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Kent mayoral race heats up during Clark, Cooke debate | Election 2013
Challenger Tim Clark made it loud and clear during the first mayoral debate that he believes he would be a better team leader than incumbent Suzette Cooke when it comes to working with the Kent City Council.
Clark, in his fourth and final year on the Kent School Board, served 16 years on the City Council before running for the school board four years ago. Now he hopes to stop Cooke from winning a third, four-year term as mayor of the sixth largest city in the state with a population of more than 120,000. The general election is Nov. 5.
"I look back on my time on City Council and I remember better days," Clark said at a debate Wednesday at a Kent Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon at the Meridian Valley Country Club. "The days when our council and the mayor came together as a team, committed to a set of common objectives. I want to bring back that shared elective leadership to City Hall and a common plan with a new vision of what Kent can be."
Cooke responded that she has worked well with the council.
"We have a strategic plan with set goals to be a safe, connected community and that continues to be a baseline for budgeting," Cooke said. "We make certain we are not taking police off the streets, making certain we have some infrastructure in place to maintain a level of connection."
Clark partly blamed the city's financial struggles and inability to pay for street projects and park improvements on the poor communication between Cooke and the seven-member council.
"It's supposed to be shared leadership and a common policy," Clark said. "The days when I served there was a strategic plan and the mayor and council made the agreements and stuck to them and that brought a lot of solid improvements. Unfortunately, things have fallen by the wayside."
Clark pointed to the building of the Kent Station shopping mall and construction of the South 277th Street corridor as two major projects he helped get done during his time on the council.
Cooke countered that the city-owned ShoWare Center looms as a prime example that she has worked with the council to accomplish major projects.
"ShoWare Center was part of the City Council's strategic goals to have a regional event center in this city," Cooke said. "With my experience serving as a state legislator we were able early on to get the governor on board and all of our state legislators on board and this city was the only city that successfully was able to carve out a little slice of existing taxes in order to build that regional center."
The city receives a sales tax rebate from the state to help pay for the $84.5 million arena.
Clark served on the council when it approved the construction of the arena. Both agreed the 4-year-old ShoWare Center benefits the city despite its revenue losses.
"Kent is on the map because the ShoWare Center exists," Cooke said.
Besides working with the council, Cooke said she has emphasized residents playing a bigger role in city government. She said the city's Neighborhood Council program includes 24 groups, giving people a stronger voice in what happens in Kent.
"I am a believer in you being the wise one when it comes to advising the mayor and the City Council as to what your needs are, and therefore, the communication works both ways," Cooke said to the luncheon audience. "I reached out to the residents so they know they have people listening to them, advising them and helping them connect with the resources they requested."
Although Clark appreciates the effort to reach out to residents, he said the mayor needs to connect all the bridges of communication.
"We need cooperation across all avenues of government and that involves not simply City Hall being open and listening to the citizens," Clark said. "It means city departments being aware of what's going on and the council being informed and building a plan and making investments to make it possible and leadership to take those challenges on."
Clark said transportation projects need to be addressed, including construction of overpasses or underpasses downtown to separate roads from the railroad tracks. He said projects can be done if everyone works together and budget problems are addressed.
"Our financial house is out of order and correctiveness in getting fiscal stability is a number one priority," Clark said.
Cooke said she believes most people are happy with life in Kent and their role in making the city better.
"I am so pleased with the response I get from the residents of this community that they do feel safe, they feel good about Kent and there is a pride and energy and an unleashed sense of this city being their city," Cooke said. "That will reap great benefits for all of us."