By Polly Keary, Editor
It’s a lively election season for the Monroe city government. Along with an open mayoral seat, there are three contested races and one uncontested race for Monroe City Council, meaning half of the city government next year could be made up of new faces.
A new face is guaranteed for Council Position 3.
Running for that seat, a four-year term, are two people who have never held elected office in Monroe before; Mike Stanger, a computer engineer, and Jeff Rasmussen, a former appointee to the Monroe Parks Board.
Stanger, 48, has been in the computer industry for 25 years, and has lived in Monroe since 1997.
Rasmussen, 34, served on the Parks Board until January of this year, when philosophical differences with the current mayor resulted in Rasmussen not being reappointed, although the board had made him chair for the year.
Both answered a series of questions from the Monroe Monitor last week. The answers have been edited for length.
What do you believe is the appropriate role for the city council in city affairs? And what do you see as the role of a city council member in city government?
I think, first and foremost, the role of council is to be the voice of the citizens. Council members are the key players in reviewing the policies and procedures set forth by our mayor, and the council has to take an unbiased view in dissecting it and communicating it to the public. And council’s role is sharing the community’s concerns and questions with the staff and the mayor, and working collaboratively with staff and our other leaders in the county and state.
In addition, it is to ensure we are within the rules, to balance the budget. It’s listening to the comments, questions and concerns of residents, and staff and being the eyes and ears of our city. It’s looking out for the future of the city.
I think the primary role of the council is, first and foremost, to approve budgets and policies to keep Monroe the place that it is today. It’s to keep our neighborhoods, keep us prosperous and fiscally sound, and to maintain on honest and open forum where business and citizens can have a forum, and of course no one is an expert on everything; we need to make sure we get good information.
Council members can best do that by making sure to be out and meeting the citizenry, encouraging them to come and speak and provide their input, and fostering that open and honest form of communication in the city so you can get that info, get the voice and pulse of the citizens, in order to make the right decisions.
What are the best ways to support and improve the economic development of Monroe?
I think it’s really advocating that we are open for business and for people to move here and making sure we are offering the stuff for people to want to locate here, whether that is the types of businesses they want or the ease of getting from here to where they work. I think that’s going to be key. Improvement on 522 is really going to open things up and make it a lot easier to travel less toward Woodinville. I would really advocate collaborating with Snohomish and growing that way and finding more ways to connect, because in that direction you have a whole set of opportunities, there’s Boeing and Everett, and Snohomish is on the upswing. It would be great to connect even more.
I like the direction the council has taken in the last year. I know the city has had some debt, and is getting out of it, selling land and rezoning some things and allowing businesses to come into Monroe. I support good sound business development. I know with 522 improvements more people will want to move here, and more business will want to move here. I’m happy with the industrial park and the facelifts there, and I think it will attract business. We also need to look at the existing businesses and make sure we are meeting their needs, and make the necessary improvements they need to be prosperous.
What are ways the city council can support the downtown?
I think we need a clear vision for the downtown, what kind of stores should be there, what kind of feel. As I go out door-belling, our neighbors tell me they don’t see what is downtown. I think it’s establishing that vision and letting people know that we have a wonderful downtown. We need to work with the Chamber of Commerce and DREAM, helping on getting the grants.
And revitalization can be as simple as flower pots or trees or benches, and way-finder signs to get people off the more travelled street. And I think we need to look more long-term and ask what kind of stuff we want to bring them in for. I love the idea of some sort of open space amphitheater for outdoor concerts and farmer’s markets, some big open space for people to gather. It’s going to bring people in, it’s going to get them walking into the stores and hopefully leaving with several purchases.
I know that I have heard a lot of things, from a minor facelift to a major facelift, to bringing in certain events in order to improve the downtown. I think all those things need to happen. I think from a community standpoint we need a vision.
I think we need to involve the Chamber of Commerce, and the citizenry. I know there’s a lot of passion. I know there are people who want a certain look and feel, I know Duvall and Snohomish have been successful making their downtowns a place to go for citizens and people outside the community. We need to rally the community and see if it’s something they really want to do and we need to make it happen as best as we can. I have heard things like we need more parking and restrooms, and from a city perspective, we can make that happen, but we need to partner with the community and once you have that support, you can make it happen.
The economy is improving and more retail is coming to Monroe, and that will likely mean new revenue for the city after years of cutbacks. Where should new funds go first?
