Common Threads Northwest spoke with Pinky Vargas, who is running for Mayor of Bellingham.


CTNW: Why are you running for election for this office, and why do you believe that you are qualified for the position?

Pinky Vargas: I'm running for this office because—I absolutely love Bellingham! And I believe that we deserve a vibrant and thriving future; that's going to take some leadership. Because we're at a crossroads right now. We're growing fast, and some important decisions need to be made regarding our economic health and how we're going to accommodate a growth of 36,000 people.

The reason I think I'm qualified is, first-of-all, the mayor is responsible for 90,000 residences, 900 employees, and a $500-million budget. So that takes some experience to manage that large scope of responsibilities. I've spent the last 25-years as a businesswoman. I have a background in project management; I've managed multi-million-dollar budgets; I've led teams of hundreds of people to get projects done, meet the deadlines on time and on budget—which is critically important, staying on budget. I know how to get things done, [to] motivate people, inspire them to complete projects, and do it with grace and customer service. The experience that I have on city council: I've been there for six-and-a-half years and I've served almost every single role. I've been mayor pro tem. I've been council president. I'm currently chair of finance and economic development, which is a role that I've had for over three years. And I've served on almost every single committee, so that I could learn the complexity of what it takes to run the city, which you learn something [new] almost every single day. So, I think that experience is really what prepares me for the role, but also what separates me from my other competitors.

CTNW: What do you believe is the city of Bellingham's biggest financial challenge and how should it be addressed?

Pinky: I would say our biggest financial challenge right now is equal level of service throughout the entire city. We're also annexing right now. That means that we need additional firefighters. We need additional police officers. That means that we're going to need more money for parks, for infrastructure, for new sidewalks, new municipal buildings. So, I think our biggest challenges right now are making sure that everyone—in the financial realm—that everyone across the city gets equal level of service.

CTNW: And how will that be addressed, how will that happen?

Pinky: Well, we're in that process right now of looking at all our capital facilities costs, looking at what it's going to take regarding annexing how many 1FTEs that's going to take: fire, police, parks, et cetera. So, we're in that process right now of figuring that out about who's going to be annexed and what our needs are. And according to the 2GMA [Growth Management Act] and our regulations, when we annex, we have about six-years to fulfill our obligations with the GMA. So, we're looking at that right now, to figure it out. Because obviously not just me alone can solve that; that's an entire city—you know, parks director, the public works director, planning director, and the executive team, and obviously police and fire—so that's a collaborative conversation.

CTNW: Talking about, you know, doing all these capital projects, and basically, how they're going to be paid for, how best can the city of Bellingham build the tax base to pay for these services and capital projects?

Pinky: That is always the balance, right? Because sometimes when you annex, you're not necessarily going to get the amount of tax dollars that you need to cover annexing. So, figuring out how to pay for things right now and not putting an additional burden on our taxpayers right now is an important thing. You know, we're paying a lot of taxes right now and, if possible, I would not like to increase our taxes ‘and’ be able to manage what we have. Now that's always really challenging for people because they want you to pay for all kinds of new things, but doing that means that you have to increase your taxes, so at this point—and that may have to happen at some point, so I'm not going to say that I'm never going to raise taxes because I have no idea what our future holds. But I do know at this point I would like us to manage the money that we have right now and be effective with our budget. And again, that means that we [may] have to be leaner on some things.

CTNW: Building the tax base, what would you do to build the tax base to pay for them?

Pinky: You know, annexations is part of that, so you have more taxpayers. And when you have more people paying for things, it allows for more economies of scale to do things. So, I think annexation is really the only way to build our tax base right now.

CTNW: What do you believe the city of Bellingham is spending too much time and money on, and inverse of that, not enough time and money on?

