspective to the City Council. I am a creative problem solver. I excel in strategic thinking and goal setting. My experience managing projects, people and budgets will ensure a balance of fiscal responsibility, with priority spending.

Last year, voters defeated an $8.7 million aquatic center bond measure, which was criticized as being too costly and too much like a waterpark. Please explain why you would or wouldn’t support the construction of a municipal pool in Walla Walla? If you would support it, what would that facility include? How much should it cost? How would you fund it?

Barrow: Any pool that we have must first be affordable and secondly maintainable with the revenue it produces. At least for the foreseeable future, the city’s finances can’t support yet another nice-to-have Parks and Recreation program. If the present private citizen initiative of raising money to build a new pool is successful and if there is a realistic revenue plan that would minimize needed City General Fund subsidies to operate it, I would welcome considering it.

Mobley: It is clear to me that the reason the aquatic center bond measure was defeated stemmed from citizens distaste for any new taxes. The supporters of the Memorial Pool initiative, however, are demonstrating their resolve to provide our citizens with an aquatic center. I support their efforts. As a member of Council, I promise to support the ongoing effort of the Rebuild Memorial Pool organization. I pledge to work closely with them to secure the needed funding through private donations, institutional partnerships and grants. Working together to find alternative, nontax based funding for projects will ensure our community remains a great place to live, work and play.

Last year, City Council narrowly approved tapping into the city’s banked levy capacity to raise an additional $185,000 in annual funds through property taxes. Please explain why you would or would not support any future uses of banked levy capacity.

Barrow: Last year, ... we ‘withdrew,’ or more accurately, imposed some of that banked or deferred property tax to avoid yet further cuts in city services. The Finance Committee has not released its first draft of our budget but I would certainly hope that since we are not adding more services or rehiring several laid off personnel, and since tax revenues have been pretty much as budgeted there will not be a need to further raise taxes by using any of the banked levy. That ‘bank’ is a modest but important hedge against further unexpected cuts ... or other unforeseen urgent needs.

Mobley: I support the use of banked levy capacity; it makes sense. That said, I know only too well the importance of controlling spending. I continually seek ways to reduce cost of my business and will carry that experience into the Council chambers. My guarantee to the citizens of Walla Walla is that I will be fiscally smart, responsible and conservative. Let me be clear, I will never vote to raise taxes unless it is an absolute necessity. I will never vote to privatize any essential services, and I will always seek alternative funding opportunities for nonessential programs.

The $16,000 Go Walla Walla program has been perceived as wasteful government spending. How would you defend, support or change this program?

Barrow: is a website specifically to address these reasonable requests for up-to-date information about what is going on with the streets, especially this very busy year. The signs are to give people the direction to that information. The few thousand of dollars spent on reusable signs and the website would not have paved but a few feet of road, done even one intersection of Americans with Disabilities Act compliant curb crossings nor run a pool for a few weeks, if we had the pool. What they did do is provide a location to obtain important information to many citizens and businesses being otherwise inconvenienced by all the construction work.

Mobley: As a small-business owner, I understand only too well the cost associated with marketing and public relations. Communicating even a simple message can cost a great deal. The efforts that resulted from (Go Walla Walla) are sustainable and reusable. In other words, the dollars spent today should continue to benefit the citizens for many years. I support the communication efforts of the Council. I feel they did a great job recognizing the need and implementing the plan. As a member of the Council, I would recommend ongoing reporting of the initiatives effectiveness and an audit to ensure all dollars spent were accurately accounted.

The city has not funded the Pioneer Park Aviary out of its general funds for three years, and next year will be a fourth year where the facility is funded by donations. Please explain why you would or would not fund the aviary with general funds in the years to come.

Barrow: The aviary is a wonderful, ‘nice-to-have’ addition to our park. We are virtually unique among other like-size Washington cities in having it. The problem is, the parks program simply cannot afford to run it themselves, let alone find the needed revenue for the $200,000 needed repairs from various storms and general age. They have cut personnel and the next was to cut programs. This was the one our citizen survey told the Parks and Recreation Committee was the lowest priority for funding. The challenge for the citizen-led fundraising efforts is not to continue year after year to raise the needed operating funds ($55,000), but rather to come up with a more sustainable manner of funding this lovely feature.

Mobley: I promise to be realistic when it comes to the aviary. The financial commitment cannot take priority over providing essential services (fire, emergency medical, police, sanitation, water, utilities and infrastructure). Second, I promise to be honest and transparent about all issues. I believe in the aviary. I grew up with it. However, if it cannot be financed, then we will lose it. Third, I will commit to work with the supporters of the aviary to obtain grants and additional private and corporate sponsorship in an attempt to secure the needed funds to keep it going today and tomorrow. Finally, I will bring fresh ideas to the table in my effort to find a lasting solution to this situation.

How should the city move forward in dealing with the new state law legalizing recreational marijuana? [Responses were submitted before the state on Wednesday announced rules for the growing and sales of marijuana.]

Barrow: Regardless of where each of us stands on the wisdom of regulated recreational use of marijuana by adults, it is the law of our state. The Council ... has been waiting for the State Liquor Control Board to issue its final regulations. The law itself is fairly limiting in where it can be sold ... so that in this community there are not too many places where zoning laws can provide for points of sale. When the rules are provided, then the city can do its job of considering the locale of the no more than two points of sale that the state will allow in Walla Walla.

Mobley: Never, in the history of any state, has there been a more challenging initiative. The city of Walla Walla needs to play its hand very carefully. We need to protect the rights of our citizens while at the same time making sure we are not setting ourselves up for costly legal battles with the federal government. I would suggest a wait, watch and learn approach. I recommend the city of Walla Walla engage with the state Liquor Control Board and both I-502 supporters and opponents to establish appropriate policy, parameters and controls. The world is watching, let’s get this right.

The city has witnessed the growth and success of the wine industry. How else can the city help promote more economic diversity?

Barrow: IOur job ... is to maintain a regulatory structure that isn’t so complicated as to discourage new businesses and to continue doing our part in maintain the ambience or quality of life that makes people what to visit and business want to locate. Respect and encouragement for existing businesses, especially those smaller ones that are the backbone of our growth is as or more important than growing or attracting new businesses to our community. For one, I think the marketplace is the best judge of (what) is needed and how many, not the government.

Mobley: The City Council (members) must be united in their determination to secure new opportunities to our area. Together, with other organizations already focused on the task, they must establish goals, provide leadership and work tirelessly to bring our next great success story to the Valley. Attracting business to Walla Walla requires my firm commitment, strong leadership and flawless implementation. The competition is ruthless, but we (as a community) have a tremendous advantage over all others. We have excellent people, world-class learning institutions, and a great climate. We are the envy of small-town America. With the right leadership and resolve we can do it.