Three of the six people running for Lewiston City Council this year recently shared ideas big and small they believe will move the community forward through one of the most pivotal periods in its recent history.
John Bradbury, Kevin Kelly and incumbent Councilor Jim Kleeburg all believe that the city’s best days are ahead if voters pick the right leadership (Mike Menegas and incumbent councilors Cari Miller and Ged Randall are the other candidates for three open seats, and will feature in a coming article).
But of those three, Bradbury is calling for the greatest shakeup of city government through a shift to a strong-mayor form of government. He said the current form of government — a seven-member elected council that hires a city manager — gives the city manager far too much power.
“An executive mayor can be held accountable,” Bradbury said, calling for a referendum for voters to choose their form of government. “At the next election, you can toss them.”
A city manager only has to please four members of the council to get an agenda through, and controls that agenda tightly through the ability to direct city staff on what information is provided to councilors, he said. By contrast, a strong mayor would have to please a majority of voters, not just four councilors.
With that structure in place, Bradbury said the city could stop governing “from crisis to crisis,” mentioning recent troubles with the city library, the water and wastewater treatment plants and the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport.
Kelly isn’t out to foster such a seismic shift in Lewiston’s political landscape, choosing to focus on economic development, public safety and long-term planning. He ran for council two years ago, falling short by a handful of votes. But he still wanted to increase his activity in the community, so he joined the Lewiston Planning and Zoning Commission, where he currently serves as chairman.
He said the work has been good preparation for serving on the city council.
“It really does give you a good idea of what to expect,” he said, noting that his biggest lesson has been to read everything and be well-prepared for each meeting. “(The city council) does a lot more, but (Planning and Zoning) is definitely a good training ground.”
Kelly said he believes in the airport as an engine for economic development, and wants the city to support its legitimate needs as it tries to attract new passenger service and develop its south-side business park.
“But economic development is not just the airport,” Kelly said.
The business improvement district being considered for downtown Lewiston would fund projects that could attract more entrepreneurs who can revitalize the neighborhood, he said. The city’s recently adopted downtown master plan recommends the creation of the district, and Kelly said the city should pursue the plan’s other ideas and not let them moulder on a shelf.
A consulting firm developed the plan with the assistance of the economic development agency Beautiful Downtown Lewiston, and Kelly said the city should continue its collaboration with similar groups like Valley Vision and the Clearwater Economic Development Association.
On the public safety front, Kelly is advocating for more funding to create safe routes for kids to get to school. He also wants better salaries and mental health care for police officers. He said the city’s new grant writer position can help fund such initiatives, and the broader tax base from increased economic development would also add to the pot.
What Bradbury called crisis governing, Kleeburg defended as being responsive to constituent needs. As the longest-serving member currently on the council, Kleeburg is able to point to the yearslong recession that hit after the global financial collapse of 2008. He acknowledged that in hindsight, the city probably should have started putting money away to address the mounting problems at the wastewater and water treatment plants.
But he recalled council meetings where people were coming “unhinged” at the prospect of their property taxes rising while their home values were plummeting. Kleeburg therefore voted against tax hikes that would have generated revenue to start fixing infrastructure problems.
“I was going along with the will of the voters,” he said.
Kleeburg also stood up for two of his recent votes. One was against the upcoming Lindsay Creek Estates disabled-friendly housing development in the eastern Lewiston Orchards. On the other, he stood alone to propose shifting $220,000 in economic development funding to the airport.
He characterized Lindsay Creek Estates as “a great project in the wrong place” since it will influence the rural nature of the neighborhood, something the city comprehensive plan encourages the council to maintain.
“That’s not preserving the rural nature,” he said of the plan to build approximately 45 duplexes on the site over the next decade.
Kleeburg wanted to pump the extra funding into the airport partly to help fund a new passenger holding area the airport board hopes will attract a new airline, and he wanted the remainder of the funds to go toward other capital improvements and firefighting costs.
The council did end up voting to earmark $100,000 for the passenger holding space project, but will only release the funds if a consultant deems it crucial to landing a new service.
Mills may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2266.