Vera Orlandic-Hodak is running for Auburn City Council Position No. 7. Her opponent is Robert (Bob) Baggett. Though Orlandic-Hodak is not on the primary election ballot, we asked all City Council candidates our primary questions to allow voters to gather as much information as possible to be informed voters when casting their vote.
Note: Candidate responses have been edited for spelling and grammar by the Auburn Examiner as per the request of the Candidate. Responses have not been edited for content or context.
Auburn Examiner: What part of Auburn do you live in and why did you choose to live there?
Vera Orlandic-Hodak: I live in Lakeland Hills. Like many people, I looked for a ‘fixer-upper’ and picked the worst-kept house on the block. I don’t mind hard work and have spent a lot of time and effort into fixing it. I work at Boeing in Auburn, and I wanted to spend less time commuting and more time with family and friends. I love my neighborhood and know all my neighbors, and we all watch out for each other.
AE: Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
VOH: My grandkids love Les Gove Park, and I do too. That is definitely my favorite place.
AE: Where do you do your grocery shopping?
VOH: I shop at Walmart, Albertsons, and Haggen for food and our Outlook mall for clothing. But my favorite store is Lowes, there is always something that I need for home, and I’m always fixing something or working in my yard.
AE: How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our city?
VOH: We have to listen to the concerns of our citizens. The Doorbelling process is not just for elections. We should talk with our citizens and more importantly actively listen to their concerns and act upon them. Many concerns are heard, but action is not taken. I plan to listen and act upon the concerns of our citizens.
Further, we do have boards and commissions in our city. First, we need to outreach to bring new people and new ideas to these groups. We need to look at creating new ones and change some of the existing ones to reflect our changing city. Council can work with the community to effect change.
AE: What are your main infrastructure goals for Auburn?
VOH: First, let’s start by cleaning up the garbage from Auburn streets and sidewalks, making Auburn clean and vibrant as should be. Paint the buildings and hold owners accountable to maintain the clean appearance all the time. We need to create more safe areas for citizens to play and enjoy living in Auburn. We need Auburn to be a safe community and infrastructure can make a difference.
We need to prioritize funding for ongoing street maintenance and improvements. We need to start looking at the long-term needs of an expanding city. The state and counties are demanding cities take on more growth, especially in multi-family units. But nothing is said of funding for the costs of new roads, new sewers, new communication or water and stormwater lines that come with that growth. If we must take on more growth, then let’s involve the community and businesses as to where that growth will take place and then make a dedicated Auburn plan for our future.
AE: How would you evaluate whether a new piece of public infrastructure in our city (road, bridge, etc.) would be worth implementing?
VOH: I will start by implementing the projects that are already in the plan. This includes finishing the A street connection with Sumner and connecting Muckleshoot and Enumclaw to 167 with better roads to help avoid transit through downtown Auburn. Public infrastructure costs far more than our city can afford by itself in most cases. The objective is to identify the needs through public input and then put it into our long-term planning so that we can qualify the projects for state and federal funding.
AE: If elected, what steps would you take to put our city on a firmer financial footing?
VOH: The budget is very important. We can’t survive on the credit counting that tomorrow some grant will come our way. The budget should be planned for basics first like safety, water, and sewer, and everything else should be treated as predicted growth. We need to review all programs of the city with citizen input.
Council, as the legislature, should also look at new sources of income like bringing in more businesses to Auburn. We certainly need to reform our codes and fees to allow businesses to improve and expand their buildings. We are no longer a small city with a lot of vacant land. We need to change our system to allow better use of existing buildings that will bring more tax dollars and higher-paying jobs for our citizens.
Based on the budget, we should prioritize our activities. This is a reason why we have 7 City Council members, and we all should work hard to bring money in, and also work together to make a decision what is important for Auburn citizens.
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?
VOH: Let’s redefine that question by saying how much do we have each year for income. That is the maximum budget we can afford. Then how are we going to prioritize how that money will be spent.
