Michele Kemper and Zach Hall are vying for Issaquah City Council Position 2.
Kemper is a retired vice president and chief compliance officer of the financial services industry who holds a bachelor’s degree in social services and public administration from Pacific Lutheran University and her Master of Business Administration from University of Washington.
Hall holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Washington and currently works as a legislative assistant to the Washington State House of Representatives. He has lived in Issaquah for more than 20 years.
Where do you stand on the decision of whether to fluoridate the city’s water supply?
Kemper: Communities are reassessing the wisdom of fluoridation. Many reached the conclusion: when stripped of endorsements and well-meaning intentions, fluoridation makes no sense. Fluoridation is the practice of adding industrial-grade fluoride to water to prevent tooth decay. We now know drinking fluoride does not stop tooth decay — you have to apply fluoride directly to the teeth (toothpaste). Our city takes seriously delivering a clean supply of water. How to do this includes cost, supply source and public health. I place weight on public health. Here’s why I do not support fluoridation — this is mass medication. Unlike all other water treatment processes, fluoridation does not treat the water itself, but the person consuming it. You don’t need to add drugs to water — particularly when fluoride is readily available in toothpaste. Swallowing fluoride is ineffective — it must be applied directly to teeth. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledges that fluoride’s main benefit is topical contact, not ingestion. The CDC notes toxic side effects with mass fluoridation. Kids can develop dental fluorosis (discoloration of teeth). Others with kidney, arthritis, thyroid and bone diseases may suffer side effects. Residents can buy toothpaste with or without fluoride. Residents can’t choose what comes out of their tap.
Hall: Issaquah should follow best practices in public health policy. That’s why I support including fluoride in our city’s water supply. Decades of scientific research has concluded its safety and effectiveness, and public health professionals at the University of Washington, the American Dental Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize and endorse its health benefits. The real issue I’ve heard in my hundreds of door-to-door conversations is the equity and affordability of our water rates. Before we commit to building a costly water treatment plant here in Issaquah, we should work with our regional partners, like Cascade Water Alliance and Sammamish Plateau Water, to determine whether purchasing surplus water from them would be a more affordable path forward. Issaquah also provides a water utility discount program for our low-income senior residents. I think it’s time we explore expanding this discount program to other residents living on low and fixed incomes. What it comes down to is this – Are we being cost-effective with our city’s tax dollars? And are we doing everything we can to ensure reasonable rates for our residents? If we answer no to either of these questions, we’re doing our city a disservice.
Issaquah has had four unsuccessful state audits in the past four years, how would you ensure financial accountability for the city?
Kemper: In 2018 financial signs indicated a shortfall in revenue was eminent. Indeed, the shortfall happened. We’re short $1.3 million this year and next year $5.2 million short. You can’t spend your way out of a deficit. There are two choices: raise revenue by raising taxes, or cut expenses. I do not favor raising taxes. The way out is to prioritize spending. Our Capital Improvement Plan has over 100 projects. It is not economically feasible to do them all. It requires project sequencing and working with state and county agencies for regional solutions and grants. Most importantly, this requires the city provide the council with financial debriefing quarterly along with monthly balance sheets, audit results, lawsuits and debt ratings. I’m the experienced candidate. As executive in the financial services industry, I bring the financial expertise to the council. I will bring listening and negotiation skills needed for consensus on project priorities. Working with state and federal agencies (each with differing views and agendas) on complex consumer protections I have the experience with working with diverse views and driving for consensus. The complex financial stress and the backlog of capital projects needs an experienced candidate to serve our city.
Hall: Yes, our city’s audit findings are concerning. And no, Issaquah is not “toxically dysfunctional.” In fact, the city’s new finance director was quick to value transparency and accountability. During a city council presentation on April 1, she spoke on camera about the need for outside-eyes and an independent review of Issaquah’s financial management practices. Bringing this issue to light was just the first step. I’ll support a plan to build checks and balances into our system and have transition plans in place before key personnel leave. Accountability is about experience where it matters most. Over the last three years, I’ve knocked on nearly 10,000 Issaquah doors. And I’ve heard hundreds of Issaquah stories along the way. I’ve spoken with families who feel trapped in their neighborhoods as the drive downtown gets longer and longer. I’ve heard from seniors and young couples who worry about being priced out of their homes as the cost of living continues to go up. As we consider adjusting the scope and timeline of current projects here in Issaquah, we need leaders with fresh thinking and proven track records organizing out in the community. That’s what I bring to the table.
