The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Mayoral Candidates seek to build the Pullman community back up through communication

League of Women Voters hold second voter forum
Deb McNeil (left) and Francis Benjamin (right) before Wednesday night’s forum.

The League of Women Voters of Pullman held their second voter forum Wednesday at Neill Public Library: this time to give the two Pullman Mayoral Candidates a chance to talk about their plans and goals for the future of Pullman. 

Members of the Pullman community gathered to ask questions and receive answers from the two mayoral candidates, Francis Benjamin and Deb McNeil. Benjamin is a current city council member and has worked at WSU for over 35 years. McNeil is a retired school teacher and taught within the Pullman School District from 1978–2014, according to her website.

 League president, Aly Welch, moderated Wednesday night’s forum. 

Welch began the forum by asking the candidates how their background and their experiences would make them the best fit for mayor.

With 13 years on council, and over 30 years in leadership roles around the community, Benjamin has experience related to the city and the city government, he said. 

A mayor needs to have good connections with the community and entities around town in order to create an open and responsive connection with the community, he said.

As a teacher for 38 years, leadership qualities such as mindful listening, encouraging participation and clear communication are the skills McNeil plans to bring into her job as mayor, McNeil said.

Welch then asked candidates what their top three priorities are within the first three months they hold office.

“If we look at those first three months, it’s really supporting the staff and helping them understand the difference that I am, working with the council in order to improve communication on that side and then out in the community with the transition because there’s going to be changes and transitions as it relates to relationships from one mayor to the next mayor,” Benjamin said.

This is in addition to increasing public input, and working to structure city council meetings in order to provide more opportunity for long-range visioning, he said.

Working with Mayor Johnson and the Pullman City Administrator to update the 2023–2024  budget is one of McNeil’s priorities. Along with the budget, focusing on the infrastructure of Pullman and supporting the police and fire departments are on her list of priorities, McNeil said.

When asked what strategies the candidates have to improve communication between the citizens and the government, reaching out to actual people and groups instead of relying on social media for all communication is McNeil’s plan, she said.

The city is using an outdated communication model, Benjamin said. The challenge is finding a way to communicate while keeping public record of those communications. The city began town forums last year, and Benjamin wants to continue these forums, increasing how many are held, he said.

“They need to be in such a way that it’s not the council up on a dais, but it’s down with the council among the people and involved with the people,” Benjamin said.

Welch asked the candidates how they plan to revitalize Downtown Pullman.

Taking care of the sidewalks and coming together as a community with the mindset of “we can do this” works toward the revitalization. Creating excitement about the City of Pullman and maintaining a positive attitude are other factors that go into the upkeep of the city. It takes the citizens to make this happen, McNeil said.

Getting the downtown project completed would statistically bring a 25% increase in business growth. As part of the downtown association, Benjamin chairs the economic vitality committee, which focuses on how to grow and get new businesses downtown. The committee is currently working on business toolkits for people looking to start a business downtown, he said.

Welch asked the candidates what steps they plan on taking to make housing more affordable and accessible in Pullman.

Looking at smaller lot size options, building accessory/mother-in-law apartments and working with the building code council to understand their mandates for affordable housing is Benjamin’s plan, he said.

Working with local builders to listen to seniors’ concerns about wanting single-level homes would provide accessibility, McNeil said.

“Seniors would love to take their older homes and sell them to entry-level families, and they’re willing to take a cut on their price so that those families can have the same opportunity they had many, many years ago,” McNeil said.

When asked how the candidates intend to support the school system, being at the schools connecting with students is necessary because people make choices to join the community based on the education available, Benjamin said. He recently visited Pullman High School civic classes, and has taught high school students about business plans for over ten years, he said.

McNeil has also visited Pullman High School to talk about civic engagement and inclusivity because students sometimes need an outsider to fully understand what these things mean in a community, she said. 

“Whether it’s Pullman Christian School, whether it’s Montessori choice [school],” McNeil said. “Whether it’s the public schools, whether it’s daycare, I’m there.”

Both candidates reinforced throughout the forum the need and their dedication to enhance communication between citizens and local government, and that working together as a team is key in making the Pullman community thrive.

The forum ended with closing remarks from the two candidates, and the League of Women Voters reminded the audience to register to vote before Oct. 30.

The League of Women Voters of Pullman is a nonpartisan political organization that prioritizes active engagement of citizens in government and influences public policy within the community. They hosted this event in preparation for the primary election on Nov. 7.  

The League will host their third forum, the Pullman School Board Forum, in preparation for the election at Neill Public Library from 6-7:30 p.m on Friday.

The full recording of Wednesday’s debate can be found on the League of Women Voters’ website

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