AE: Peirce county (and South King County) has the fastest-growing housing markets in the state. As housing prices continue to rise, what is your plan for providing affordable housing?
VOH: We are already being told by the state, county, and the Puget Sound Regional Council that we must take more growth. If we must take more growth then let’s involve the community and businesses on where that growth will take place and then make a dedicated Auburn plan for our future.
Then let’s work together as a Council and with other cities and demand language in state law, at the county level and from the Puget Sound Regional Council that is demanding growth and changes in density by also requiring dedicated funds to us for that growth.
AE: Should Auburn offer developers incentives to build affordable housing? If so, what kind?
The problem for all cities, including Auburn, is that incentives in our state are limited, as we cannot make a gift of public funds. We can change our codes, with assistance from the building community, to make building here easier. We can ask that the building community, realtors, and other involved groups work with us on the state level to make financial incentives possible.
With the builders, we should create the programs for integrated, affordable housing, with affordable loans or other financial support for young families to integrate them into the existing Auburn community.
AE: The city recently unveiled a public art installation at Les Gove Park, ‘Crow with Fries.’ How do you feel about public art?
VOH: Everywhere a measure of town is how many fountains, flowers, and sculptures there is in the town. So, art is a necessity. Art is expensive. But beauty and art are different for all of us, that is a beauty of diverse idea and opinion.
AE: Some residents feel the amount spent on this sculpture was too much. Do you agree, if so, why?
VOH: State law says that 5% of our grant for any public infrastructure must be dedicated for art. The citizen Parks and art commissioners made a decision based on the proposals. As I mention before art is expensive and we all have different taste for art, and it is ok to disagree with the decision. My suggestion is for the citizens to send their proposals to the art commission, so it has as much input as possible and for those who are interested to apply to be a member of the Art Commission.
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?
VOH: In addition to the discussion on incentives, we should talk with our local companies and ask them what they need. Work together with businesses and support them to stay and expand their business, as well as bring in new companies with healthy jobs.
AE: Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and attractive to consumers? If not, what would you do to change that?
VOH: I don’t think that Main street is attractive. The buildings are poorly maintained, some storefront windows are dirty, and there’s garbage on the sidewalks and the street. There is nothing to make you stop except homeless asking for money. We need to do some housekeeping and make Main Street welcomed for new businesses that will offer products for Auburn citizens.
AE: How would you assist small businesses in Auburn?
VOH: Each business has their own struggles, and we should hear them all individually and address them the same way.
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?
VOH: In current safety situations in Auburn, the police department has a very difficult position to protect citizens, prevent crime, and protect themselves on duty. It is a matter of one split second to make a correct decision to react either way. Safety in Auburn is a big problem, and we can’t count JUST on the police department to resolve all problems.
In the future, the Council needs to bring the public in for a review of all our police procedures. Most of our police procedures in effect today were put in place in the sixties and seventies. We need our twenty-first-century city to reflect the needs of today’s citizens.
AE: If elected, what would be your suggestions to best address resident and business owner’s concerns related to crime?
VOH: First, listen as a Councilmember at open meetings to residents and businesses about their concerns related to crime. I know as I walk and drive around Auburn that there is a feeling that our streets, neighborhoods, and businesses are not safe. Clean well-lit downtown streets, well-lit parks and gathering areas will help. But do the first part first – listen.
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?
VOH: We are seeing a change in the homeless population in our city. More people with multiple shopping carts, people asking for handouts as you try to go into a store, groups blocking the way to the library or taking over parks. All of this is new to us and started with changes in Seattle that has pushed the problem south on to us.
We must help those in need who want help partnering with local nonprofits here in Auburn for local help. We need local drug dependency treatment centers (not needle exchanges) here and mental health clinics here. But for those that prey on others, we need to enforce the law now.
AE: If you are not elected, what would you do to try to help work on ideas or issues that are important to you?
VOH: I plan to be elected.
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!