Pinky: What's really consuming us right now—and I think they're both the same actually—is solving our housing crisis. The amount of effort that it is taking, in regard to resources—because the demand in our planning department is high, but also strategic planning, going through annexations, figuring how we're spending our money wisely with, like, our 3Bellingham Housing [Home] Fund—all of those things take an incredible amount of resources. Where I think we could spend a little bit more money is to maybe give them more staff to get the work done and solve these things. Because they're intensive, labor intensive, and it takes a lot of people to solve these things, and housing is probably one of our critical issues right now so...

CTNW: So, you don't feel we're spending enough time or money on departments like the Bellingham Housing [Home] Fund?

Pinky: The housing fund is just a portion of it, a portion of solving our housing affordability issue. So, what I'm saying is that I think that the planning department needs more resources right now, so I think we need to spend—that department is driving a lot of the things that are happening in our city right now. And I think they need more staff and resources in order to move us forward a little bit quicker and manage all the things that are under their umbrella.

CTNW: What is the city of Bellingham doing with the balance of infrastructure improvements and controlling the cost of borrowing?

Pinky: Financially, we're doing pretty good right now regarding what we're borrowing and what we have borrowed: long-term loans, etcetera, bonds, etcetera, things that we have done right now. I think we have done a pretty good job managing the money that we had. We've been prudent regarding what we're borrowing and what our investments are. "Balancing" is a good descriptor, and I don't know if it's totally accurate because I feel as though we need a lot more money for our infrastructure right now. Figuring out how we're going to pay for it is a big question and whether we are going to have to borrow, or not, some more in the future. So, I think going through this assessment around what our level of service is and going through all these different departments [will] help us figure out what we're going to need to do.

CTNW: So big issue: how can the city better address homelessness and poverty?

Pinky: Obviously, homelessness is an incredibly complex subject, and there are few cities around the country that are not experiencing the same thing we are, if they are on the coast. Most of the coastal cities are experiencing incredible numbers of homelessness. There are big systemic issues that are the background. So some of the things that we do right now are only addressing the end result, not the systemic issues of where they came from which is: housing affordability, or racism, mental health, substance abuse, all of those things that are part of the reason that people are in the circumstances that they are. Whether it's just because they've been totally out priced and have no place to live and end up in their car, or whether it's people who have mental health issues that have no way to get treatment or have no conduit to get help. So, one of the things that I think the city can do—again, I realize this is a huge issue and Bellingham alone is not going to solve this. But some of the things that we have been doing better is now, in the last six-months, we now have collaboration from our county and our Port; and it's not just Bellingham's issue, which was totally misleading, it's just all the resources are there. So, I think one of the things that might be important is for us to have other places for people to go.

The Lighthouse Mission has done an extraordinary job with the staff and the resources that they have and has done wonderful [things] for our community. But I think we need more options for people. They [the Lighthouse Mission] can't take that burden on all alone. I think it's important that we work with our partners right now to find other places to help people during the day, in the evening, during extreme weather, where there's more resources. I think those resources should possibly include a triage center, so instead of just sheltering people temporarily, we're giving them an option for treatment. That's [what] I think is the direction that we need to go.

Right now, one of the biggest struggles in this area is people lump everyone who's homeless into the same category, which we know is incredibly diverse. So, it's a balance between compassion and enforcement to keep people safe, but also to realize that some people are in circumstances that they never thought they were going to be in. So, I think broadening the discussion on the diversity of people who are experiencing being unsheltered is: how do we address people individually, and not as a lump of "everybody's homeless," and just understanding the diversity of needs there.

CTNW: So essentially, looking at having more resources available and setting up some type of city-sponsored or supported or whatever type of a triage?

Pinky: Yeah, I think so. And I think that that's something that we can do. We've been kind of talking about doing a justice center that maybe we could all do together and come up with different resources so that people can have all the services they need in one place.

CTNW: What do you believe Bellingham can do to help strengthen community and neighborhoods?

Pinky: One of the things that I hear a lot is that people don't feel that there's [an] opportunity to communicate, and whether that's a 2-way communication. I think that's something the city could do better, regarding how we allow individuals, neighborhoods, communities, organizations, to be able to communicate with the city, and have a 2-way communication.

