EDITORS NOTE: Long Beach City Council contenders Jerry Phillips and Tom Werner provided these written responses to questions from the Chinook Observer. They are presented as they were received.
LONG BEACH In a race that has generated considerable local interest, incumbent Long Beach Councilman Jerry Phillips is running for re-election this fall versus challenger Tom Werner.
The contest has generated numerous letters to the editor, which continue inside today. It culminates with vote-counting on Nov. 5, with ballots set to go out in the mail from the courthouse this Wednesday.
Phillips is nearing the end of his second term on the five-member council, while Werner currently serves as a city planning commissioner.
Please provide a brief summary of your personal and professional background, and any experience that is particularly relevant to being a member of the city council.
Jerry Phillips: Currently I am working for the Bank of the Pacific where I am the Vice President of Risk Management. My professional career has given me a strong background to serve the citizens of Long Beach. My 35 years of experience in the field of investigations and risk management lends itself well to my role as your Position #5 Long Beach City Council Member. I am active in several organizations in our community and in the state of Washington. I have and continue to volunteer and support our city events such as Loyalty Days, Veterans activities, rodeo and kite festival. I am retired from the United States Air Force with over 20 years serving our nation.
In my almost 8 years as your current city Councilman Position #5, I have served as the Mayor Pro-Tem approximately 4 years. In the absence of the mayor I conduct the council meeting, attend functions representing the City of Long Beach, filled the position for the Mayor on the Pacific Transit Board working with the County Commissioners, and other elected officials. Attended functions with the Pacific County Economic Development Council working with our federal and state legislators, and other elected officials.
Tom Werner: My wife and I moved to Long Beach in 2009 from Battleground, WA, Ive owned local property since the 1990s, and Ive been coming here since I was a kid, and still fondly remember the Long Beach Zoo. Im currently a City of Long Beach Planning Commissioner. I worked at Youngs Bay Detention Center where I used my Associates degree in Criminal Justice to work with troubled youth. I retired after working for several major Aluminum Companies where I managed multimillion-dollar budgets and hundreds of employees. In my supervisory position I had training in human resources, cooperative work team training, supervisor leadership, organizational change, inter-cultural communications, and sexual harassment. I also received training in safety and hygiene, and Homeland Security. While working at the aluminum companies I was also captain of the fire department and have extensive training in first aid, CPR, and fire training.
If you could personally accomplish one thing for the City of Long Beach in the next four years, what would it be? How will you go about achieving it?
Phillips: Control the growth, in a manner that preserves our community identity and makes our citizens proud to live in Long Beach. Keeping in mind that the council is made up of 5 council members and it takes 3 votes to approve any actions.
Werner: I would like established a reserve fund that is used for cost overruns, unexpected expenditures, and to decrease the citys long-term debt. Id comb the city budget, look at significant monthly costs and look for alternative sources and competitive pricing. This would be a year round process and not just during the year end budget cycle.
What are the key strengths/weaknesses of Long Beach city government? Do you perceive things are going well for the city, or are there matters that need to be addressed in the immediate future?
Phillips: The greatest strength the city has is our staff and city crew. The city crew and supervisors do a fantastic job of taking care of our community. We have hundreds of complements from both visitors and citizens on how clean our city looks. We receive many compliments on how well our crew and supervisors relate and help the public. Our staff and city crews are who normally have the first and most contact with the public during any situation, and they are our great ambassadors of our city. They respond to incidents at all hours of the day and night. The team is devoted to make all of our resources count, and do a great job of managing the equipment and their budgets. They make every dollar count. They are one of the major factor in making our community what it is today.
Our workshops that were instituted a few years back, have provided an avenue for us to do better research on issues/projects and have our staff conduct additional research as needed. This results in a better decision-making process.
Water and sewer rates are always a hot topic. However the city has mandates from the federal and state and we must comply with them. With a population of only about 1410, makes it hard to maintain revenues to operate, maintain, accomplish repairs, staff, and train personnel. Remembering we did not raise water rates last year and we must control the increase for the future. It takes three council members to pass any increase and I can assure you I do not like paying any higher rates than I absolutely have to as well.
Werner: One of the citys strengths is how the city maintains its small town feel, cleanliness, and appeal. The city crew does a fantastic job at keeping that pristine old town beach theme that is so attractive to tourists. As for a weakness, I feel the city council should put aside some time during each public council meeting or workshop to solicit input from citizens and businesses and address their concerns in order to make more effective policy decisions.
What is the status of the citys relationship with the business community (positive, neutral, troubled)? What actions, if any, can the city take to make itself more effective for business operators?
Phillips: I believe we have a good working relationship with our businesses. Our merchants association is a great forum for all to partake. Our opportunity in this area is finding ways to attract more diverse merchants, which in turn help bring more dollars to the table. We are always exploring ways to bring activities/events during the off season to help the merchants during the off months. The merchants association does a great job of overseeing and running many of the events that complements our city. We are also now starting to look at our land use ordinance to evaluate areas that need to be rewritten or provide better options for our merchants as well as for the city as a whole.
