Kitsap commissioner candidates make county permitting a campaign issue

The Kitsap County Department of Community Development was the central point of contention among Central Kitsap commissioner candidates Thursday during a forum hosted by the Bremerton NAACP.

The forum, which lasted about three hours at Kitsap Community Resources in Bremerton.

The three county commissioner challengers to incumbent Democrat Josh Brown criticized the Department of Community Development for taking too long to issue new building permits, inhibiting county growth, after a question from the audience.

"We have a customer service problem," said Abby Burlingame, an East Bremerton Republican who described the department as "arrogant." "They're not remembering who they're accountable to."

Wally Carlson, an East Bremerton Democrat who has owned a custom homebuilding business for 40 years, said the Department of Community Development needs to be re-evaluated, calling it on the of the "bottlenecks" of county government.

"Regular citizens, they just can't imagine that this passes for public service," he said.

Brown defended the department, saying that he has helped the county build a collaborative relationship with builders and the construction industry and that the department has reduced its backlog of permit applicants during his four years in office. He said that despite previous inefficiencies in the department and a period of instability - the department had 10 planning directors in 10 years before Brown was elected - the department has become more customer-friendly.

"I think we've made a lot of progress," Brown said. "I believe the department is much stronger today than when I took office four years ago."

Silverdale Republican David Corley said he wants to hear more from voters on the issue, but he would eliminate the department's barriers to permitting.

"Red tape is money and I would eliminate the red tape," he said.

Carlson proposed a forum with Department of Community Development officials, to which Burlingame and Corley agreed. Brown declined to comment on the idea.

Audience members also asked the candidates about the status of county parks, including Wildcat Lake, which had been closed Wednesdays and Thursdays until last week, when volunteers stepped in to keep it open seven days per week until Sept. 23, when it will close for the winter.

Burlingame said Parks and Recreation has made it difficult for parks volunteers to help keep parks open.

Brown said he wants to establish a countywide contact person in 2011 to work with volunteers on parks and trails projects.

"We need park stewards and volunteers," Brown said, adding that the county relies on community members to help maintain parks such as the Illahee Preserve in the face of Parks and Recreation budget cuts.

The forum first featured candidates for the 23rd, 26th and 35th legislative districts, who answered audience questions for the first 75 minutes. U.S. congressional challengers in the First and Sixth districts, James Watkins, R-Redmond, and Doug Cloud, R-Tacoma, also participated. The two are running against Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, respectively. Dicks and Inslee did not attend.

Kitsap County's primary election is Aug. 17.

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