Candidates for Ocean Shores City Council Position 2 were the latest to take the debate stage at the North Beach Senior Citizens Center last week. That race has Michael Darling challenging Kathryn Sprigg, who was appointed to Council this spring, following the death of Jeff Daniel.
Their answers and rebuttals to the question seeking “three ways to improve efficiency in our city government” touched on a variety of topics.
Darling said, “One of the things we overlook here is partnering with what we perceive as our competition. … When someone’s ordering materials or equipment we need to pair up and start to do that contractually together, and not think that someone is in opposition, but that everybody can benefit.”
Addressing another area, he said, “Certainly, there’s always a matter of ‘are they out there are they doing their job?’ but we have limited staff, limited enforcement, sometimes a limit on the window of time we can do some things. … You’ve got to be practical; you can’t just overwork people and pay overtime.”
Recalling the effects of the last recession on city staffing, he noted, “So many people took on dual roles from top to bottom … that kind of camaraderie is important … everyone wants Ocean Shores to succeed.”
Sprigg said efficiencies could be found by “taking a look at our technology and really digging into how we can use technology to our advantage.”
She offered public records requests as an example, advocating a more automated system. “If we were able to have an automated system, someone could go in, request, yes some of those documents would have to be reviewed, … those documents, which are scanned into the system, can be redacted in advance. She said Snohomish County and Grays Harbor County both use “robust system(s)” such that, online, someone requests a document, is notified by email when it’s ready, and can print out online.
Darling responded by saying, “There’s still going to have to be hands on redactions. There is no automatic way to spit out (public records) requests and (public records) requests are hobbling us. We’re hiring staff because of the number of people requesting documents and they’re fishing — they’re looking for something that smells bad.” He said review and redaction could not be done by a computer; “it’s not going to happen.”
Sprigg explained that her son is a sergeant in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office and they have had lengthy discussions about public records requests. “Yes, it is true that people go fishing and they deal with it all the time,” she said. “They have a county around 500,000 with seven people for public records requests. We’re 6,000 and we have one and a half. They have figured it out. I think we could figure it out if we wanted to.
“I am not for limiting public records requests or telling people that they can’t do a public records request. It is the law, it is their right, it is one of the ultimate goals of a transparent city, and we should figure out ways to help them with their requests and still be more efficient. And I think we can do that.”
Sprigg said another possible path to increased efficiency is simply “do some time studies; talk to our employees and see where they feel they could be more efficient — better use of technology or just time motion studies.”
Finally, she said, “go away as much as possible from single bids for large construction jobs.” She noted that we do live on “the end of continent” and there can be “some difficulties with getting bids out here. So, we need to figure out ways that we can reach out farther to contractors and be able to get bids.”
Darling responded with, “You’re right, we live at the end of a very long drive … (but) if we only get one bid in a public request proposal we are bound.” He said the “value engineering” concept that was suggested in an earlier debate was merely scaling down bid specs and insisted, “if you open a bid process and one applies, your hands are tied.”
Sprigg said that is not so, claiming that “it is clear in our ordinance if we’re not satisfied with a bid, we can ask for more bids, and that’s what we should be doing…”
Both candidates tiptoed around the question of: “With our growing population, would you be in favor of adding more police and fire personnel and why?”
Darling responded, “I would trust the adequate and expert people. This is an administrative question, not a council question. … I would trust staff to report, advise, and then it’s a budget decision — what fell down in the list of priorities when something got moved up, what got eliminated, what got scaled back; these are tough decisions (but) not council decisions.”
Sprigg disagreed, saying, “Council has the responsibility for the pocketbook and what we’re talking about is adding more people, so it is a Council decision. We need to look at the needs of the population … we also need to look at other ways of thinking outside of the box, so that we can meet the needs of our population and still be very mindful about the number of people we bring on.”
She added that firing people on permanent basis creates “sort of a moral obligation to that person. I’m not saying don’t add people.” But, she explained, the city has struggled for the past few years to hire as many police and fire personnel as have been budgeted, and the problem is not unique to Ocean Shores; cities nationwide are also trying to deal with it.
“Before we look at hiring more than we’re already budgeted for, we need to really have conversations about how the things we’re doing could be done better,” she said, “and we need to be looking at the ways other cities deal with this issue, because it is not just our city.”
Darling disagreed that hiring created a moral obligation, asking, “Do they have a moral obligation to stay here when someone offers them more money?” He added that he “would certainly explore other things,” mentioning grants and outside agencies, “but this is (about) how to attract and keep people, and every community is struggling with that.”
They disagreed on a question of whether the city should allow smaller houses on some lots. Sprigg said it is “something to consider,” noted that owners of larger lots can already have “accessory dwellings” of unspecified size, and said, “We need to have some strong conversations with the community to find out where they are comfortable having smaller homes.” Darling said he thinks it is a zoning question, but he would not be in favor.
Both candidates said they would be open to considering easing the 90-day limit on use of camping lots.
Darling answered, “I know it’s a hot promise that people are making in this campaign season. Campaigning is very different from leadership. Not everyone’s going to get a free puppy…” He went on to explain that he thinks it is “pretty much a zoning issue; it would have to go to council,” and concluded, “let’s open that up and discuss it again.”
Sprigg agreed that “it’s worth a discussion. I know that a lot of people do not like camping in our city,” citing smoke from campfires and noise, and said. “I don’t have a position one way or another.” She explained that changing would require looking at many related elements, and noted that at some point they (camping lots) may be the last open space we see in this city, so we should be including them in a lot of the decisions we make.” She added, “I wouldn’t have a problem with a longer limit,” maybe up to 180 days. “I understand this is a very divisive issue. People are probably 50/50 on this issue.”
She added, “A lot of people bought those lots a long, long time ago. We need to figure out a way of not chasing them off … What we want for our town, whether its campers, tourists or residents, is for them to have an enjoyable experience.”
The remaining debates at the Senior Center take place Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and run as follows: Oct. 1: OS Mayor, Crystal Dingler and Susan Conniry; Oct. 8: OS Council Pos. 6, Bob Peterson and Chuck Anderson; Oct. 15, Hospital District 2, Pos. 2, Lynn Csernotta and Richard Thompson; Oct. 22: GH Port District Commissioner Pos. 2, Tom Quigg and Tim Carr; Oct. 29: On the Fence? Numerous candidates available for one-on-one conversation.