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Kent mayoral candidates Clark, Cooke discuss coal trains

Kent mayoral candidates Suzette Cooke and Tim Clark answer questions Thursday, Oct. 10 at a forum in Panther Lake at Sunrise Elementary School. - Steve Hunter/Kent Reporter
Kent mayoral candidates Suzette Cooke and Tim Clark answer questions Thursday, Oct. 10 at a forum in Panther Lake at Sunrise Elementary School.
— image credit: Steve Hunter/Kent Reporter

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke and challenger Tim Clark didn't give voters much hope as far as the city's chances to stop 18 additional coal trains from running through town in the future if a new shipping terminal is eventually built near Bellingham.

Cooke and Clark were asked at a Panther Lake neighborhood sponsored candidates forum Thursday at Sunrise Elementary School what the city could do about coal trains coming through town.

"Those of you who know your history know the railroads built this country," Cooke said. "In my years of working with government and sometimes against government I have learned about the power of the railroads and in working with the Green River levees and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers I have now determined:

"On the right hand of God sits the railroads and on the left hand of God sits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

Cooke's response received numerous chuckles from the crowd. She said she opposes the additional trains because they would snarl downtown traffic, including emergency vehicles responding to calls.

Clark also said the city lacks much power beyond being part of the state Department of Ecology's study for its Environment Impact Statement (EIS) expected to be issued in 2014 or later.

"I don't know if the city per se really will have an impact," Clark said. "Regionally as a partner we could do something because clearly it impacts the most heavily populated part of the state. I would not pretend Kent could singular act but in concert with our neighbors."

While stopping coal trains might be above the mayor's reach, the position has power over the city's budget, another burning topic at the forum in advance of the Nov. 5 general election.

Clark, in his fourth and final year on the Kent School Board, served 16 years on the City Council before leaving to run for the school board four years ago. Now he wants prove he would be a better leader than Cooke as he works in cooperation with the seven-member council.

"The one thing I'd like to offer is a different vision of how government should work," Clark said. "That's the understanding that the process is a partnership it is not a one-way street. It is the council coming up with solid policies and somebody in the mayor's office to take the time to see what they are trying to accomplish and how to distribute those funds to accomplish those goals. That means you need to have a working relationship with the council and that's something that needs to be improved."

Cooke wants to win a third, four-year term as mayor of the sixth largest city in the state with a population of nearly 120,000. She said overseeing the budget is one of her key duties.

"I don't get to vote on the budget but I present a budget and I do manage that budget," Cooke said. "The council has passed budgets at a higher level of spending than I have been able to spend because the revenues weren't there so I had to eliminate 100 positions from the city for example."

The adoption of the city's business and occupation (B&O) tax last year by the council to pay for street repairs helped improve the city's financial deficits, Cooke said. She added the establishment of a reserve fund is going to help the city.

"We are working our way out of this," Cooke said. "We do have a plan. But it will take a lot of - how do I say - perhaps reservation by the city council to make certain they also are dedicated to paying down the debt over and above some of the other things we heard (earlier Thursday at the forum) that we want. We can't sustain 30 new police officers no matter how you add the budget up. You have to have a stable budget.

"The council has adopted some policies to get us there. It will now be up to the council to live up to those policies."

Clark said Cooke needed to do a better job with the city's funds.

"The fact is the management of the money does rest in the mayor's office," he said. "So we get our facts straight, keep the following in mind. No. 1, the past five years the city's been running off the reserve by the end of the year and No. 2, last year the reserves were down to 2.6 percent that's near bankruptcy.

"I credit the council for basically taking manners into their hands and putting in a financial policy that has brought stability. I'd be happy to work with them in the near future."

City Council race notes

The forum also included the City Council races of Jim Berrios against Wade Schwartz and Bailey Stober against Ken Sharp. Sharp did not attend the forum because he was traveling to Virginia to attend the Ms. Veteran American competition that included his wife, Sara Sharp, as a finalist.

Berrios emphasized his business experience as owner of the Golden Steer restaurant in Kent and his past job as senior director of operations for Denny's as reasons why he could help solve city budget problems. He said he also helped the Kent School Board through its budget struggles when he served as a board member.

Schwartz, owner of Blanc-n-Schwartz Salon in downtown Kent who lives in Panther Lake, said the council needs to promote Kent better. He would like to see the Seattle International Film Festival brought to town. He also wants people to be able to ride horses along the Green River.

Stober said he would try to add 30 more police officers over the next several years because the force us undersized for Kent's large population. He promised he would vote against any city budget that didn't include more officers. He also said he has endorsements from 43 elected officials, including Democrats and Republicans, from around the region.

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