As ballots fill mailboxes, the Highlands Council prepared residents for the November 2023 general election by conducting an Issaquah City Council candidate forum on Oct.19.
The event, located at Blakely Hall, was hosted by Issaquah Highlands resident and former council member, Nina Milligan.
Out of the six candidates running, five were present at the forum — with Mike Palm, running for Issaquah City Council Position 4, absent from the event. Candidate Palm’s counterpart is Lindsey Walsh; candidate Zach Hall and Landon Halverson are running for Issaquah City Council Position 2; and Victoria Hunt and Sam Sheehan are running for Issaquah City Council Position 6.
Host Milligan asked two questions per topic, one going to position 2 and the other to position 6. Candidate Walsh switched between answering questions for position 2 and position 6.
Milligan summarized her findings from prior outreach and the Issaquah Highlands 2023 Community Survey to create concise questions that candidates had 60 seconds to answer.
Candidates were questioned on crime and safety, budget, environment, decision-making, future Issaquah, human services and economic development.
Crime and Safety
“According to the Issaquah Highlands Community Survey, 72% of the respondents said that crime and safety are their number one concerns,” Milligan said.
Q1: Why do you think the Issaquah Highlands community ranks these two concerns so high?
Candidate Halverson started his answer by regarding a shoplifting crisis in Issaquah. The backbone of his answer revolved around how he would increase safety and focus on protecting students and people who can’t protect themselves.
“I support fully funding and backing our police officers, making sure that they have the resources they need to do their job effectively,” he said. “I support getting into our schools, working with our kids, making sure that they have the resources to protect themselves and keep them safe and know what’s going on in the world around them.”
Counterpart, candidate Hall agreed it is paramount to ensure the Issaquah police department receives the resources needed to keep residents safe and healthy. However, he said it is essential to provide adequate resources to the fire department, emergency departments and human services as well.
Hall then pivoted away from direct funding and into outreach to the community.
“We’ve invested in new ways of crisis response and homelessness outreach to connect with people in new ways and give them the services that they need to thrive,” he said. “We’ve also worked with neighborhoods to set up neighborhood watch programs in the communities.”
Q2: What can you do to decrease crime and increase safety?
Candidate Sheehan agreed that funding the Issaquah Police Department is essential to increasing safety. However, Sheehan got granular when it came to what resources he believed the police department needed.
“If elected, I would make sure that an outreach program would provide that feeling [of safety] to any citizen in Issaquah,” he said. “Beyond that, just recurring and mandatory training hours for self-defense, weapon retention for de-escalation…because it makes the officer feel more comfortable,” he said.
Candidate Hunt spoke less about police funding and honed in on listening to community needs. Hunt gave an example of hearing the community ask for more information on the crime happening in Issaquah, and in this case, she said she and the council hired a crime analyst. She hopes to continue these kinds of adaptations.
“So we can listen, we can provide the resources that are needed,” she said. “We can also, for example, go on ride-alongs. I recently did a ride-along with our police, and from that firsthand experience, I really understand how they work closely with the business community.
Although candidate Walsh quickly touched on police matters, such as police staffing and ride-alongs, she suggested relocating some police responsibility to other positions.
“The other thing I would say is honestly take a few things off their plates. We’ve done a great job of hiring park rangers who can help patrol our perp spaces and behavioral health who can help correspond during a crisis,” she said. “Our police really, really appreciate both of those changes that we’ve made.”
“The city now approves a new budget every two years,” Milligan said. “The next time will be in 2024. The current budget, as approved, based on my research, is about $174 million, and the city manages 350 employees.”
Q1: What changes would you propose to city spending?
Before Walsh answered, she clarified, “We have $174 million total; of that, about $63 million is our operations budget, which is just our staff. The rest is things like capital improvements and infrastructure that we built.”
The candidate said there would need to be changes to the budget in the upcoming year due to revenue decreasing. She said clear and concise feedback from the community through survey tools and the Citywide Strategic Plan helps prioritize the budget, but she also had her priorities.
“My priorities are going to be public safety, transportation and housing. Some of those happen in legislation matter rather than budgeting,” she said. “Then I think the other thing that I want to work on is our parks and recreations and potentially using that as a way to reduce the cost of living.”
Q2: What changes would you propose in city revenues?
Despite Hall’s hesitation to answer the question due to the uncertainty of revenues a year from now, he said the current focus is understanding transportation and infrastructure initiatives and spending. This includes potentially adopting the 0.1% Transportation Benefit District sales tax for transportation projects.
“After having gone through the entire infrastructure process, knowing the different maintenance that we have to do, the safety of projects that we have and the legal requirements we have,” he said. “[The city is] really strapped for revenue in terms of actually delivering on those promises to the community.”
Halverson said as a high school accounting teacher, balancing the budget and having healthy spending is one of his top priorities. He emphasized the need for change when it came to city spending habits, especially on capital projects, which he believes should cost much less. The candidate spoke bluntly when mentioning the state of Issaquah’s revenue, disagreeing that revenue was tight or decreasing.
“I don’t believe the city has a revenue issue. $174 million for 40,000 residents in a two-year period, most communities in this country do far more with far less,” he said. “So, I’m not particularly interested in finding new revenue sources for the city. I think it has enough money as it is. Frankly, I’ll be looking to, if not cut revenue and find ways to ensure that it does not go by.”
“In the last 20 years, the population of Issaquah has more than doubled, and more change is on the way,” Milligan said.
Q1: How would you balance the current issues with future concerns?
Sheehan said the two major issues affecting Issaquah today are housing and traffic. The candidate said he would oppose high-density housing developments, using the High Street Collection project as an example.
“As long as 75% of Seattle’s properties are single-family homes, I don’t think we should have to burden that cost. I think that traffic is an ongoing problem that has tried to be solved,” he said. “If elected, I would love to get into the city council chambers and work with the city council to work towards a comprehensive solution today.”
Hunt was clear that change and growth are inevitable and already happening. She attributed her work — at the urban design and planning department at the University of Washington and volunteering for the planning policy commission — to why she understands how to set policies that will accommodate growth in the future but persevere the uniqueness of Issaquah.
“I think that we need to continue to be diligent,” Hunt said. “We did a big land use update… but now we need to continue to make sure that we are updating to best practices and make sure we’re preserving those things that make us feel such a great place for everyone.”
You can watch the full city council candidate forum on the City of Issaquah YouTube channel.