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Port of Olympia commission candidates questioned each other at forum. Here’s what they said

By Rolf Boone, Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

The Port of Olympia commission has expanded to two new seats, and those interested in getting elected to the District 4 and District 5 positions recently took part in a candidate forum hosted by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.

The District 4 candidates are Rose Chiu Gundersen, who works for the Washington Retail Association, and Maggie Sanders, who previously told The Olympian she has devoted herself full-time to running her campaign. Running in District 5 is small business owner Troy Kirby and IT professional Sarah Tonge. The general election is Nov. 7.

Two other candidates — Bill McGregor and Jasmine Vasavada — who are running for the District 1 seat attended the Wednesday forum but were not invited to take part in it. Former Olympia Mayor and forum moderator Doug Mah explained that the focus of Wednesday’s gathering was on the newly expanded seats, not the existing seat.

Mah, who often moderates such events, likes to have candidates ask their own questions. He also likes to put them through their paces by asking a series of rapid-fire questions.

Here are the questions they posed to each other.

Tonge to Kirby: What’s your vision for the Port of Olympia?

Kirby: “We work on recruitment. We work on the actual idea of building up our employees, and we make sure the port is a pipeline of success — a pipeline of success that actually has the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma trying to poach our workers, but we get the best and brightest who actually want to stay. We need to create dynamic solutions and a culture that people want to be part of here. If you want to go into a professional development environment, we want to help you. We want to drag you onto the pipeline of success.”

Kirby to Tonge: Tell me more about your IT experience.

Tonge: “In my current position, I help support restaurant’s with technical services — whatever a restaurant would have in their point of sale and in their business to do their operations. Now, how is that going to help the port? My management, project management, leadership and collaboration experience are all valuable things that I’m going to bring to the port.”

Gundersen to Sanders: If elected, what would be the headline for the port in the first year and last year of your term?

Sanders: “I believe the headline would be in regards to the Budd Inlet cleanup. They (the port) have been making a lot of progress in driving collaboration and working with the state and federal government and the local municipalities. The cleanup is $100 million and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration and partnership. And so I believe it will be shown that the successful work of the commission is going to be proven by our collaborative partnerships.”

Sanders to Gundersen: How will you balance the Port of Olympia budget without levying more taxes on the citizens of Thurston County?

Gundersen: “The port has a big role in economic development. The narrative about the port getting too much tax is not true because the schools get 30 percent more, or at least Tumwater schools do, so I want to tell the truth about the fact that the port is able to balance its budget and is doing the right thing to do economic development. More could be done, more trust could be built, more value could be delivered.”

During the rapid-fire sequence, Mah asked for their choice of beverage (coffee, tea or neither) social media, favorite location in Thurston County and their spirit animal, but only gave them two to choose from: the invasive New Zealand Mud Snail in Capitol Lake and the endangered Mazama Pocket Gopher.

Here are their responses:

Kirby: Coffee, Twitter, Tumwater Falls and neither.

Tonge: Coffee, LinkedIn, Tolmie State Park, Pocket gopher.

Sanders: Coffee, LinkedIn, Billy Frank Jr. national wildlife refuge, Pocket gopher.

Gundersen: Coffee, Facebook, the port waterfront, Mud Snail.

All four candidates also said they would vote in support of the two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase for public safety.