The race for Kelso City Council position 4 sets up a rematch between incumbent David Futcher and Kelburn Koontz, who ran unsuccessfully against Futcher four years ago.
Now seeking a fifth four-year term in office, Futcher said he provides institutional knowledge to a relatively inexperienced council that also hired a new city manager just this month.
Koontz, who is the chairman of the Cowlitz County Republican Party, said he would bring a technical and analytical mindset that’s not currently on the council.
“I think I have a different perspective on things. I work in manufacturing. I’m very technically minded. I’m a quality control systems engineer. I work on making sure the product the machines are making are consistent and within their spec. I would like to bring that kind of mindset to the council,” Koontz said.
Futcher said he has more experience on the council than the six other council members combined, which means there currently is a “dearth of knowledge and experience.”
Up until four years ago, there were other council members with 15 and 20 years of experience on the council, Futcher said, and the change has been noticeable.
“I’m used to working with experienced people who work hard at this, think about it and participate in the discussion, and you come to a good answer when you do that. I’ve got three people, at least, on the council that don’t say anything. It’s really hard to judge whether you’re doing the right thing when you’re not hearing from the council,” Futcher said.
Koontz argued that he is essentially giving voters the option to impose a term limit on Futcher, who has been on the council since 2005. And he wasn’t concerned about the level of experience on the council.
“When anybody moves into a new position, there’s going to be a learning period. I don’t know how long that is for most people, but usually when I get into a new job, the learning period for me is a little less,” Koontz said.
The candidates seem to agree on most issues and because they haven’t faced each other, they seemed to know very little about each other’s policy stances. Their interviews with The Daily News editorial board were separate due to scheduling constraints.
When asked which decisions the council has made that he disagreed with, Koontz pointed to the recent consideration of annexing the South Kelso’s unincorporated “donut holes.”
Annexation should be voluntary, Koontz said, with the onus on the city to prove to property owners that it is within their best interest to be part of the city, rather than doing it with “force of government behind it.”
The council had looked at annexing the pockets of property, but there was strong opposition from impacted residents and ultimately the council backed off.
While annexation made sense, the citizens didn’t want it, Futcher said, and “I’m not going to cram it down their throat or act like I have all the answers and you need to do my thing.”
When he heard Futcher’s response, Koontz said, “I think that’s great. I think he has a fair mind on a lot of things.”
Koontz added that property rights are very important to him. Another related concern for him was the council’s consideration of a landlord licensing program, which would require inspections for rental housing. The council considered the program in March but never took any action.
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While the inspections are intended to ensure the housing is adequate, Koontz said the fees would be passed on to the tenants.
“People that can’t afford to move may not afford the updated housing,” Koontz said. “I understand and I’m empathetic, but I see it as a government versus property rights issue and to me, property rights always win.”
Futcher said Thursday that after reaching out to landlords, he didn’t think there was any justification for the program and he didn’t expect the city to pursue it further.
Both said they want to create jobs by wooing businesses to Kelso and reducing roadblocks to development.
Futcher said the council’s recent successes include renovations of Tam O’Shanter Park, West Main Street and the city’s new water reservoir — all projects that were largely funded through state grants and loans.
Kelso struggled with its water supply last summer and Futcher said the city is conducting a water system study to find an alternative supply. While he wanted to wait for the study results before suggesting a plan, Futcher said he would be willing to take an unpopular position, if that’s what was best for Kelso.
“I would argue that I’ve taken quite a few unpopular stances in my time,” Futcher said. “I would want to do what’s best. When it comes to water, you just have to ask what people want because you don’t get anywhere telling them what they should have.”
Futcher served as mayor for a decade until the council chose Nancy Malone last year to fill that role. He was visibly surprised after the 4-3 vote.
“It was a gut check. I’m not going to lie about that. I probably had a little more identity wrapped up in that than was appropriate. (But) it’s been a load off,” Futcher said. “I’ve never lobbied for that position. And I’m not going to start now.”
Koontz said one of his top priorities as a councilman would be supporting the Constitution.
“I know a lot of people pay lip service to it, but I would like to be an example of what it means to govern constitutionally,” Koontz said.
The landlord licensing program, Koontz said, could be a Fourth Amendment issue related to unlawful search and seizure and therefore could be “overstepping” the Constitution.
“I would like to look at what policies are proposed through the lens of constitutionality and see if this is something we can do and we’re not overstepping the bounds put out by the federal and state Constitutions,” Koontz said.
He added that the council’s decision this summer to hire Andy Hamilton as its new city manager was “absolutely” the right decision. Hamilton was with the Kelso Police Department for 32 years and served as chief for a decade.
“When Andy was one of the candidates for city manager, I was very outspoken in my support of him,” Koontz said. “To me, he was the only choice, so to speak, out of the people there because of his intimate knowledge of the city.”