Werner: I believe the city has a decent relationship in the business community, however the city needs input from all businesses to see what steps the city can take to improve the businesses income and their relationship with the city.
What is the status of the citys relationship with average citizens (positive, neutral, troubled)? What actions, if any, can the city take to make itself more effective for the individuals and families who live here?
Phillips: In my opinion we have a good relationship with the citizens of Long Beach. As a current councilman I feel we must communication to the citizens better, and ensure they are getting accurate information. I have made it a habit in my two terms to visit many residences and business every 3 to 5 months asking them their concerns, Suggestions and if they have any compliments. We use different forms to help us reach all citizens of Long Beach including those that have only part time residences
Werner: I believe the city also has a decent relationship with the average citizen, Im an average citizen, and while Ive been campaigning and talking to people, I get the feeling that the city needs to listen to citizens concerns and take action to resolve their problems.
Do you have specific goals for city streets, utilities, policing or other infrastructure? If so, please provide details.
Phillips: We have major opportunities in these areas due to the fact that our water table, lack of gravity feed, and that years ago many systems were not mapped to identify where they were placed underground. We have both federal and state requirements to meet and comply with. Currently our department supervisor conducts a review of streets, utilities and creates a 6 year plan. It is from this plan we evaluate and put project into priorities, but we also have emergencies that arise and must be handled. Our police department is small but very efficient with outstanding officers and Chief of Police in place. The citys fire department and other emergency services are also very well operated and manage their assets and budgets .
The staff works very hard in finding and applying for grants for our major projects. The city crew supervisors, chief of police work very hard in managing and providing information/data to the council and staff for evaluation.
Since certain funds can only be used for specific items it is very important that we continue to manage the citizens assets, budgets in a very prudent manner. As a city we always have the ability to improve. We must work hard, communicate and stay focused on these areas. The staff, crew supervisors, council and mayor have been and continue to work hard managing these very important areas for our great city.
Werner: Over and above maintaining our wonderful public works, Id like to see our water service expanded to use the full potential of our new water plant for those who need water service, resulting in increased revenue for the city and its citizens.
What is your assessment of the citys fiscal health?
Phillips: For a community that only has approximately 1,410 population the financial status of our city is very good. We have reserves, and our debt ratio is very low. Remembering that most funds have state restrictions on what they can be used for. One example is our lodging tax dollars are mandated for tourism activities and cannot be used for roads, water, sewer, and other infrastructure.
Werner: According to the City Administrator during the recent council workshop the city is doing great. However, the city does have over $6 million in long-term debt that Id like to decrease by establishing a reserve fund that is used for that purpose. The city and council members need to be aware of the long-term debt when considering new projects and the cost of that debt to the budget in principle and interest payments.
Long Beach will presumably be naming a new city administrator at some point. What process and criteria will you use in making a decision?
Phillips: The hiring of any and all personnel is the responsibility of the Mayor. The Mayor may bring the council into the process, however the councils responsibility is the review of the contract and salary of any new staff members.
Werner: Id like to see an in-house promotion if possible so we keep the local experience, knowledge and skills developed by our employees as they progress in their career development with the city. It would be more cost effective and would provide an incentive for employees.
What is the status of the citys tourism marketing efforts? What, if anything, would you do to improve the citys ability to attract visitors?
Phillips: If you look at our lodging tax dollars and sales tax dollars we are above average, and the leader in Pacific County. This shows that the council, Mayor, and our marketing partners are doing a lot of the right things. We partner with Beach Dog and Visitors Bureau for social media marketing, print media and event notifications. In addition we have a marketing committee that proposes marketing strategies and ideas. We have a multi prong marketing scheme in place. Our biggest opportunity is attracting visitors during the off season. We are looking at the ability to bring conventions during the off season. We have to continue to think outside the box for new innovative events/activities.
Werner: Current sales tax is above average and the lodging tax is the highest its ever been. The citys marketing and festival efforts are part of this positive outcome and the new visitors bureau director is bringing some wonderful ideas to the marketing committee and city council for consideration. The proposals include new marketing avenues and off-season marketing campaigns. I would suggest off-season indoor sporting events and kudos to the marketing committee for taking the lead on this.
Are there any other key issues you would like to address?
Phillips: It is important that councilmen/councilwomen have no hidden agendas. We were not voted into office to be self-serving, but entrusted by the voters to manage and take care of our city and citizens.
Werner: The Pacific County Economic Development Council did an economic analysis back in 2012 that stressed the importance of businesses to diversify and add underrepresented goods and services, such as appliances and furniture, which cater to the needs of local citizens. They also mentioned a Buy Local Awareness Campaign to stop the outflow of purchases across the river and gave some suggestions that Id like to implement. Some businesses give discounts to locals and we should advertise these discounts. The farmers market and Veterans Field events are excellent examples of activities that attract citizens and tourists to downtown and give the local merchants an opportunity to market their services.