By Howard Lee
Who’s Howard Lee? It will be several weeks before my campaign pamphlets will be available to hand out so I thought I would send you excerpts from a campaign questionnaire I recently filled out:
- Why are you running for this particular position? To effect a change in both the philosophy and direction in the management of University Place, as well as introduce accountability to all levels of our city government. I intend to be a city councilmember who represents by listening to the citizens rather presuming what is best for them. Also, the key to University Place’s financial survival rests with the success of its small businesses. I will strive to ensure that University Place provides a business friendly atmosphere so new businesses will want to locate in University Place, and existing businesses will thrive.
- What leadership qualities would you bring to this position that your opponent(s) would not: First, a high standard of accountability. Having had command of four US Navy ships, and numerous merchant marine vessels, I have been exposed to a level of accountability not normally experienced by either private or public sector managers. As a result I would not hesitate to ask probing questions and less apt to accept excuses than most, since these are standards of performance for which I have personally been held accountable. Secondly, not having participated in our city’s operations, I would bring an open mind and fresh look to problem solving rather than trying to justify past decisions.
- What do you feel are the most serious problems facing your community/legislative district today and how do you plan to help solve them? University Place is mired in long-term debt, which is directly the result of the failed Town Center project. This debt has dramatically reduced the city’s fiscal flexibility, especially during the protracted recession we are now enduring. This has resulted in a lost opportunity for maintaining normal levels of city services, parks and recreation, street maintenance and repair, neighborhood sidewalks, streetlights, and sewers. Therefore, debt reduction is my top priority. First, I would repackage the Town Center Project by changing its name. The Town Center is associated in our community and greater metropolitan area, as well as the media with failure. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound causing a monumental oil spill, the first damage control action by Exxon was to paint over the ship’s name so the circling news helicopters wouldn’t continue to show “Exxon Valdez” on the evening news. Secondly, the original vision of a walkable commercial complex with high end stores and restaurants has to be scrapped for one which is comprised of businesses who can be up and running, and revenue producing in a very short period of time, i.e. months, not years. University Place government has unrealistically held out for high-end anchor tenants whose dedicated parking stall requirements can’t be accommodated by the limited land available. Additionally, continuing to pursue a Town Center market strategy which is based on maximizing profit, should be replaced by one, which makes sites available for purchase at reasonable land prices.
- Economic development or environmental regulation? Which should take priority in light of your community’s/legislative district’s budget constraints? Economic development and environmental regulation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The city’s environmental regulations are adequate. What is not adequate is the financial and economic health of the community. The failed Town Center project is a financial drain, which must be corrected to avert financial disaster.
- What options do you see to fund infrastructure needs in your community/legislative district: Excessive long-term debt resulting from the failed Town Center project has dramatically limited, if not eliminated, options for funding needed infrastructure in University Place for the foreseeable future. Going forward we must focus on debt reduction in order to first, stabilize a precarious financial situation and eventually be able to provide city services, e.g. streets, parks, sidewalks, etc.
- Do you support impact fees? Why or why not? No. Traffic impact fees should be eliminated in University Place. Currently we have some of the highest traffic impact fees in the region. The fees restrict small business development, and small businesses are the lifeblood of a community. Of note is that in fact the impact fees for Town Center have been waived, but remain in place elsewhere throughout the rest of the city. This has driven potential business to Lakewood, Fircrest, and other nearby cities.
- Please add any other information about yourself that you feel makes you the best candidate for the office you are seeking: I graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in business science and a major in accounting. I will represent the citizens of University Place by listening, rather than presuming I know what is best for them. Unencumbered by having been personally involved in past governmental decisions, I will be open minded when problem solving and provide a fresh outlook on old unsolved issues. I am accustomed to being personally held to a high level of accountability and will expect that the city staff will adopt these same values as their own. Finally, the existing appointed city council person serving position #7 has been personally involved with the Town Center project from its inception. Even as our economic condition turned into a recession, the appointed city council person serving position #7 has consistently failed to show the flexibility required to change direction and turn disaster into a success.
I hope the above is helpful in understanding why I am running for public office and how I stand on issues which are important to the city. I need your support and you will being hearing more from me in the near future.
Yours for a New Direction,