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Election 2021: Larkin, Rathbun talk important issues for city council race

Editor’s note: This finishes a series of interviews with candidates up for five Sequim city council seats in the Nov. 2 General Election. This last week it’s Keith Larkin, incumbent, and Lowell Rathbun up for Position 6. Each candidate answers the same four questions, paraphrased from the Independent Advisory Association’s cancelled forum on Sept. 1. Interviews were done in-person, over the phone and email. Look for all candidates’ responses on the Gazette’s website (sequimgazette.com). — MD

Position 6: Keith Larkin, incumbent; Lowell Rathbun

• What do you like in the City of Sequim and what needs to change?

Keith Larkin

Keith Larkin

Larkin: “(The city budget) is in excellent condition and city staff are doing a great job managing it. We’re able to keep up with some of the communities around the area with salaries so we’re able to retain them.

“The real strength is the downtown with small businesses in the community. I’m a real strong supporter of small business; my family had a small business growing up, so I understand it. The parks are a real gem, too. We need to find a way to maintain them because we’re real reliant on volunteers and people who do it for the love. We’re working on a parks master plan now, so we should have some direction on that.

“I’m real pleased with Matt Klontz taking over public works and keeping streets and sewer and water systems going.

“(To change) I’d like better support for youth activity in the parks. There are a lot of volunteers doing things, but we probably could use better facilities and support from the city (i.e. in the soccer and baseball/softball fields and skate park).

“We need to find out what to do with Centennial Place and some properties the city owns. Maybe we could see an information center downtown, a satellite, where people could get information about (Olympic National Park).

“We also need to address affordable housing. Workforce housing is of primary concern. We need to get housing so people can work and live here.”

Lowell Rathbun

Lowell Rathbun

Rathbun: “The City of Sequim is in good fiscal shape. According to Sue Hagener’s reports, the city has a balanced budget; adequate capital reserves and a diversified revenue stream. The city weathered the COVID-19 crisis without any serious financial repercussions, and indeed was able to assist small businesses in town with about $500,000 aided in part by the Rainy Day Fund. The city has recently received about $1.2 million in federal funding, which (Hagener) intends to spend carefully. The city’s infrastructure is in good shape. Crime rates are low.

“To improve, we have a serious housing crisis: homes are unaffordable to anyone except prosperous out-of-state retirees (like myself), investors and high income people working from home and moving out of Seattle. I believe that we need to examine the city’s fee structure and zoning laws in order to attract more higher density housing.

“This problem is widespread, complex and won’t be solved overnight. Out-of-the-box thinking and cooperation between the public, government agencies and the private sector is the path to break-throughs. We cannot settle for more talk and hand-wringing.

“One of the consequences of the housing crisis is increasing homelessness. Among other measures, the city should grant more money to the Sequim Health and Housing Collaborative and also look for a building to house that organization. Working families need more access to childcare. These three improvements are best accomplished by cooperating with the county, the tribe, other government organizations and the private sector.”

• How has your career and personal life prepared you for a role on the Sequim city council?

Larkin: “I had 40 plus years in fire service. I started right out of high school and worked my way up the ranks starting as a firefighter and up to region chief for northern California with the Cal Fire Agency. It’s one of the largest wild land fire agencies and we took care of all the private and state lands in the state of California. I also worked as a fire chief for Fresno County, and I had a seven member board I worked for. I worked a lot with state, federal and local governments and ran budgets in the $30 million range similar to here. I was involved in incident management teams.

“I have all of those skills and it seems to me they work well in a council role. I finished my house, so I figured I’d see how I can help the community. I’ve been a public servant my entire life. This is nothing new.”

Rathbun: “First of all, I worked my way up through the ranks of the high tech industry, starting as an assembler and retiring as a senior engineer. I raised a family, advanced my career and earned a college degree all at the same time, and I have not forgotten what it’s like to be a struggling worker and parent.

“Engineers are persistent problem solvers and innovators. They are paid to make something exist that did not exist before. I can apply these skills to help the city look for innovative solutions for our housing crisis.

“I believe my training and career experience have trained me to deal with issues using calm logic, consult with the experts and coordinate with others to achieve a pragmatic outcome, a skill that a good council member should have.

“I have family members who have struggled with mental illness and homelessness. I have served in the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I believe that I am familiar with and empathetic to the plight and needs of people who struggle with these conditions.”

• What can we learn from the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic controversy?

Larkin: “I came into this late. I wish we had been better with communication and more forthright in our discussions about it to make sure the community is fully aware of what we’re doing and what’s going on. I think there was some lack of trust and trust lost in the process.

“People thought deals were being cut behind the curtains and I’m not saying any of that is true. I’m saying those are the perceptions and perceptions oftentimes become reality.

“I think it’s our true duty to make sure when having council meetings we speak in a public forum about the issues. A couple of times I didn’t feel comfortable talking about (issues) in a public forum, but sometimes you have to get issues addressed. Once it’s on the record you have to take action and deal with it.

“The key is getting out there and talking to people, and make that line of communication open and find ways to talk to the community.”

Rathbun: “The MAT Clinic process went just as it should have. The application was filed properly by the (Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe). The city staff handled the whole process professionally and transparently. Appeals filed by three opponents of the MAT Clinic were rejected, while an appeal made by the Tribe was resolved by the Hearing Examiner, whose decision stands unchallenged.

“The process itself was vindicated through decisions made in Superior Court. There were several occasions where the concerns of the public were heard, including a lengthy session at the Guy Cole Center, as well as at the hearings conducted by the Hearing Examiner. Concessions were made by the Tribe and the city in response to this expressed public concern.

“The MAT clinic process is an example of good governance.”

• How do you propose to improve the City of Sequim’s transparency as a city councilor?

Larkin: I think we need to get back into public meetings. People are separated because of the whole virtual process. Some people don’t have the means to attend meetings virtually. We keep asking and pushing but we have regulations we fall under we can’t do anything about. It’s important we continue to make a point that we want to get back into a public forum as soon as possible and to make ourselves as available as possible.”

Rathbun: “My perception after attending every city council meeting for a year-and-a-half, is that city staff are very professional and handle all matters with the required degree of transparency. If there are any transparency problems in Sequim city government, it lies with the mayor and his three supporters who have not treated city staff nor the public with adequate transparency. They have fired our city manager and offered excuses. The mayor, along with three non-elected city council members, hurriedly imposed their choice of a city manager upon this city without waiting to let the voters have their say in this upcoming election.”

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