Tuesday's City Council forum largely a cordial affair

Seven of eight candidates answered questions from the moderator and one another.

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WALLA WALLA -- Seven of the eight candidates running for Walla Walla City Council squared off in a quasi-debate at Whitman College's Maxey Hall on Tuesday night.

Candidate Bradley Sandau was unable to make the event, which was sponsored by the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce to address political issues and encourage community involvement.

The debate was more of a question-and-answer forum, in which each candidate got to ask his or her opponent two questions.

The moderator also asked a number of questions dealing with everything from the large purple octopus sign and downtown parking to library funding.

After the traditional opening statements, all seven candidates were asked to comment if they agreed, disagreed or were neutral on several topics.

All agreed with the current five-year program of utility rate increases to pay for infrastructure, better known as the IRRP; increasing efforts to fight gang violence; the merging of city and county development services departments into one joint agency; and more emphasis on sustainability.

The ideas of increasing the importance of the Pioneer Park Aviary and maintaining its funding lacked unanimity, as Chris Plucker indicated he disagreed.

Incumbent Dominick Elia also set himself apart when the candidates where asked if they would support more taxes to fix roads.

Elia was the only one who disagreed with the idea, with Dick Swenson, Mayor Barbara Clark and incumbent Fred Mitchell showing their support for more taxes, and Mary Lou Jenkins and incumbent Jerry Cummins stating they were neutral.

Overall, candidates were cordial, but there were some tense moments, especially when the moderator read from a list of questions between opponents.

One of the more pointed moments occurred when a question from Elia was read to Jenkins.

"Since you have filed for election there have been eight City Council meetings and eight work sessions. You have attended none of them. Please explain."

Jenkins responded, "Well first of all, I have a life, but that is no excuse. I have a grandbaby on the way ... I have been doing an auditor's search prior to my filing and I have been busy reading and doing some research."

Another tense moment came when the youngest of the candidates, Plucker, asked one of the oldest, Mitchell, if his presence on the Council mattered much.

"As an individual, have you brought anything dynamic to the Council in the past 15 years that sets you apart as unique from the other incumbents running for re-election? And would you be missed if not re-elected?" the moderator asked.

Mitchell broke the ice by lightly stating, "I might end up agreeing with that," getting a round of laughs from the audience.

"Over the last 15 years, I have had many successes. Almost all of them were earlier. You are right. I worked very hard to keep Key Technology ... and I worked very hard in public safety. I think that comes from my public safety background."

Mitchell also had his question on Plucker's effectiveness when it came to making a stand, especially against popular opinion.

"As a member of the City Council, you are oftentimes put under a lot of pressure from people and groups with different views on issues. Do you see yourself as an individual who will stand for what is right, even if you have to stand alone? Give one example of where you stood up for what is right and was against popular opinion," the moderator read.

"Yes I will stand up for what I believe is right if it is against the popular opinion ... I think to give a specific example, well I did raise this up in disagreement for the aviary," Plucker answered.

After almost two hours without much confrontation or rebuttal between candidates, a rather lukewarm forum was over, and what followed was a much more heated debate between Port commission candidates.

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