So, part of it is stepping up how we communicate as a city, and instead of just sending out press releases, we talk about what something was [and how] we got there. I think BTV-10 is incredibly under-utilized. How we talk to our community and have [the] opportunity for the community to talk to us. I think that we don't utilize social media enough to allow people to communicate with us—because that's how people communicate; I think that we need to be more current in that way to allow for that interactivity and communication. So, for me, that's the biggest thing is improving our communication.

Also, I think it's important that the mayor is present in the community, and that the mayor is out in the community. So, it's not just communicating to the office, but the mayor is present and available in our community.

CTNW: The City of Bellingham made a recommendation for an ordinance that the city would have all new housing and buildings fossil free, and through the Climate Action Committee are currently considering mandating that existing buildings and homes are retrofit to power before they're sold. So, what does that mean to you? How realistic is the timeline? And what do you believe the cost will be to the residents living here, especially since we know that affordability is an issue? Is this going to help it? Do you agree or disagree with this policy?

Pinky: I wouldn't say it's that black and white of "agree or disagree." First of all: we asked the task force—and I will tell you that I wrote the resolution asking the task force to come up with suggestions to help us meet the goals, and to look at the suggestions that they come up with. Now, like every committee, you must take what's presented and see what's achievable as well. What they're proposing does not mean, just because what's proposed, [will be] exactly the track that the city will be able to take. I hope we can implement lots of the recommendations that they bring forward. But that hasn't been analyzed yet regarding what our steps are or what we can do.

I don't think that the city alone will be able to implement that kind of regulation. I've been working in energy efficiency for 13 years trying to get homes retrofitted, trying to get businesses retrofitted. It takes a long time, and it's expensive. There are incentives and there are things to help people get there. But that's a great segue: The only way that we could be successful in making that happen is if there were enough incentives from the utilities, from the state. Because the city won't be able to pay for additional incentives. We could maybe help them regarding fast-tracking permitting or changes or things like that. But the city can't afford to pay for the incentives, and I don't think we can force people to pay for things that they can't afford. So, I don't see how that could be strictly implemented without lots of big changes happening in our state, that the city alone can't take on. I think is an incredibly optimistic goal, but the city alone cannot achieve that, nor can the residents take on that financial burden.

There are some programs—you know, my day job [is at] PSE, we do low-income weatherization for homes. We also do it for manufactured homes. So, there are some programs to help people who are low income to get through that. But the biggest burden is often—and there's a wait list. It only goes so far. And then there's people who are just above the poverty line that maybe don't have as many resources and the incentives aren't as strong there. We can't afford to pay for that gap, so until the solutions are provided about how we're going to pay for that gap and not put the financial burden on people, I don't know how we would proceed with that.

CTNW: This is something I did not ask any of the other candidates but because you were involved in this particular issue, I want to give you an opportunity to talk more about it than others might, in that—it's been said that Cascade Natural Gas wasn't brought to the table. Can you expand on that?

Pinky: Yeah, I sure can—and I'm glad you asked me that question because part of the reason I asked for there to be a task force to be brought together was because I knew the city could not mandate these things without everybody coming to the table and figuring out how we were going to get there. In my original proposal I said both utilities should be involved, and during the task force process, a member of the task force proposed that Cascade Natural Gas not to be included. That is not what I asked for. Because I know for us to move forward, you need to have the utilities at the table. You need to have engineers at the table. You need to have Opportunity Council—you need to have all the partners who can make this happen and talk about the realities of transition. Because if you don't, then people who are speculating about how to get things done but are not cognizant of what a fuel transition looks like; which doesn't happen overnight. My home is heated by gas. I know that our hospitals are heated by gas. I know that our schools are heated by gas. I know that a lot of our businesses are heated by gas.

CTNW: And we've all done that because of the economics.

Pinky: Because of the economics, because gas is cheaper. So, this is something that I've worked on for years, which is why I was very clear about that it was important that the utilities be at the table. And then the task force was designated, the members were designated, by the mayor. In that task force, I was a representative on that task force that decided that they didn't think that Cascade Natural Gas should be included—which in my mind was not the best decision.

