Gateway: News

Candidate Q&A: Peninsula Metropolitan Park District Commissioner 5

This is the seventh installment of an ongoing series featuring Gig Harbor candidates running for Peninsula School Board, Gig Harbor City Council, mayor of Gig Harbor and Parks Commissioners for both Peninsula Metropolitan and Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park Districts in the Nov. 7 general election.

All candidates were invited to participate in this question-and-answer series. All were asked the same four questions and to provide a biography.

Amanda Babich – Peninsula Metropolitan Park District Commissioner 5 candidate (incumbent)

First and foremost I am a Parks & Recreation professional. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in recreation management from Central Washington University, I committed my career to the field of Parks & Recreation for over a decade. As a recreation manager, I built programs from the ground up that were diverse, high quality and affordable to the community. As a commissioner for PenMet Parks, I have been able to work with my fellow commissioners, staff and the community to enhance our parks, improve facilities and develop new structures while maintaining fiscal integrity.

My husband, Mike, and our family, including our three young children, have been longtime residents of Gig Harbor. I am proud to be a member of our commercial fishing community as a boat and business owner. As your partner in our community, I have committed to representing your needs and best interests in our local parks & recreation programs. My experience and education have allowed me a unique and important perspective in my role as commissioner.

Q: What qualifies you to run for the Peninsula Metropolitan Park District?

A: As the only commissioner and candidate with professional experience working for a Metropolitan Park District and an education specifically in Parks & Recreation, I know how to efficiently make decisions that will best represent my constituents in the areas of active recreation programs, open space preservation, conservation, property development, acquisitions, strategic partnerships, historical preservation and fiscal responsibility.

In January of 2016, I was appointed to the board by the current commissioners to fill a vacancy left by a previous commissioner. I was appointed because of my experience, qualifications and vision for our community. I have been fortunate to have this experience in the position which will allow me to continue to work on the issues and projects I set out to accomplish when first appointed.

Q: What do you see as some of the biggest issues facing the district?

A: One of the biggest accomplishments of PenMet Parks is our recreation programs. Staff members have done an incredible job of creating numerous programs for multi-generational user groups. As Gig Harbor has experienced a sharp rise in population growth, we have seen a rapid growth in our program participation as well. The real challenge is finding a way to accommodate all of those that want to participate and making sure we have the adequate space and facilities.

Currently, the majority of our programs are being operated out of a very old and damaged building that is being leased. We are in need of a facility that is owned and operated by the district for our programs and for the community to use. A new facility will not only enhance our community and our program offerings, it will also bring new sources of revenue to the district through facility rentals and regional events.

Q: As Gig Harbor and Pierce County grapples with how to handle population growth, what issue most concerns you?

A: My husband’s family has lived in Gig Harbor for over 100 years and has seen many changes in that time. As a commercial fishing family, we understand the importance of preserving our open spaces, natural lands and waterways. There is a delicate balance in the growth of a community like ours. Strategic planning for our parks district is essential to keeping up with the growth while maintaining the small town qualities we all love about the Gig Harbor area.

I want to see the parks district work with the city of Gig Harbor and the Peninsula School District and to really put all of these agencies to work on projects that are going to be beneficial to our entire region. The more we can work together, the more financial return we will see to each organization. I value efficiency in government agencies.

Q: If you are elected, what are some of the goals you plan to work on?

A: My goals as a PenMet Parks commissioner are to continue to offer and expand upon our high-quality recreation programs, improve and expand our trails systems, preserve and maintain our open space lands and partner with other community agencies to keep our costs low and our offerings high. With my experience and qualifications, I see myself and my position as a commissioner as a vital resource to the parks district as we move toward developing new trails, parks and facilities.

Specifically, the district is moving forward on the development of an indoor recreation facility. My goal is to see this project completed with a critical budget plan and execution while constructing a facility that can grow with our community. Additionally, I plan to establish a nonprofit parks foundation to offset taxpayer costs to fund our capital improvement projects and reduce our participation fees.

