By David Pan/Lynnwood Today editor
The four Lynnwood Mayoral candidates expressed some sharp disagreements in a candidates’ forum Tuesday night at Edmonds Community College. But when it came to the issue of red light cameras, all four generally supported the use of the devices.
City Council President Loren Simmonds and City Councilmember Mark Smith both noted that though Lynnwood is a city with a population of about 35,000, the traffic volume that comes through the city is the equivalent to a city with a population of 80,000 to 100,000 people.
“Fundamentally, I do support the red light cameras,” said Mark Smith, who added that the city can’t afford to hire enough police officers for such enforcement.
“They (red light cameras) act as a very effective tool,” he said.
Simmonds noted that in every survey put out by the city, the number one issue is traffic volume, traffic congestion and what the city is going to do about it. These results help sway the city council to install red light cameras.
“They were viewed as a safety tool, not unlike seat belts or motorcycle helmets,” Simmonds said. “The objective was to alter driving behavior. Citations have dropped sharply over the past 12 to 18 months. We did not install them as a new revenue source.”
Mayor Don Gough said he supported the city council’s decision to install red light cameras.
“The issue here is basic safety,” Gough said. “My officers have to jump into traffic to stop vehicles for red light running. That is exceedingly dangerous.”
Nicola Smith, the Dean of Student Life and Development at Edmonds Community College, also was generally supportive of red light cameras but expressed concerns about the issues of revenue generation and privacy.
“The program deserves a transparent and thorough evaluation,” Nicola Smith said.
She added that purpose of red light cameras is public safety but along with that has come negative feelings and the idea that Lynnwood is developing the reputation of being unwelcoming.
A question about whether the candidates favored a professional city manager form of government divided the four with Simmonds and Nicola Smith tending to favor it, with Gough and Mark Smith in opposition.
Simmonds noted he voted in favor of putting the issue on the ballot and that he even donated money to the pro city manager campaign. Simmonds added there is no perfect form of municipal government and that he was comfortable with both the city manager and the current strong mayor format of government.
Nicola Smith said that People for A Better Lynnwood, the organization that was formed to promote the city manager form of government, has recognized her as the candidate that comes closest to fulfilling that role.
“I’m the candidate that could start that transition,” Nicola Smith said.
Mark Smith noted that he wrote the opposition statement.
“It’s not the form of government that’s important,” he said. “It’s the people who are in those positions, whether it’s a city manager or a full-time elected mayor and elected council.”
Mark Smith added that it “takes away our right to choose the leadership we want in a democratic form of government.”
Gough was succinct in his comments.
“Eighteen months the vote took place. Citizens voted by 14-, 15-point margin not to change the form of government,” Gough said. “I agree with their decision. Thank you.”
Lynnwood resident Rochelle Henshaw came out to the forum because she wanted to find out how the candidates stood on the issues.
“The one I like the most is Mark Smith,” she said of the mayoral candidates. “I actually met him. He came down to our street. I met and talked to him before. I just liked the way he thinks about stuff. He has the experience and I’m ready for a new mayor.”
Resident Marie Fjellanger favors Simmonds.
“While unpretentious, he seemed to make a lot of sense,” she said. “He seemed practical. He has concrete reasons for his beliefs that he’s able to present and I was impressed by that.”
Resident Georgene, who declined to give her last name, said that she is undecided about who she will support for mayor.
“It’s going to be a decision for me because I’ve always voted for our mayor, Gough,” she said. “But I like Mark Smith. I already told Mark it’s going to be a decision. I’m on the fence.”
The forum also featured the candidates for City Council Positions 1, 2 and 3.
Candidate for Position No. 1, attorney James Robert Deal, used his opening statement to discuss his opposition to the fluoridation of water.
“I am outraged that we add industrial grade dental chemicals to our drinking water,” Deal said.
Incumbent M. Christopher Boyer, was enthusiastic about the prospect of Lynnwood’s City Center.
“Lynnwood is going to be even more than it is now, a destination zone for people to come live, work and play,” Boyer said. “That’s part of the reason I’m excited about the future of Lynnwood. The City Center is on the way.”
The third Position No. 1 candidate, Michael Moore, was not present at the forum.
The three candidates for Position No. 2 also were asked about red light cameras.
Shirley Sutton supports them and has personal experience with them. She received a ticket.
“It changed the way I drive,” she said. “I am more sensitive and more alert. … That problem woke me up in terms of having to pay extra out of my pocket that I had not planned on.”
Ian Cotton wants to evaluate the numbers before and after the installation of the cameras.
“Let’s look at it and see if they are saving lives, saving people from personal injuries,” he said.
If the citizens do not want red light cameras, Cotton said, “I’m willing to listen. We listen to what the voters want.”
Jim Smith said that red light cameras bring up more questions than answers. In talking with people, half of them support the cameras and half of them do not, he said.
“It doesn’t seem like anyone is in the middle,” Jim Smith said.
He expressed concerns over the reliance on money generated by tickets.
“The city has gotten itself addicted to red light camera revenue and that is a problem,” Jim Smith said.
Three of the four candidates for Position No. 3 were on the stage. Candidate Maria Ambalada was not on the stage but was seated in the audience. The moderator, Joan Penney, Edmonds Community College’s Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, announced that Ambalada would be available to talk to people after the forum but that “we were not able to accommodate her schedule to get her into tonight and so for that we apologize.”
A question about the future of the Lynnwood Golf Course prompted Dave Mayers to broach the idea of other potential options for the land, such as turning it into baseball or soccer fields or even pea patches.
“Take this land and possibly make it an identity place where people want to come and stay for a day or several hours,” Mayers said.
Ruth Ross noted that the city council hired a consultant to address the future of the golf course. She pledged to keep an open mind and hear what he had to say.
“Find a way to make it profitable or find someone who can,” Ross added.
Douglas Lovitt agreed that the consultant should finish his work.
He did note that he had not seen any marketing material for the golf course. Lovitt would encourage other businesses to get involved to support the golf course, through such activities as tournaments and picnics.
In his closing statement Lovitt recalls different events that brought the community together but are no longer around, such as Lynn-O-Rama and the Fourth of July fireworks show.
“What I see today is a community that kind of lost its identity, that’s lost its cohesiveness and it’s become complacent. Complacency has replaced those things,” Lovitt said. “That’s why I’m running.”
Mayers echoed Lovitt’s comments.
“I don’t think Lynnwood has an identity,” he said. “Lynnwood needs to get an identity. I think it needs to get programs to get people together.”
Ross stressed that serving on the council is a way to serve the community.
“My tagline these days is that I’m not a politician. I’m a public servant,” Ross said.
The statewide primary election is Aug. 6. The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the general election on Nov. 5. The forum was sponsored by Edmonds Community College, the Snohomish League of Women Voters and Sno-Isle Libraries.