Two men who tried unsuccessfully to get an appointed seat on Oak Harbor City Council last year have thrown their hats in the ring for the same seat this election cycle.
Bryan Stucky, owner of Wallin-Stucky Funeral Home, and Earl “Andy” Plumlee, the operations manager of Island Drug, are running for the seat currently held by Councilmember Millie Goebel.
Plumlee said he is running to be a voice for those people “in the middle” that do not get adequate representation in local politics.
“I think there’s a segment of the population that doesn’t get the level of representation that they should and I think I’m the guy to do it,” Plumlee said, referencing people who are single parents or work at most of the city’s businesses.
Stucky shared similar thoughts, explaining that his business and his community involvement let him interact with people “from all walks of life.”
“Our political climate has gotten quite polarized. I’m not trying to get on council for a single issue or political agenda,” Stucky said. “I pride myself on looking at both sides of an issue.”
One of the biggest items on the council’s agenda for the next several years will be spending its $6.6 million in American Rescue Plan funding. A committee made up of a couple of council members and staff have begun working on how to prioritize the funds.
Stucky’s chief concern was utility rate relief. The city has raised residents’ utility rates and will continue to do so to keep up with the costs of the sewage treatment plant and other infrastructure. Residents have felt the pinch.
“We all know our utility rates in the city are way too high, and the city overspent,” Stucky said. “We need to right that wrong the best we can and I think adding money to utility relief would help with that. When we talk about affordable housing, there’s more to it — there are also utilities that go with that house.”
He also wanted the city to create a survey — online and mailed out to residents — to ask for input on how to spend the stimulus dollars.
Plumlee’s top two ideas were to increase internet access and fund job skills training.
“I’d like to see some type of program that incentivizes specialists — speech therapists, occupational therapists, (people with) training in autism and ADHD — that we don’t have on the island,” he explained. “Let’s put some money into training our community so they stay here.”
He suggested that Oak Harbor is small enough that it could offer internet as a utility. The nearby city of Anacortes has been building out a municipal internet infrastructure and Oak Harbor has been in talks with officials to bring it to Whidbey.
The candidates differed in their approach to the issue of affordable housing. Plumlee said that more development would not help the problem, while Stucky said that a lack of affordable housing could be alleviated by incentives for developers to build more.
“Building more housing just brings in more speculators and raising prices,” Plumlee said, adding that there needs to be a certain level of “protectionism” to keep people local.
“If we don’t build up the skills and financial well-being of our community then — I mean we’re struggling,” he said. “Simply saying build more is not the answer.”
Stucky said the increase in development would naturally bring house prices down over time. He referenced ideas like lowering fees for builders, making it easier to build multi-family homes and changing requirements for parking — all of which are in the city’s Housing Action Plan — as ways to achieve the goal.
“(Let’s) make sure the city sticks to the plan that they helped create,” he said. He also highlighted utility rate relief as a way to help families with housing costs.
On the matter of employee turnover in the city, both candidates said they would want to talk to employees about their jobs. Stucky said that he had heard from some former staff who told them they “do not feel that heard” by city council members, but that the problem was a tricky one for the council to solve because it is not supposed to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the city.
Plumlee said that he was not very familiar with the turnover at city hall but that there must be a root cause.
Stucky said voters should choose him for his community involvement and how easy it is to contact him. He is the past president of the Rotary Club of North Whidbey Island Sunrise and vice president of North Whidbey Help House. He is also a member of the city Planning Commission.
“I’m very open to hearing from people on different points of view,” Stucky said.
Plumlee reiterated that he felt he would best represent the people in the middle of the crowd but added that he thought voters had two good choices.
“I don’t think the community is going to lose if (Stucky’s) in that seat and I’m not,” he said. “I just think the representation is going to be different.”
Election day is Nov. 2