University Place leaders say a candidate for the states new congressional seat is making false and disparaging remarks about the city on the campaign trail.
Dick Muri, whos running for the 10th Congressional District, has said at campaign events that UP will go broke because it cant repay the tens of millions of dollars it borrowed to develop its slow-moving Town Center project. Muri is a Pierce County councilman from Steilacoom.
Mayor Ken Grassi called Muri on Tuesday to try to put a stop to it. Grassi raised concerns about Muris remarks and offered to provide him information about city finances.
UP officials say they have a plan to repay the Town Center debt and are in no danger of insolvency.
Among the places Muri has expressed concerns about University Place finances was a March 2 candidate forum. In a video from the event posted on YouTube, Muri claims the city owes too much money on a project it never should have gotten involved in.
What do they do? A short sale? Declare bankruptcy? Muri said. I dont know, maybe the city will become part of the county again. I dont know what were going to do.
Muri said in an interview this week that hes made remarks like this because one of his political opponents, Stan Flemming, keeps bragging about how well he ran UP while on the City Council from 1995-2009. Borrowing tens of millions for Town Center was a poor decision, Muri said, and shows Flemming to be undisciplined financially.
Both men are running for Congress as Republicans, and both currently sit on the Pierce County Council.
Muri said after talking with Grassi that he would soften his comments but continue to raise the issue of UPs financial challenges because he says its relevant to his campaign against Flemming.
Flemming said Muris comments are untrue. The city isnt going bankrupt and has a plan to repay the debt that puts them on a guide path toward recovery from the recession, Flemming said.
Asked if the citys financial challenges would affect his campaign, Flemming responded his performance on the City Council is a non-issue in the minds of voters because they elected him four times.
Flemming said he raised concerns about Muris comments to city officials but didnt request they intercede.
Grassi initially had a letter drafted to Muri. A copy of the letter obtained by The News Tribune noted that the city had become aware of some disparaging remarks at community forums and debates.
Muris name didnt come up once during a City Council discussion on Monday, and Grassi refused to identify the candidate until after The News Tribune obtained a copy of the draft letter.
The idea of sending the letter got mixed reviews during the council meeting.
Councilman Kent Keel said said it came across as a bit defensive.
We have to get it (Town Center) done, and then people will shut up, he said.
The council directed Grassi to talk with Muri first.
UP has made previous efforts to tamp down rumors that the city is headed to financial ruin, including a community forum held last year.
City Manager Steve Sugg has reiterated the city can repay the debt while maintaining current services without counting on revenue from Town Center land sales or depleting reserves. The citys debt-reduction plan calls for paying between $2 million and $4 million a year before exhausting the debt in 2034.
A short-term $12.5 million bond matures in December 2013. Assistant City Manager Eric Faison said officials are working with financial advisers and bond attorneys to identify the best way and time to refinance.
The flap with Muri emerged just as theres been some visible progress on Town Center. A cafe with an indoor childrens play structure has opened, and city officials will celebrate Friday the groundbreaking of a mixed-use building with apartments and ground-level retail.
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