CTNW: Would that basically mean that this task force needs to, in some sense, regroup and fix that? Because it's a one-sided, skewed view. And from what I have heard and read, they did not during their task force take into consideration at all any of the actual costs that would be placed on—as they say it's the buyer, but in reality it will be the seller that will burden the costs. It'll either be the seller that will need to reduce the cost, or the buyer will have to be rich.

Pinky: Again, back to the reason for the task force was to break it down: who's going to pay for it? What are the costs? All of that was part of the resolution.

CTNW: Was that done, as far as costs?

Pinky: So far, I have not seen that. But then again, we have not received a full recommendation from the task force. So that was part of the equation, and it needs to be part of what is presented to us.

CTNW: So, how can the city of Bellingham create more opportunities for young adults? And by young adults I mean graduates from high school, graduates from the technical college, the community college to Western. Opportunities to be able to stay here and not have to move away.

Pinky: That's a huge concern of mine, and that's why I often, when I talk about as mayor, the three major priorities that I'm going to focus on are: a strong local economy, affordable housing, homelessness, and how to address climate change. So, number one is the economy. If we don't have living-wage jobs here for people, then our economy's not going to do very well. And obviously we don't have taxes to pay for things, so it's kind of important for us to focus on economic development because we won’t be thriving and growing without it.

Like I said, I've been chair of Finance and Economic Development for quite a few years. I helped move it forward for us as a county to have a representative as an economic development director. So, the Port agreed to take that on and hired Don Goldberg, who I think is doing a great job in looking at all the things that we have, as a county, to figure out how we can foster what we have here. That means helping our businesses grow that are here, and make it easier for them to do business, and allowing them to grow. And part of that sometimes is a challenge, like even in the permitting department, when it’s trying to grow. If we want to grow economic development, we must help those businesses, make it easier for them to grow and hire more staff.

So a couple things that we could—in regards to looking at how our future is right now—one of the things that, like I said, I think that we're doing better is collaborating with our county, with our ports, with our tribes, and also including our educational institutions. So that we're not just talking about just the kids who graduate from Western, what their job opportunities are, but growing our workforce development. There a lot of labor jobs right now that, I think, are not being fulfilled. This emphasis on just a university degree path is not the right path for everybody. We need all kinds of diversity in our workforce, so working with our educational institutions and growing economic development in regards to the jobs of the future is training them to get where they need to go, and us strengthening and encouraging those kinds of businesses here, and supporting and nurturing the businesses we have so that they can grow.

I don't want kids to leave town anymore. I want them to have an opportunity to stay here. So, for us to have a strategic regional economic strategy, it is critically important, because just the city of Bellingham alone, we can't create all those jobs. Just the Port, they can't create all those jobs. But if we're looking at who we are—and I think we're on a good path right now of figuring out what we need and who we need to help grow, and what businesses we have right now. I feel like we're heading in the right direction in ensuring that we're growing our economy and growing our workforce.

CTNW: What do you believe is the city of Bellingham's biggest economic development opportunity?

Pinky: I see a couple different things... I would say technology because Seattle is such a tech hub, I think that there's opportunity for us to have people who could do satellite offices and grow some of our tech here. We have had some pretty phenomenal—like TAG has a lot of great members. So, I think there's opportunity there. I also think that there's opportunity regarding, like I was saying, developing our labor force. We don't have enough people to build homes right now. We don't have enough electricians to do the work. Right now, there's a limited amount of workforce regarding building and development. So that's an area that we can help with—and I think that maybe through our educational institutions—on training [and on] hiring that workforce locally.

Another thing that the city could do is more manufacturing. We have a little bit more opportunity in industrial areas. So, whether that's processing plants, and that could be for—you know, we have an incredible agricultural county, so helping with processing, packaging, those kinds of things, there's opportunity there. There are things like renewable energy, like Itek [Energy], who was bought out by [Silfab Solar]. So, manufacturing renewable products and solar panels right here, that's something we can do.

