Kent mayoral candidates Jim Berrios and Dana Ralph at a debate earlier this year. The two participated in another debate Friday at the accesso ShoWare Center. FILE PHOTO

Kent mayoral candidates debate leadership abilities

Kent mayoral candidates Jim Berrios and Dana Ralph each described at a Kent Chamber of Commerce debate why they have the skills to be the city’s new leader.

Berrios, in his fourth year on City Council and a former Kent School Board member, explained his leadership duties during previous work as a vice president for the Denny’s restaurant chain.

“I started out as a graveyard cook and worked my way up to vice president of operations where I was responsible for up to 500 locations and a half billion dollar budget and thousands of employees,” Berrios said at the Friday luncheon at the accesso ShoWare Center. “I had to work with director level individuals. I learned a lot about HR (human resources) and finances and those are my strong points.”

Ralph, in her sixth year on council, countered with the skills she’s developed as owner of Advance Billing Systems, a medical billing system based in Kent.

“I have managed my business for 22 years,” she said. “I started it from the ground floor. I went out and did all of the jobs on my own and started with the marketing. The business didn’t exist when I took over.”

King County Elections will mail ballots Oct. 18 for the Nov. 7 general election. Starting in January, either Berrios or Ralph will replace Suzette Cooke, who decided not to seek re-election after 12 years in office. Kent’s mayor is a full-time job that pays $144,996 per year. Council positions are part-time jobs that pay $14,808 per year.

Both candidates have said they have employees to take over their job duties so they can focus on running the city of Kent.

Berrios, who has owned the Golden Steer Steak ‘n’ Rib House on Kent’s East Hill for 18 years, said his experience at a higher level of management gives him the skills to lead the city.

“Good leadership is leadership that takes care of your people and I have done that,” Berrios said. “For your next mayor you need somebody who has the experience at an executive level and that’s what I have. We both have experience at the legislative level. I have 37 years of experience in leadership.”

Ralph explained her leadership philosophy will help make the city strong.

“I am a leader that believes in hiring the best people to do the best job that they can is the way to get things done,” Ralph said. “I am not a micromanager. I will never be a police chief or public works director, but I do believe that the city of Kent has the ability and some of the best employees around and my faith in them will allow us to work as a team.”

Ralph pointed to her endorsements from city employee unions as proof she will be a solid leader.

“I have the support of every union, our police, Teamsters and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees),” she said. “They know I will provide them with the tools they need to be successful in their jobs and their primary job is serving our residents and businesses.”

Berrios referred to results in the annual Kent Reporter Best of Kent awards, voted on by readers, as an example of his leadership skills.

“My track records speaks for itself and perhaps is why I have been voted the best public official in Kent for the last three years and the best community volunteer,” he said.

As council president in 2014-2015, Ralph said she displayed her leadership abilities.

“I was council president for two years and during that time we passed two unanimous budgets,” Ralph said. “That means I took the time to work with my fellow council members to find out what their issues and concerns were and work toward a consensus.”

Berrios later repeated what he said is the importance of experience.

“We both have legislative experience but we don’t both have executive experience, I do,” he said. “As I look at my leadership experience it really makes a difference. With strong leadership our city will continue to strive for years to come.”

Ralph mentioned her endorsement from the Kent Education Association as another leadership attribute of working with community groups.

“I have the support of the teachers in Kent,” she said. “I’ve never served on the school board but the teachers support me because they know I’m going to bridge that gap.”

NOTES: Ralph and Berrios each said they support Cooke’s proposal last month for the council to place a police and criminal justice measure before voters in April to increase the city’s utility tax to 8 percent from 6 percent on cable, electricity, natural gas and telephone bills. The measure would generate about $4 million annually for about 30 more officers as well as additional prosecutors, public defenders, court clerks, police records clerks and correction officers to support a larger force. …Ralph and Berrios continue to disagree about the best use of business and occupation tax revenue. Berrios supports all revenue going to street repairs while Ralph wants to use funds for other city needs, such as parks maintenance.

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