Three familiar faces and one newcomer are competing for two available Pullman City Council seats Nov. 5. The candidates care about the city’s transparency with residents, the future of downtown Pullman and the city’s infrastructure.
Eileen Macoll, an incumbent running for her second full term, is being challenged by Francis Benjamin for the at-large seat. If elected, this would mark Benjamin’s second stint as a city councilor. He previously served from 2003 to 2015.
For the Ward 1 seat, incumbent Ann Parks is running for her second term against Chris Johnson, Chief Financial Officer for Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
Each seat is nonpartisan and each term is four years.
Macoll vs. Benjamin
Both Macoll and Benjamin see exciting changes in Pullman’s future and are hoping to help steer Pullman through those changes while serving on the city council.
Macoll said she wanted to run for reelection because she is excited to help Pullman enter a new era.
“When communities reach 35,000, 36,000 population, that’s kind of a tipping point in terms of you’re no longer a small town,” she said. “Now you have to deal with big city things.”
That means improving technology, infrastructure, water systems, streets and roads to prepare for that tipping point. Macoll said going forward, the city will be more sensitive to the needs of its citizens and sensitive to the importance of city planning as it continues to grow.
Benjamin, who is also part of the organization Pullman 2040, said he also values the needs of the community. Several community members informed him they would like to see his type of leadership back on the council, which is what prompted him to run for election. That type of leadership, he said, involves promoting collaboration.
“I look to find ways to collaborate with as many people as possible,” he said. “I really feel that I don’t have the best answers, but from the community we can come up with the best answers.”
Benjamin and Macoll each support improvements to the downtown business sector.
Pullman is working with a consultant, BDS, to develop a master plan to make downtown more appealing and economically successful. The master plan is expected to be completed by February.
Macoll said the city is focused on getting the master plan done and phasing in those improvements in a realistic way. At the top of the priority list, she said is making downtown Pullman accessible to everyone, from people using wheelchairs and walkers, to those pushing baby strollers. However, that means more than simply meeting American with Disabilities Act standards.
“That’s not enough,” she said. “It has to be beautiful and inviting.”
Benjamin, too, wants downtown to be more accessible, in addition to being business friendly. He also believes it will be better served by creating a bypass highway that will reroute much of the highway traffic around downtown, making it easier for Pullman to make changes to Main Street and Grand Avenue.
As the city undergoes changes or starts new projects, Benjamin said it is important the city finds ways to communicate these issues with the public. He said that means using technology more effectively to communicate with the public and understanding residents’ concerns.
“This city hasn’t caught up with technology and all the different ways they can, and should, be communicating to the public,” he said. “I think there’s times in which the city staff hasn’t anticipated correctly that something would be a hot-button issue or not.”
Macoll said the city should also anticipate not only concerns for the near future, but for the long term. For example, preparing for changes in the weather leading to events like flash floods and harsher storms. She said the city is planning 50 years in the future when it comes to improving snow removal and stormwater infrastructure.
Macoll said all Pullman has a lot going for it, and that is what makes it an easy choice for those choosing to settle there.
“It’s easy to shop here, it’s easy to find a good healthcare provider, it’s easy to be confident that your kids are in a good school,” she said, adding it is also easy to find good employment.
Benjamin, too, noted the good education, health care and employment options in Pullman, as well as a business-friendly environment. He said with more people moving to the city, it is important that the city tries to be as welcoming as possible to its new neighbors.
“I really feel that good neighbors are what’s necessary in order to accomplish the things we want to accomplish as a community,” he said.
Parks vs. Johnson
Both Parks and Johnson share concerns that the city is not always transparent with the public.
Transparency is one of the main motivating factors for why Johnson is running for city council. After his family moved to Pullman five years ago, they and their neighbors were concerned about a new housing development taking shape next to their homes called Sundance South. When the Johnsons and their neighbors looked to the city for information about bike lanes, parks and other components of the development, their concerns grew, he said.
“It was apparent that there wasn’t a lot of strategy or thought that was going into it from a city standpoint,” he said, adding that information about the project did not seem to be readily available.
His friends encouraged him to run for city council, and Johnson hopes to help the city communicate clearly with the public so public trust does not erode.
“It’s not that anyone’s hiding anything, it’s just that there’s not good information out there and it’s hard to find,” he said. “I think we need to turn that around.”
In a more recent example, he noted a lack of information about it was decided to spend millions of the city’s reserve dollars to cover the added costs to Pullman’s planned city hall relocation.
Parks also said city communication is one of Pullman’s most important issues right now. She said the city must be reactive to the public’s desire to be informed, and look into using technology like social media to better reach people.
Parks said she is partnering with Councilor Dan Records on creating a communication plan that informs the public what the city council can and cannot share with the public according to state laws.
Parks said she is running for reelection because she wants to apply the knowledge she has gained in her first term to the city’s policymaking, and to serve the needs of the public. She hopes that will include the city updating its comprehensive plan to better suit those needs.
Parks said another issue she is focused on is making downtown Pullman more ADA accessible. She said several residents have expressed to her their frustrations about the lack of handicapped parking spots and the challenges disabled people have when trying to visit downtown businesses.
As the city explores changes to downtown and elsewhere, Johnson said the city should prioritize safety, infrastructure maintenance and strategic planning.
“Our single largest opportunity here in this community is to make sure that we are strategic, that we plan out and that we do development in the right way,” he said. “I’m a big advocate for economic development and developers, I want to see them be successful. But in order for developers to be successful, the community has to be successful.”
Parks said among Pullman’s current successes are its diverse population, livability, quality of schools and green spaces.
Johnson said in addition to Pullman’s amenities, Pullman boasts a community of neighbors that do not hesitate to help each other.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to email@example.com.