I think outdoor recreation is probably another great opportunity for economic development—it's been growing like crazy. We have all kinds of new bike [shops]—like Evil Bikes in Fairhaven—there are all kinds of outdoor recreation opportunities right now. I think that's an area that we could foster.

I also think tourism is another opportunity for us regarding economic development. We're an incredible place and we have everything to offer. So, I think growing our outdoor recreation—and last year, from 2017 to 2018, our tourism revenue grew by 8.9 percent, which is phenomenal, we're like fifth in the state right now. We could increase that regarding tourism. I think there's lots of opportunity there. So that's another way for economic development.

Another thing that we could do is, that, we haven't profiled our city in regards to—like I'm on the tourism board, and some of the things that we've been starting to grow, in regards to events, like doing special projects [such as] SeaFeast, that grows our city profile. There's more opportunity to do things like concerts like we did with Odessa. So, I think there's more opportunity to grow our profile of our city which, again, could obviously help more in tourism [and] boost our economy.

CTNW: With regards to basic services, where do think we need improvement? And by basic services I mean like roads, water. Is there something that you believe that the city should be doing more to improve our basic services, safety, all of it.

Pinky: Let's start with safety: we need more police officers and we need more fire department[s]. And so, I say that's one of the number-one, regarding safety, we absolutely need more staff. And a perception of public safety right now is not super great. So, I think that's an important factor.

When it comes to our infrastructure, I would say that our biggest needs are probably also tied with safety in that many neighborhoods that have grown a lot now need sidewalks. We are not 4ADA compliant right now on all our sidewalks and our buildings and our infrastructure. So, ensuring that all our sidewalks and buildings are updated for ADA compliance is a big deal, and costly. So, I would say those are part of our needs.

I also hear the concern around public fiber [-optic communication], and people wanting to bring down costs for internet and make it more affordable. So that's another thing that could be part of our infrastructure as well. How do we work with the county and the Port—and the Port is working on public fiber throughout the county—how do we partner with them? So those are infrastructure concerns as well, but I think making sure that our roads feel safe, our sidewalks in our neighborhoods—whether they're old neighborhoods that don't have sidewalks or new neighborhoods that we're building—making sure that everybody has access and safety, in regards to core [services].

CTNW: Any issues with regards to water?

Pinky: Oh, lots of issues regarding water, not around safety but around cost. Obviously with growth and with dealing with managing stormwater, wastewater, those costs increase as well. We've been having to make some pretty big investments over the last couple years in our wastewater treatment, in our stormwater, and how we're dealing with that— how we're addressing Lake Whatcom and keeping our drinking water clean. So those are always big concerns of the city. Also, how we're sharing water. Water is probably a topic we could talk about all on its own for a very, very long time, but it's obviously a huge priority with the city.

CTNW: What do you think the city should or could do to improve the city's environment and parks?

Pinky: I think we're pretty lucky regarding the number of parks that we have, and the amount of green spaces that we have. The challenge is, as we're growing, making sure that all the other neighborhoods have the same kinds of parks and access that everybody else does. Also, aging infrastructure in our parks, maintenance, making sure that the equipment is updated and current and serves the community that it's in. That's always part of the conversation as well is maintenance.

CTNW: So, do you believe that the level of service for parks is adequate or that it needs more?

Pinky: No, I think that some parks need to be updated and some areas don't have as much access to parks as other areas. So, going through this level of service assessment that we've been going through also includes parks, and who needs more parks and who needs things updated in older parks that may not serve the community anymore. So, there needs to be more equity in the level of service for parks.

CTNW: And the environment?

Pinky: Of course: big question. That, again, I think is way more complex even than parks. Some of the things—part of the reason that I originally ran for city council was I wanted to be a voice for women, the environment, and for social justice. Because I felt my expertise in conservation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, could be a useful tool.

