Election 2007: Munns, Hiteshew square off for council seat

The race for Oak Harbor City Council position 2 is being run by two candidates who are distinct in being extremely nice, polite people who both say they have no particular agendas driving them to run for office.

The biggest difference between Beth Munns and Chris Hiteshew is the perspective they would bring to the job.

Munns is a very well-known member of the community, not the least because her husband was once the commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Her credentials are impressive, with experience ranging from her position as the national director of the Navy League to nine years on the city planning commission.

She is no stranger to the political process. She worked on school bond campaigns, including the 1996 levy which was the first successful one in 20 years. She helped Rep. Barbara Bailey, former Rep. Barry Sehlin, city Councilman Jim Campbell, and former city Councilman Richard Davis win elections.

Nevertheless, this is the first time Munns has sought political office.

“It’s my turn to step up to the plate,” she said.

Hiteshew is a newcomer to city politics and city business in general. The 35-year-old father of two young daughters has lived in Oak Harbor — graduating from Oak Harbor High School — during most of his relatively young life. As a federal firefighter at the Navy base, he has firefighting and community service in the blood.

“I come from a family of firefighters,” he said. “I’ve been around it my whole life.”

He feels the closest thing to relevant experience is his position as vice president of the union representing federal firefighters in the region.

“I love politics,” he said. “I like being the guy who fights for issues.”

Hiteshew said he would be a valuable member of the City Council because he would bring a point of view not well represented — especially not by his opponent.

“I have more of a middle-class, blue-collar perspective,” he said.

He said elected officials might think twice about throwing money around or increasing fees if there would be more people on the council who live on a tight budget.

Even though neither candidate says they have an agenda or axe to grind, they both have some strong opinions on certain subjects.

Munns is rather critical of the current council, which she describes as being dysfunctional.

“They are not getting anything done because all they do is argue,” she said. “Nobody seems to be concerned about what’s best for the city. The attitude is that ‘if it’s not my idea, it’s not a good idea’.”

Munns sees herself as being part of the cure for the council, which needs to have a return to civility and optimism.

“I’m a glass-half-full kind of a person,” she said. “I’m not working for me. I’m working for the citizens.”

Hiteshew has a strong opinion about an issue no other candidate has addressed, at least not loudly, this year. He feels there is a need for a city youth program that actually provides better activities and facilities for children. He points out that youth in the city get pretty bored in the winter.

“We have a lot of parks,” he said, “but we have nothing indoors for kids, especially younger kids.”

Also, he wants the City Council to think twice about steep fee increases.

The candidates have different opinions on the question of what should be the city’s top priority among a long list of quality-of-life projects, from marina remodeling to the Windjammer plan to revitalize downtown.

Hiteshew somewhat dismisses the list and argues that spending priority should go to the essentials instead of quality-of-life projects.

“Priority should be taking care of infrastructure, things that are absolutely needed,” he said. “We should take care of what we have.”

Hiteshew said he likes the idea of a municipal pier, for example, but it shouldn’t be a priority.

Munns doesn’t feel there should be one “top priority” project.

“I see the priority list more as a tool,” she said. “If a grant opportunity comes around, what was fifth or sixth suddenly can become number one.”

On the question of the pier, Munns said she is in favor of the idea because it would be a focal point of the harbor. But she wouldn’t go as far as saying where she would rank the pier in terms of priority.

Munns and Hiteshew have similar ideas about many issues. Neither candidate, for example, took a strong stand on the question of development and growth.

From her time of the planning commission, Munns said she learned that officials’ ability to control development is constrained by regulations and laws, particularly the Growth Management Act. She said the council and the community in general should strive to balance the demands that come with growth.

“If people really care about their environment, they should be willing to work on a compromise,” she said.

Unlike other candidates for office, Munns doesn’t feel that the Wal-Mart complex is responsible for the traffic problem on Highway 20.

Likewise, Hiteshew said growth can’t be stopped and leaders have to find a balance.

“I don’t want to see development spread too quickly outside of the city,” he said.

Both candidates are in favor of videotaping and airing city committee and special meetings on TV, as long as the cost isn’t ridiculous.

“I don’t know why anyone would be against it,” Hiteshew said.

Munns pointed out that members of the council could watch the committee meetings on TV, while they couldn’t be there in person because of quorum restraints.

In addition, Munns is concerned about the Oak Harbor airport, which she feels should be owned publicly. She’s in favor of creating a new port district to run it, or working with the Coupeville Port District. She’s concerned about parking requirements for condos, which she said are insufficient and will lead to parking and traffic problems.

Hiteshew proposes that the city work to create incentives to lure business that offer skilled, good-paying jobs. He would also like to see officials work on ways to motivate people and get them more involved in city government.

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