Ensuring we have top notch public safety, that we have sufficient personnel on staff to protect our residents and businesses and be able to keep our community safe. I think our Police Department is top notch. And then reinvesting in our downtown core. With North Kelsey being developed, whether we like it or not, it’s growing and being filled and the land is being sold. Put it in the downtown, spruce it up and partner with the Chamber and DREAM. And make sure our parks stay top notch; they are an attraction within the city.
Traffic. I was looking at the Transportation Benefit District (a district encompassing Monroe that is capable of self-taxing to fund transportation improvements), looking at the projects they have identified. Blueberry and Kelsey, I get hit with that two or three times a week myself. I live in the Fryelands area. There are things like a Tjerne Place extension, because we need to help ease as much east-west traffic as we can. I’m all for any traffic improvements.
I also think the downtown should be a priority. If we want to be serious about a good downtown and if we have funding, we need to execute the vision.
Monroe continues to be short on multi-family housing and affordable housing. How can the city council help?
It’s certainly a concern. Increased housing can be an asset. I do agree with our current leadership in expanding our city boundaries. I agree that’s not going to fill the shortfall, but we do have the opportunities to expand the boundaries to include not only existing houses, but bare land and work to develop that. Affordable housing is going to be key. Monroe is one of the few areas that in many ways is still affordable for many people to live in. One of the reasons we moved here was how affordable it is. I know that notion will be key as well.
I think that the availability of well-planned and safe multi-family development is good. I totally support that. We need to make sure we have the right zoning to make that happen.
Traffic cameras have proven very unpopular, but speeders are a pernicious problem in two of the school zones, and the chief of police has said that one of those school zones has nowhere to park a patrol vehicle to catch them. What other options can you think of to ensure the safety of school kids?
As I’ve told people as I’ve been out door-belling, I appreciate the council’s recent position to follow the view and wish of the voters to not renew the contract with the traffic camera companies next year. I agree with a couple council members that I do believe there is sufficient evidence as to the effects it has on speeders in school zones. The speeding cameras in the school zones are something we should reconsider. As the chief says, there’s no room to park a patrol car to catch speeders. And officers can serve us much better doing other things than standing there with a radar gun all day. We have a lot of home break-ins. Those require officers to respond. I do think a speeding camera in the school zones is one thing we need to reconsider.
I think Monroe citizens have spoken on that. I was glad to see the current council want to get public opinion but I also think the safety of our kids is important and paramount. As a grandfather and father myself, family is one of the most important things in my life. I don’t know that cameras are the answer. I think we need to partner with police and look at ways how we can enforce the laws using the existing resources we have with the police department. I am sure there are ways to do that. I’m not sure what other options there are, but if it’s a problem, we have a obligation to make sure our kids are safe.
How will you stay in touch with your constituents?
If elected my plan is to set up a regular kind of meet-and-greet, a coffee talk somewhere in the city. I would want to actively have a council Facebook page. Social media is a way to stay in contact with folks. And if residents want to run something by me they are welcome to contact me. We need to make sure they have good two-way conversations about the topics. I know as a resident, I like to be able to talk to my elected official, and if there’s something going on in the city I have concerns about, I want to tell them about it. I like the feeling that there are certain people I feel very comfortable saying, ‘Hey this is what I am thinking,’ and know they will listen and respond respectfully. And that’s something we need to do across the board.
The city has some ways people can get in touch with their representatives, but I also plan to be visible on Facebook and Twitter so people can get in touch. I think it’s important to always talk to people. You’re being proactive, not waiting to hear, but being proactive and saying that you’d like to get some input on this or that. There are people who will want to reach out, but there are a lot who don’t feel comfortable picking up the phone. I plan to use the available technology to make sure we are getting the pulse of the people and business here in Monroe.
What do you want the people of Monroe to know about you?
With me you are getting someone that looks at the information and does the work thoroughly, and I have a track record of doing the research on the subjects and topics. I am going to be open to having those conversations and those discussions and I will be willing to listen and have an unbiased reaction and discussion. I plan to really promote our city and support sensible growth of our city going forward. I really look forward to the opportunity to serve our residents, and I really hope they give me the opportunity to serve them.
I’ve lived in Monroe a lot of years and seen a lot of wonderful improvement. All my kids had to go to Everett for swim lessons and now there is the YMCA. I want to see Monroe move forward and keep the community family-friendly. I think the city needs to live within its means and we want to also attract business so we can fund things that we need without having to raise property taxes or other taxes on families. I have leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies as project manager and program manager. I know how to listen and make decisions and lead and move projects and initiatives forward, and I would bring that to the council.