Cliff Cawthon and incumbent Toni Troutner are running for Position No. 4 on the Kent City Council on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
Cawthon is a Bellevue College political science professor and longtime community activist. Troutner is seeking her second four-year term on the council. There was no primary race because Cawthon and Troutner were the only two candidates.
The Kent Reporter emailed the same five questions to each candidate.
• Why should I vote for you?
Cawthon: I am asking for your vote because Kent needs a city council that will take bold action to make our community even more prosperous and inclusive for everyone. We can accomplish this by fighting for affordable housing, equitable economic development and reimagining public safety so that it works for all of us.
Due to my work, I’ve earned endorsements from Kent City Council members Marli Larimer and Satwinder Kaur; State Sen. Mona Das, D- Kent; and Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent; and the King County Labor Council, Teamsters 117 and other unions, elected officials and small businesses. These endorsements mean that I will be able to work with those in power to implement sensible policy change.
Troutner:Kent has been my home for over 20 years. My husband and I have raised a family here, been engaged in our community, and worked to make Kent a great place to live.
Having served these past four years on the city council, with this past year as council president, I have a strong understanding of the circumstances and challenges we are facing as a city. I have been at the center of the difficult work that has been done to address these important issues. I have ensured our small businesses and community groups received emergency relief, to leading the council to make investments in our infrastructure, public safety, parks and human services programs.
I have developed the necessary partnerships both at the local and regional levels and secured resources that have benefited our community. Voting for me ensures that public safety, the homeless and mental health crisis, and the economic development of our city remain top priorities. Voting for me ensures Kent has an established leader who will continue to be a strong advocate for making Kent a thriving city where people choose to live and work.
• Does Kent need to hire more police officers? Why or why not?
Cawthon: We need to reimagine public safety based on data and equity. Our city must move forward with a new approach to policing that makes our criminal justice system work for everyone.
We need our police to be more effective and accountable to community members’ needs, build a robust non-force response, create a civilian Community Policing Commission, and mandate comprehensive training to ensure that these goals are met and reflects our values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Troutner: Yes, without a doubt. For some time now, we have struggled to right-size our police department for the size of our city. I have consistently been a strong proponent for increasing the number of officers in our city, and I will continue to champion that effort.
Unfortunately, we continue to be well below our comparable cities in terms of officers per capita. At a time when violent crime, such as shootings and homicides are approaching historic highs in our region of the state, reducing (defunding or abolishing) the police department is out of touch with what our community wants and needs.
While we all feel the burden of higher crime, historical crime data indicates that the people most impacted by violent crimes are our BIPOC community members. Failing to support an increase of officers will have a disproportionate impact on our BIPOC communities. In the mayor’s proposed mid-biennium budget adjustment, I support the hiring of five additional police officers. While additional officers are still needed, this is a start.
• What steps would you take to help reduce the number of homeless people in Kent?
Cawthon: We can help reduce homelessness and tackle our city’s lack of affordable housing in the same dollar. What this looks like is working with developers to create new housing structures to keep up with demand, but ensuring that those developments are sustainable in both terms of cost and environmental capacity.
Troutner: Step 1 – Continue to lead with compassionate outreach and efforts to connect people with services. While there is a regional focus on emergency shelter, I would like to focus on long term permanent housing opportunities.
Step 2 – Continue to direct and support a Kent specific Mental Health Crisis Co-Responder Team. With so many in our homeless community suffering from mental health issues, it is vital that we have an in-the-field team of mental health professionals to respond to people in crisis and get them connected with the treatment and resources they need.
Step 3 – While we continue to work on the root causes of homelessness, I will support funding for a robust homeless camp and litter cleanup program. We need to dedicate more resources toward cleanup and improve our public spaces.
Step 4 – Balance compassionate outreach with accountability.
• What types of new businesses should the city try to attract and what can be done to get them here?
Cawthon: The city of Kent should work together with regional chambers of commerce to bring sustainable industries to our city. This includes micro-manufacturing, food and culinary industries and incubators for the future major industries of the 21st century.
Kent is the fastest growing city in the region and the 10th fastest growing in the country. With a young median population, we should also invest in unionized and living wage jobs through robust locally prioritized investments in infrastructure and public services.
Troutner: I would like to see us grow business in several areas. First, I want our small business community to grow, particularly small businesses owned by our BIPOC community members. I also want to grow larger businesses who can bring a high volume of living wage and high wage jobs to Kent.
Lastly, I want to grow businesses that improve the livability of Kent. These are our restaurants, retail establishments, art and craft boutiques, and entertainment providers. To make this happen, I will continue to support a robust economic development plan that ensures Kent is a business-friendly city that has removed barriers to new business enterprises.
At the same time, we need to work to keep companies from leaving Kent. That starts by making Kent a safe place to do business. I will continue to support the city’s plan for Rally the Valley, STEM education investments, youth employment readiness, and our Business Accelerator Network to expand services and assistance to BIPOC, minority and women owned businesses.
• Do you see any services or departments where the city could save money? Where and how?
Cawthon: Our public safety budget can be reorganized and money can be reallocated to support essential services. The pandemic showed us that we all have to work together to address a disinvestment in our social safety net in terms of mental health, wellness and public safety and transportation infrastructure. We can reorganize some funds in the public safety budget to address those needs.
A big part of this reallocation would be directed towards the Parks and Public Works Departments so, we can proactively respond to growth and create opportunities for healthy communities.
Troutner: As a steward of taxpayer money, I am always looking for cost saving efficiencies to the services we provide. During the past four years, I have led difficult decisions, including authorizing layoffs of city staff during the COVID economic downturn to ensure we lived within our budget.
At the same time, we provide a multitude of services as a city, and we run very lean on staff, usually below the number of employees of comparable cities. While I will continue to insist that we get the most out of our tax dollars, we are currently in a place where we have more demand for services than we can adequately provide.
Because of this, I am looking to reduce costs through innovation, leveraging technology and streamlining governmental processes. I also encourage more private/public partnerships, such as the work we did to bring the YMCA to Kent and advocate for projects that include grants and/or matching fund grants to offset the costs to the city.