How do you plan to address traffic and travel issues? How do you intend to find solutions to mitigate traffic congestion?
Kemper: Our region is experiencing unprecedented growth. By 2050 this region will grow another 1.8 million to over 5.8 million people. The Growth Management Act sees Issaquah and 15 other cities will take in 65 percent of the region’s population growth and 75 percent of the employment growth. Traffic is exponential with this growth. We’ll see doubled the volumes for car and bus by 2040. Regionally, the Interstate 405 and Interstate 90 corridors are priority. If we can’t get through Bellevue, we can’t move anywhere north/south. If we can’t get through on I-90, there is gridlock east/west. Multiple counties are working together regionally to add new lanes for I-405 and a ramp that links drivers from Maple Valley/Black Diamond area to I-405 to relieve pressure on state Route 18. This will help Issaquah as drivers are currently avoiding SR18 by cutting through our city creating traffic volumes on inter-city streets. There is more we can do locally including: Focus on road improvements for Newport Way; use technology (example: blinking left turn lights); place high-density developments near transit centers; add bus routes for the ‘last mile’ to get drivers from home to transit center; partner with major employers for dedicated van/bus for Issaquah residents that work in Bellevue, Redmond and Seattle.
Hall: I know firsthand the daily struggle to get around town or to and from work. We can do better. And we’re missing important opportunities to pair local traffic improvement with regional traffic improvement. We’ve got to start with local work to limit pass-through traffic. We can reprogram our traffic lights to prioritize movement around town over movement through it. We can explore ways to make our roadways more urban-feeling. We can invest in low-cost, high-impact improvement projects. But we can’t do that by itself. We need to partner with our neighboring cities and chambers of commerce to identify and advocate for the projects in our region that benefit us all. From my experience working at the state Legislature and my understanding of the state’s budgeting process, I know interlocal agreements like this work. We saw this model succeed earlier this year when SEAL-TC (South East Area Legislative Transportation Coalition), a group of Southeast King County cities and chambers of commerce, came together to advocate for the funding to widen SR18. This project is a major benefit to Issaquah, and we can build on this progress by supporting state and county investments in Issaquah-Hobart Road, state Route 900, state Route 169, and other county roads.
How do you balance development and growth against maintaining the town’s current character?
Kemper: When asking residents what character they want to preserve, the answer is often: “The small-town character that existed before cars came along. People lived near Main Street. Neighbors walked or rode short distances to work or shop. It’s a town with real historic buildings. Homes were small and in a variety of styles. Trees arched over narrow streets. Businesses were locally owned and unique.” This definition matches Olde Town and central downtown area. To preserve our character means preserving this area. Two parallel actions are needed preserve character and balance growth. First, city leaders are developing code changes under the Olde Town Subarea Plan that will manage building heights and physical appearance to preserve character. Second, the city’s Strategic Plan places growth in the valley. Neighborhoods on the hillsides are preserved while high-density housing along with commercial, services and retail are placed on the valley floor. You can see evidence with new developments along Newport Way and Hyla Crossing. Density growth is further managed with updated code to prevent sprawl and maintain the esthetics of our city. For example, hillside overlay code will prevent developers from slicing away steep hillsides to squeeze in high-rise buildings. We can do both: preserve our character and grow our city.
Hall: I grew up right here in Issaquah. And I love our best-of-the-Northwest town. I love our forested hillsides and our access to Lake Sammamish. I’m fascinated by our history, and I’m regularly inspired by the small-town feel and sense of community we all enjoy. This place – our city – is a special place. We need to set a higher bar for development. Growth should provide real benefits to our community beyond just adding more homes. And we need to secure a more affordable Issaquah for residents of all incomes. As your city councilmember, I’ll work to protect the unique character of our neighborhoods in city code and explore how we can preserve existing housing over teardown and redevelopment. I’ll advocate the city require mixed-income projects with space for small businesses and give priority to accessory dwelling unit projects. These priorities will provide opportunities for residents of all incomes – like those living on fixed-incomes – and from all working backgrounds – like our first responders, our health care workers and our teachers – to live here if they choose. They’ll also set standards for the unique character of our town. Projects in Issaquah should look like they belong in Issaquah.