Marysville Tulalip Chamber hosts Marysville School Board, Snohomish County Council candidates forums

Marysville School District Director District 1 candidates Chris Nation, left, and Heather Thweatt, right, flank candidates forum moderator David Toyer Sept. 18. - Kirk Boxleitner
Marysville School District Director District 1 candidates Chris Nation, left, and Heather Thweatt, right, flank candidates forum moderator David Toyer Sept. 18.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

TULALIP — A spirited exchange between the Snohomish County Council candidates, on issues including land use and relative experience levels, followed the less contentious talking points of the Marysville School District Director candidates, at the forums conducted during the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce's Sept. 18 Business Before Hours.

Marysville School District Board of Directors

Marysville School District Director District 1 candidates Chris Nation and Heather Thweatt took part in the opening forum, moderated by David Toyer.

Nation and Thweatt cited their roles as active Marysville School District parents, with more than a few extracurricular activities each.

Nation has two sons in the district, and worked on the bond and levy 14 years ago. He's since worked on the Citizens Planning Committee, among other committees. He expressed the hope that he can help give students the resources and assets that they need, a matter on which he's "passionate."

Like Nation, Thweatt moved to the Marysville area because she saw it as a good home for her family. Her 11-year-old son is currently enrolled in Totem Middle School, and she's been active on the councils of her son's schools for a number of years, which she believes has taught her how to "agree to disagree respectfully." After volunteering with the district and regularly attending school board meetings, she described herself as "thrilled at the opportunity to serve more," and hopes to "set our kids up for success."

When Toyer asked what led the candidates to run for the school board, and what experience they have working with the schools, Thweatt cited her own work with the CPC and recalled that her thinking about recent and upcoming budget cuts had caused her to become "passionate" as well. When Don Hatch Jr. announced he was stepping down from the school board, she considered whether she could commit the time required to step into his role.

Nation explained that, as a result of serving on so many committees, he was frequently asked by other parents when he might run for the school board. He admitted that he doesn't look forward to giving up his participation in those committees if he's elected, and acknowledged that it can be "a thankless job," but he emphasized the urgency of promoting the district's needs on the local, state and federal levels, an area in which he said that "the leadership's not there" in the existing school board membership.

When Toyer asked the candidates what leadership skills they could bring to the school board, as well as how they would balance their individual goals with the group's broader goals, Nation cited his upcoming presidency of the local Rotary, his willingness to listen and a "focus on necessity." He pledged to ask questions and make decisions after informing himself, and "not just off the top of my head." He also promised that his priorities would reflect "not just personal interest," but the needs of broader numbers of people.

Thweatt pointed again to her experience with school councils, as well as to suggestions she'd made to the principal of Totem Middle School that were successfully implemented. She had applied for the 10th Street School and was worried about Totem, but expressed pride in Totem's increased PTSA participation during her time as one of the school's parents.

When Toyer asked each candidate to name their top three priorities, Thweatt listed closing the achievement gap for Native American, special education and English Language Learner students, working with the Marysville and Tulalip communities to come up with plans for improving the district's schools, and funding technology and foreign language education to afford students greater chances for success "in a global economy."

Nation asserted that funding for schools "must be addressed now, before it becomes a disaster." To that end, he spoke out against unfunded legislative mandates. He defended the continued existence of Small Learning Communities, but acknowledged the need to "tweak" them, by paying attention which aspects work and which ones need to be fixed. If elected, he also promised to make himself visible and accessible to the public, as well as to visit the district's schools to observe their needs and resources firsthand.

For their final question, Nation and Thweatt were asked what role the economy would play in their decisions regarding future bonds and levies. Both candidates asserted that investing in the schools represents an investment in the community itself. Nation identified good schools as a reason why people move to towns like Marysville, calling them "the backbone of society," since he sees them leading to more businesses and a stronger economy. Thweatt sympathized with struggling families who might feel overly taxed by supporting a bond and levy, but she presented those investments as means of improving not only their children's future, but also their own.

Snohomish County Council

Snohomish County Council District 1 incumbent John Koster (prefers Republican Party) and challenger Ellen Hiatt Watson (prefers Democratic Party) participated in the second candidates forum, also moderated by Toyer.

In response to Toyer's opening question, both candidates declared their support for a four-year university in Snohomish County. Hiatt Watson deemed it "an opportunity to bring economic development to the community." Koster noted that "I still have the relationships" to work toward that goal.

When Toyer asked the candidates about their positions on expanded commercial service at Paine Field, Koster pointed out that he was the only member of the current County Council who voted in favor of it. He cast the absence of commercial air service at Paine Field as a hindrance to bringing new businesses to the area, by explaining how it takes less time to drive to Spokane than to drive from Snohomish County to Sea-Tac Airport and fly from there to Spokane.

Hiatt Watson expressed sympathy for the neighborhoods surrounding Paine Field, but stated that those areas never should been zoned for residential development in the first place. She went on to express the opinion that the Arlington Municipal Airport is underutilized, and even suggested the formation of a county port district. Koster followed by voicing his desire to see greater economic diversity in the area.

When Toyer asked the candidates to identify the "guiding principles" by which they would evaluate land use agreements and code amendments, Hiatt Watson pointed to the attempted development of the Seven Lakes area as an attempt to violate county planning laws, codes and equity, and took pride in spearheading an effort to push back against such development. She called for "the rules to be clear," to ensure that smaller builders and property owners maintain as many rights as larger ones, and spoke out against the process being affected by the money of special interests.

Koster cited his own efforts since 2001 to streamline the permitting process, identifying the "deny and delay" approach to permitting eight years ago as one reason why developers were choosing not to do business in Snohomish County back then. He admitted that the process is still "convoluted," but he asserted that significant progress has been made in clarifying it since he first took office. Hiatt Watson followed by expressing concern that it still "takes citizens showing up at meeting after meeting" to watchdog the process.

Koster laughed in response to Toyer's question about how the candidates would address the "perception or reality of dysfunctional communication" between the branches of county government, since he sees the dysfunction as occurring not as a result of the branches themselves, but because of mandates by Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. He deemed such restrictions on direct communication unproductive, especially as the task of budget-planning approaches.

"I have a better relationship with the county executive than anyone else on the council, and I'm a Republican!" Koster laughed. "It's imperative that we talk. Out citizens expect better."

Hiatt Watson agreed that the problem does not lie in the departments themselves, To counter Koster's assertions about his working relationship with Reardon, she held up her endorsement by Reardon, as well as by Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick and all the members of the Snohomish County Council, aside from Koster himself.

When Hiatt Watson went on to mention a voicemail message from Koster to Reardon's office, which Reardon had released to support his assertion that Koster had asked Reardon to veto mini-cities, contrary to Koster's claims otherwise, Koster denounced "partisan personal attacks."

When Hiatt Watson was given time to ask Koster a question, she condemned his record of accomplishment, particularly on issues such as the Growth Management Act, and asked him to defend it. Koster acknowledged that the current code "needs tweaking," but cited the years of work that he's put into it thus far. He also proudly held up the fact that the general fund portion of Snohomish County's property tax has not been raised in eight years, and characterized the current County Council as "voting 90 percent unanimously on the issues."

When Koster was given time to ask Hiatt Watson a question, he cited the estimated increase of 350,000 residents that's expected in Snohomish County by 2025, and challenged her position on land use, asking if she would advocate "five-acre developments all over the county." Hiatt Watson asserted that she is not "anti-growth," but that she instead believes that Fully Contained Communities are a "bad tool." She expressed her support for Transfer of Development Rights, and asked the county to "look at what growth we want, to protect our environment and quality of life."

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