Candidate Q&A: City of Walla Walla Position 2

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 Richard Morgan and Robert Smith, the candidates for Position 2. Please see our Position 1 and Position 3 pages for information on other candidates.

Richard "Dick" Morgan

Age: 60

Occupation: Private consultant for prison litigation and risk management

Education: Bachelor’s degree in general studies, Eastern Washington University

Personal Statement: Married 38 years to Landa, we have two sons, a daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. All live and work in Walla Walla. I know how to successfully navigate difficult challenges similar to those experienced by cities and want to help make Walla Walla the hometown for my granddaughter to brag about.

Dr. Robert Smith

Age: 44

Occupation: Anesthesiologist and pediatrician

Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Zoology from Washington State University with studies also at University of Bonn, Germany and University of Guadalajara, Mexico; Doctorate of Medicine from Northwestern University, Chicago

Personal Statement: Twenty years experience in the largest and most regulated industry has presented me with opportunities to open new businesses, develop new service lines and implement improvement programs. Friends know me as a married, father of two who has served extensively on boards and committees for government, hospitals, and research universities.

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?

Morgan: Walla Walla, like every other community, needs a public pool, and the city should cooperate in seeing that need is met. Will this be an aquatic park with elaborate features, an Olympic pool for competitive training and events, or something basic oriented toward younger children? Before acting I would have to be confident citizens had an understanding of startup and operating costs and a semblance of consensus on how elaborate it should be. I would prefer that costs be offset by reasonable user fees and increased tourism revenue. At this point I could not guess what investment might require.

Smith: Walla Walla needs a pool and it should be accessible to students and student athletes. I feel that the best option to accomplish this would be an aquatic center with a retractable roof. Smaller cities have built these for around $6 million. To recoup the costs of a joint city/school pool there would be revenue generated by increased hotel occupancy, increased property values and state funds for a school facility. Also, since it would be a year round facility revenue would not be limited to summer.

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.

Morgan: I would not commit absolutely one way or the other. Each budget challenge must be evaluated as it arises. The city appears to be emerging from the recession and there is hope recovery will offer sufficient revenue to avoid the use of banked levy capacity. As the recession ends, there will be a challenge to keep up with growth plus catching up on issues that should have been pursued had there been money to do it in the past. I would apply a priorities approach to determining allocation of any revenue.”

Smith: Nobody likes paying more taxes. Previous city councils have understood this when they chose to not increase the property taxes to the maximum allowable. Unfortunately, this has contributed to our neglected infrastructure. If the city must increase taxes to pay for deferred liabilities, like neglected roads, then it may have to use banked levy capacity. After all, we need municipal services running smoothly for everyone’s benefit. However, I would first consider reducing costs through efficiency improvements before levying more taxes.

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

Morgan: I think the City Council learned an expensive lesson in communicating with the public. The website and signs were a well-intended effort to inform people but it was not perceived that way by many. As such, I don’t see this recurring.

Smith: Although created with the best intentions, the Go Walla Walla program has not increased public safety or meaningful awareness. When making spending decisions, some marker of the relative value should be used. Examples of this might be quality adjusted life years or net present value gained with a particular program. I have not seen evidence that the Go Walla Walla program added value to our community. I believe the city could have done more good with $16,000 spent on more meaningful projects.

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.

Morgan: Friends of the aviary and contributors have done a terrific job of saving the aviary so far. If the city coffers were flush and there was discretionary money available, I would not hesitate to support it. Unfortunately that isn’t the case today and doesn’t seem likely in the near future. Essential services come first, of course, and it’s unlikely the aviary will be competitive for scarce dollars. I do support adding a full-time grant writer for the city to pursue funding sources for projects like this.

Smith: The aviary is a question of community value gained for a particular expenditure. I believe that the aviary adds some value to the community by making this a nicer place to live. The hard part is to put a finger on the dollar value this adds to the community. Does it increase our property values? Does the aviary encourage people to get outdoors and take more healthful walks? If it adds something, then this should be measured against the value added by other programs. I would like to raise the level of discussion from the political to the purposeful.

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.]

Morgan: First, we should obey the state law. Second, we don’t need to be the first to figure out how to do that. At present the state has not completed the policies and regulations necessary for cities to comply with the law. I am a fan of not doing work twice and I am not too proud to take advantage of someone else’s success. Some city out there will probably be an excellent example of prudent compliance and, if so, we should follow suit.

Smith: Implementing Initiative 502 has been described as the political third rail. Washington is not the first place to decriminalize marijuana, however. I would urge the city to look at examples of successful, safe, and taxable cannabis legalization programs around the world. We don’t need to invent a new implementation program. Instead, I would encourage the Council to look at successful solutions other communities have implemented and select what would work best for us.

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

Morgan: Our city is widely recognized for its transformation from dusty rural town to a vibrant, attractive small city. Council members have in the past been good ambassadors for the city and I would be honored to do the same. As with our wine reputation, we need to broaden and redouble our efforts to get the word out about community assets such as schools, reasonable real estate prices, multiple medical facilities, our colleges and eclectic lifestyle qualities. I would like to see a task force of community leaders to focus on decreasing the purchasing ‘leakage’ made by Walla Wallans shopping in the Tri-Cities.

Smith: There are three basic assets we have to offer: economics, environment and people. The wine industry has grown primarily due to the environment. Unfortunately, our city hasn’t done all it can to promote our great people and lack of income tax. Additionally, our ‘business unfriendly’ reputation will need to be overcome. Initially, the Council will need to critically review some recently failed diversification attempts (e.g. Costco and Procter & Gamble). The City Council and manager should then fix the problems that scared these businesses away. This is a basic business strategy; we should adopt it.