Kirsten Gregory – Peninsula Metropolitan Park District Commissioner 5 candidate

I am an attorney with 20 years experience in land use, real estate, employment, contract law and ethics and compliance. For the last 12 years, I have worked as senior legal counsel to a Fortune 500 company. I’m an active parks and recreation community-service leader, serving on the Ancich Park Ad Hoc Committee, as director/secretary of the Gig Harbor Canoe & Kayak Racing Team, as event chair for the Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup and on the Stand Up for Peninsula Schools – SUP in the Harbor Organizing Committee.

My husband, Bill, and I have been married for 25 years and have three children. Bill was raised in the area, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to move our family here seven years ago. Our children attend local public schools and participate in many PenMet Parks recreation programs. In my free time, I am a gardener and beekeeper.

Q: What qualifies you to run for the Peninsula Metropolitan Park District?

A: The Board of Commissioners’ job is to make policy decisions for the park district. I have over two decades of experience in the complex policy issues that regularly come before the commissioners (land use, real estate, conservation, development, funding, budgeting and employment). I also have extensive expertise in successfully navigating complicated regulatory systems and working with government agencies. I have a proven track record in our community of building consensus, developing and fostering partnerships, operating with transparency and integrity and being exceptionally dedicated, hard-working, positive and effective.

I am honored to be endorsed by a wide range of community leaders who have first-hand experience with me through my community service roles, including Rick Offner (Gig Harbor Parks Commission vice chair), Peter Norman (former Tacoma Metro Parks commissioner – 12 years), Karen Larson (EnviroCorps director), Michael Perrow (City Council), Jill Guernsey (mayor), Rand Wilhelmsen, David Olson, Deborah Krishnadasan and Al Abbott.

Q: What do you see as some of the biggest issues facing the district?

A: Three of the most complex and costliest issues facing the district over the next several years will be use and development of Harbor Family Park in the Artondale area, development of the underutilized and deteriorating Peninsula Gardens property on Wollochet Drive and development of a permanent indoor recreation center. There are numerous ideas about how and whether these projects should go forward, but it is clear that important short-term and long-term planning decisions need to be made for each. How these projects proceed and are funded will involve balancing and addressing competing community priorities. Broad consultation and clear communication with community members during this process is critical, as is an unwavering commitment to transparent decision making. PenMet commissioners will need to carefully research and understand community priorities, and the costs and benefits of the options for approaching each of these projects. I look forward to tackling these challenges.

Q: As Gig Harbor and Pierce County grapples with how to handle population growth, what issue most concerns you?

A: Pierce County and the greater Gig Harbor area are experiencing record-breaking growth. The demographics of our community are also changing, with more young families moving here. As these shifts occur, more land will be developed for housing, and the demand for active recreation facilities such as sports fields will naturally increase. The district must work hard to carefully balance its responsibility to address these needs with its equally important responsibility to conserve and preserve our precious forests, open spaces, critical habitat and historic areas. Proactive and comprehensive land-use and fiscal planning will be needed to maintain an appropriate recreation and conservation balance for our area, and meet the varied needs of our residents, new and old.

Q: If you are elected, what are some of the goals you plan to work on?

A: In speaking with residents, it is clear many do not understand what PenMet’s elected Board of Commissioners does, or how district policy decisions are made. I strongly believe citizen engagement in policy decisions is critical to establishing and maintaining trust and transparency, and to a successful, community-driven park district. If elected, one of my top goals will be to increase citizen engagement through significantly increasing direct communication and public outreach from the Board of Commissioners.

Another priority is increasing the usability of existing park properties, particularly those with water access. Increased access to water and shore areas for general recreation and human-powered watercraft users was top priority in the district’s recent resident survey. Several PenMet parks, including Sunrise Beach and Wollochet Bay Estuary, could easily be improved to significantly increase access and usability. Additionally, an opportunity to provide water access for human-powered watercraft near Rosedale Park should be fully explored.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea