Robert (Bob) Baggett is running for Auburn City Council Position No. 7. He is running for a second term. Baggett’s opponent is Vera Orlandic-Hodak. With only two candidates running, this race is not in the primary and will go straight to the general election.
Auburn Examiner: What part of Auburn do you live and why did you choose to live there?
Robert (Bob) Baggett: My wife Pattee and I live in the northern part of Auburn. We decided to downsize from the Lea Hill area of Auburn, a couple of years ago, and now live in a new home in the valley area.
AE: Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
RB: We enjoy Les Gove Park, the Auburn Community & Event Center, the Auburn Senior Center, Emerald Downs, Regal Theater (We’re movie buffs!!), and the Coyaba Grill at the Muckleshoot Casino (Great breakfasts!!). Also, we frequent the Auburn Ave Theater and The Rainbow Café in the downtown area.
AE: Where do you do your grocery shopping?
RB: Mostly at Fred Meyer’s and Safeway, with an occasional visit to Walmart in Auburn and the Costco in Covington.
AE: How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our city?
RB: I encourage my constituents to communicate their feeling on matters before the City Council with me and their other Councilmembers to fully understand their position regarding any issues. This also includes businesses in Auburn, and I further encourage those that I speak with to attend our City Council Meetings every Monday at City Hall to learn the issues that come before Council for a vote and to speak to those that are important to them.
AE: What are your main infrastructure goals for Auburn?
RB: We need to continue the replacement of our aging infrastructure elements that provide the necessary services to our Auburn community. A few years ago, our city celebrated its 125th anniversary and many of our infrastructure elements such as streets, bridges, sidewalks, utilities, and the many other services that most of us usually take for granted, often require major repairs or replacement every year or so to continue providing services to our residents. I believe that we must continue to be fiscally responsible to our residents for these purposes, and that our biennial city budgets and any available grant monies that Council approves should be spent wisely for this benefit.
AE: How would you evaluate whether a new piece of public infrastructure in our city (roads, bridges, etc.) would be worth implementing?
RB: We have an experienced staff at the city in the Public Works, Engineering, Planning, and Community Development Departments, that do most of the research and documentation that provides Councilmembers with the tools to determine the necessity and funding for any and all expenditures for public infrastructure work. These are presented to the Council for approval which allows for questions and answers to be provided prior to the decision-making process. These items are usually brought forward to the council for review during study sessions, that occur on the second, third, and fifth (when necessary and available) Mondays of every month, prior to a vote by our seven (7) member City Council during the first and third Mondays of each month.
AE: If elected, what steps would you take to put our city on a firmer financial footing?
RB: We are very fortunate that our City Council, Mayor, and Staff are fiscally-responsible bodies that have demonstrated, over the years, that they can ensure that the City of Auburn maintains a sound and firm financial ability. This ability allows the City Council to establish and approve fiscal policy that has carried our city forward even during recessive periods and with the significant growth that our city continues to experience. We are constantly planning ahead so that we may avoid any major fiscal shortfalls in future years such as lack of revenues and other funding from federal, state, and county agencies that our city depends on annually.
AE: In looking at the city’s budget, what portions of the budget would you advocate to be increased, and which would you advocate to be decreased?
RB: I believe that public safety is paramount in our city, especially when we are experiencing considerable growth. I would advocate for increasing our first responders (police and fire) above all. Health and Human Services would be a close second. Those areas that I believe could possibly be candidates for decrease may be our City Parks, Art, and Recreation budgets (second highest) and possibly some limited reduction in city travel and training budgets. I do need to qualify the latter, because many of these budget expenditures either result in obtaining additional revenues for the city or are required to maintain certifications that are required by law for many of our departments.
AE: Pierce County (and south King County) have the fastest-growing housing markets in the state. As housing prices continue to rise, what is your plan for providing affordable housing?
RB: Seattle-based housing has risen exponentially over the years, resulting in many residents to move to the south for relief. While even our city’s rental rates and new housing costs have increased, they are still much lower and more affordable. I believe that working with the county housing authority and home builder’s associations, we can still find affordable housing in Auburn. This is a difficult issue to deal with, and we do not wish to invoke rent controls in our city, if they can be avoided. By providing some limited incentives within the law to developers and home builders, the city is encouraged to see that they will often pass these savings onto the residents. The city is very limited by state laws as to what incentives may be offered to developers and builders in the housing markets; therefore, our city staff is working to create other legal means to reduce these costs by perhaps deferring some city-based fees, costs of permits, and the like, hopefully with the condition that these elements be used to assist or offset resident costs wherever and wherever possible. The average income of residents in our city is in the mid-to-high $80,000 range and hopefully will continue to grow. Remember that the term “affordable” is a relative term depending upon where you reside and your income level.
AE: Should Auburn offer developers incentives to build affordable housing? If so, what kind?
RB: Please see the response to question above.
AE: The city recently unveiled a public art installation at Les Gove Park, “Crow with Fries.” How do you feel about public art?
RB: I believe that public art is a good thing in our community and allows various artists to express their art for the public interest. As you drive around the city, you will see many sculptures and expressions of various artists which are on display for the benefit of our residents. Art is a somewhat discriminatory form of expression by an artist. Not everyone sees or appreciates the intent or message that an artist is conveying, while some do.
AE: Some residents feel the amount spent on this sculpture was too much. Do you agree, if so, why?
RB: Our city has an Art Commission that is made up primarily of residents of our city. This commission unanimously voted to accept the artist’s bid and send it forward for Council approval. Would I have preferred a sculpture of another form, perhaps!! Perhaps an Eagle, but one already exists at the park. Was the cost excessive, perhaps; however, I do not think anyone will argue that this sculpture definitely catches the eye and has become quite the attraction at our park, and I was one of many on the Council that voted to approve the expenditure.
AE: There are several empty commercial spaces available throughout the city. Should Auburn offer incentives for businesses to come to Auburn? If so, what kind?
RB: Please see the response to question [“Pierce County (and south King County) have the fastest-growing housing markets in the state. As housing prices continue to rise, what is your plan for providing affordable housing?”] *Baggett lettered his responses, we are editing this response for clarity to match our formating.
AE: Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and attractive to consumers? If not, what would you do to change that?
RB: No, but it is a work in progress that may take years to develop!! The Council is working with staff and our Economic Development Department and other city departments to fill the empty building spaces. As explained earlier, legal incentives are limited for the city, but are still being offered to potential businesses whenever possible. The fire that ravaged the former Heritage Building has definitely contributed to the visual appearance of the city, and the city is awaiting the owner, the insurance company, and prospective developer/builders to resolve abatement and other issues before proceeding with a specific plan that does not involve the city at this time. When issues are resolved, this landmark location should be a major change to the aesthetic appearance of our downtown corridor. The city continues to offer businesses a façade improvement share grant to assist in the appearance of the downtown area. We currently have two new multi-story buildings in various stages of planning and construction along Division and A Streets. One has already broken ground and the other may begin construction later this year.
AE: How would you assist small businesses in Auburn?
RB: The city, in collaboration with the Port of Seattle, has opened a conference center for prospective business enterprises at the commuter train station that offers facilities and services to small business owners wanting to do business in Auburn. The city also sponsors a Networking workshop that regularly meets at different locations within the city to assist existing and prospective new business owners networking opportunities within the city. I have fully supported each of the above offerings in the interest of bringing a variety of potential new businesses to our city.
AE: The Auburn Police Department recently had two fatal officer-involved shootings. What changes, if any, would you make to how these incidents were handled by both the police department and city officials?
RB: The Mayor, Council members, and staff, were briefed on both incidents and the established course of actions taken. Our Auburn Police Department has strict policies in effect that deal specifically with officer-involved shootings or the discharge of weapons, which I fully support and would not change. With any shooting incident involving an officer, there is an investigation that is made by other outside law enforcement agencies to avoid any bias. I have not been apprised of the outcome of either investigations at this time and must conclude that both are still under investigation.
AE: If elected, what would be your suggestions to best address resident and business owner concerns related to crime?
RB: The city holds several community outreach meetings at various locations around the city annually to deal with this issue and others. These meetings are open to the public and usually or often include the Mayor, members of city staff and City Council, representatives from the Auburn Police Department, and interpreters (when appropriate) to assist where English may not be the attendees primary language. These town hall-style meetings usually will deal with various concerns and issues brought forward by our residents, and may be several in a series of meetings as necessary to reach residents. I believe that these meetings and others presented by the city offer our residents an opportunity to discuss the issues and answer questions about their concerns.
AE: Auburn’s homeless population is a concern for many residents and business owners. What are your suggestions to address these concerns, while also meeting the needs of these often-vulnerable members of society?
RB: There are several factions that make up our homeless community in Auburn. Some are homeless because they have no choice, some are homeless because of mental health or behavioral health issues, drug addition, homeless because they want the freedom and want to be, and there are even some who prey on the other homeless, just to name a few. Not all homeless are menaces to society, but all need help and compassion in one form or another. Auburn is fortunate to have many non-profit organizations including Valley Cities, Nexus, The Auburn Food Bank, the YMCA, many service organizations including the Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary, some of which our city may support in many different ways. Our Auburn Police, Code Enforcement, and others within the city, address these issues with our residents and business community, while working to help resolve each individual’s reasons for their particular situation. The police do not usually arrest a homeless person unless they have committed a crime, but in many instances they are treated compassionately and may be transported to a hospital, shelter, or other facility where they can be properly treated.
AE: If you are not elected, what would you do to try to help work on ideas or issues that are important to you?
RB: I have always been a civic-minded person and served our community in many capacities. Prior to my election in 2016, I served for eight years on the Auburn Planning Commission and continue to serve on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to make Auburn The Healthiest City in Washington by 2020. I have served as President of two homeowner associations in Auburn, and currently as President of the Auburn Noon Lions. I would continue my involvement in civic affairs to stay abreast of policies, resolutions, and ordinances considered or approved by the city that would affect our residents.
We’ll be asking questions again in the general election. Is there something you think should be asked of the candidates? Email [email protected] to let us know and we’ll do our best to include your question!