Some of the things that I've brought to this city is the Bellingham Energy Prize which we placed third in the nation; which was an extraordinary 3-year campaign which took a lot effort to reduce energy in our city and to reduce energy in our schools. In our municipal buildings and our residences. I also was a founder of the Community Energy Challenge, and that's when I used to work with Cascade Natural Gas; I worked for them before PSE. So that's always been part of what I've worked on at the city. It is a priority to me.

There are things that I wish that we could have done quicker, and there are things that I still want us to do. Obviously, I want to look at some of the recommendations that come out of the task force. But I think the city should be able to do more renewable energy on their own. I think that there are locations that we should be able to put solar panels on. I'd like to see a lot of things that are single source be driven by solar panels, so they are providing their own energy. We need to make changes in our fleet vehicles so that we're using more hybrid vehicles or electric vehicles; and that's a big thing. I also think that looking at how we're going to provide different options for multi-mode transportation is an important part of that—so electric bikes, scooters, our bike-pedestrian plan—that as we move forward, all of those things are implemented so we can reduce our carbon foot print. Our municipal buildings: making sure our municipal buildings are the most energy-efficient that they can possibly be. We can't ask things of others that we are not doing ourselves. I think it's important that the city lead on those things and they implement them.

Another thing the city could do is—we may not be able to do incentives for people, but maybe there are incentives in regard to less cost for a business or an organization, to do less costs maybe through the permitting process to do changes, etcetera. Or we fast-track them. Or we give them things around density bonuses could help as well. Those kinds of things that could help mitigate some of the costs of them being able to do environmental protections. I know that was long, but I can go on and on about that subject!

CTNW: What style of leadership would you bring, and what style of leadership do you think the city needs right now?

Pinky: I would say that servant leadership is my style, and I believe that is what we need right now. Again, going back to the statement that I would never ask of others what I am not willing to do myself. Setting a tone and setting an example. Servant leadership means that you are asking others to be included in the conversation, that your leadership style is from working with others to figure out what our needs are and coming to a place of solution. And that's what I think we need regarding making sure that all entities feel as though they're being heard.

I often feel like we have way more in common than what separates us. If we just focus on what those common needs are that we need to solve and ensure that everybody has a seat at the table and recognizing that a team effort makes us much more effective in getting things done. For me, what I like to do is I like to hear all sides of the story to figure out what direction we should go in, where the most needs are going to be met, and the solutions that we can provide. So, I'm very solution oriented. What solves our problem? What helps us move the needle? And I don't know all those answers.

What I've learned over the years is that if you bring a lot of smart people together who are dealing with the issues, they often know what the solutions are. And as a servant leader, that allows for that opportunity for people to feel like they can contribute, and that there is an open door for them to be able to share their voice before decisions are made.

CTNW: Last question: Governor Inslee recently declared the State of Washington to be a "sanctuary state." What does that mean to you? Do you agree or disagree with that decision? And how will we deal with the local compliance on this issue?

Pinky: So, first-of-all I want to tell you that I'm an immigrant. I came to this country 25-years ago, and it was an incredibly difficult and challenging process, and I was only coming from Canada. I married a Marine. It was incredibly difficult [for me] and I had all the things that I needed. So, I see that immigration is incredibly complex and difficult, and I want our immigrant community to feel safe in Bellingham. Regarding what the complexity of the rules are of implementing this, I can't address that because I don't know all the specifics, but I think I'd better reach out to Sheriff Elfo and ask him, and also to our police department too. I will tell you that the city did a resolution for safety and protection, or a welcoming resolution, for our immigrant community to feel safe. That we will not ask people what their immigrant status is when we are dealing with them in a situation.

I have been reluctant as with most of the council members to call our city [a sanctuary city]—right now, most of our regulations mirror what a sanctuary city would be. We've chosen not to call our city a "sanctuary city" because we did not want that unnecessary attention. It was rather just let's provide a city that feels safe and where immigrants know they have a voice, versus putting a sanctuary city target on us that might draw [an] unnecessary target on us. If we can just provide [a] place to feel safe and follow the rules that we've all agreed on with the sheriff's department and the police department, [and] about not asking on immigration status, then I think we have more opportunity for success. If the whole state is doing it, then that's something that we will need to comply with. I don't know what that means for us, and I don't know what that's going to mean for us as a city or a county.

One fallacy that I do hear sometimes is that in our resolution, that we said that we won’t comply regarding criminal behavior, and that is not true, and that we won't work with 5ICE completely either. Because there are times where we absolutely—like we just went through a huge prostitution ring [in cooperation] with the sheriff's department, and without part of that collaboration, that couldn't have been done. So there [are] circumstances where we absolutely need to work with the federal government on being compliant on dealing with our criminal behavior. And criminal behavior is a different issue and needs to be enforced. What we are not doing is we're not asking people from the onset what their immigration status is and allowing them an opportunity to feel safe and be heard. So, there is some misconception around that.

CTNW: So as far as agreeing or disagreeing with Inslee's making the state a sanctuary state, do you agree or disagree with Governor Inslee's executive action on that?

Pinky: I don't feel like it's that black and white for me; I really don't. I want people to feel safe, and I feel like in our country right now, there are a lot of people who feel threatened. One of the things our current president did, which directly affects me, is said that if you came from another country, and your status is—that I am now considered a second-class citizen because I'm an immigrant. So even though I've been here for 25-years, have done all the things as a citizen, I know that even my ability to be here in this country right now is not guaranteed. And I'm in a good place. Never mind all the people, particularly 6DACA students who came in who were promised that they were going to have safety, that their names would not be submitted to immigration, you know, that promise has been taken away from them at the highest level. That has created incredible uncertainty. Do I want people to feel safe? Yes, I do. Am I worried about calling ourselves a "sanctuary state" because of what the implications could be on that? Yes, I am. So, I can't say I agree or disagree because it's not black and white for me.

CTNW: Alright, now's your opportunity to share with us something you wish that we had asked you.

Pinky: I feel like you have asked broader questions than many people do. Often, we're focused on how we are going to help the homeless, how are going to help housing, and how are we going to address climate change; and they're not asking how you are going to run the city. You asked some of those questions which I really appreciate, because I think it's important that we look at people's experience, and whether people can do the job. And I think that not enough emphasis is brought to that subject. Because if you have a mayor who doesn't have very much experience and staff who've been doing things their way for a very long time, if you don't have the kind of leader that can inspire people to do change, or that they want to make a difference in improving people's lives, they will operate the way they have always operated. You might have a new mayor, but you might not have a new leader.

I think experience and how to lead staff—one of the questions that's not being asked is how you have dealt with difficult situations. How have you been tested and tried, and how do you move forward, or do you just run away? And you're leading 900 employees, uniformed and non-uniformed. Most have union negotiations, and staff that take direction from the mayor. So how you implement change, how you encourage staff to make change, how you hold [staff] accountable, how you hold them to the greatness of the city. Those are the things I think people should be asking around how are you going to implement some of your vision. So those are important questions that I think people aren't asking.

The reason that I think that I'm going to be an effective mayor is because I have gone through some very difficult situations. Even being council president teaches you so much about public perception, about process, about working with all of the entities to find collaboration and get through results, deal with difficult situations and still be at the table; to make sure that we're not making people [feel] wrong just because they're voicing their opinions. Ensuring that we're not shutting people out. And those I think are important traits regarding leadership; staying at the table when it gets difficult. It's easy to say you have a vision. Show me how you've had to implement things or gone through difficult situations and what your leadership style is then. And so that's what I think is sometimes missing from these conversations is how you're going to get the work done.

1 FTE: Full-time Employee

2 Growth Management Act: GMA - https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=36.70A

3 Bellingham Home Fund: https://www.cob.org/services/housing/

4 ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act - https://www.ada.gov/

5 ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement - https://www.ice.gov/

6 DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - https://www.uscis.gov/archive/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca

You can find our more about Pinky Vargas and her campaign at votepinkyvargas.com.

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