Co-owner of the Technology Center Office Building in Friday Harbor, Marc Forlenza is making a first-ever run for political office in the race for the District 3 County Council position.
He and his wife, Denise, have lived on San Juan Island for nearly a decade. He is a former restaurant owner, a real estate investor and international marketing executive, based in Europe and Latin America.
Journal: If elected, you would be the Town of Friday Harbor's representative on the County Council. What priorities do the town and county share?
MF: There are priorities that people in San Juan County share, regardless of whether they live in Friday Harbor, East Sound, Lopez, Shaw or Waldron. Perhaps the most fundamental is ferry service and making sure that the county gets its fair share of state and federal assistance. Next, the most important shared priority is the state of the local economy. I believe there is an unprecedented opportunity for the town and the county to begin a new era of mutual trust and harmony. The confluence of new town and county administrators and three county seats up for grabs can set the stage to mend fences and help seek long-needed solutions to old problems like the solid waste station. Furthermore, there are opportunities to continue the successful coordination of services contracted from the county by the town for the Sheriff’s dept., courts, and public health. Just look at the operational usefulness of combining Friday Harbor’s Fire Department with District 3 (which was formerly just responsible for the rest of San Juan Island). Operational effectiveness has increased while costs have not increased. It is these types of common sense solutions which I hope to implement when I am in office. Having the county be aware and fully understand town issues is a basic ingredient of a healthy relationship.
Journal: Are there areas where the town deserved more attention from the county?
MF: There were probably times when the County could have improved their attention to Town issues, but I think now we can capitalize on one another’s strengths in order to maintain and enhance the vitally important relationship that keeps both Town and County running smoothly. It would not be my intention to get in the Town’s way, but the County Council, especially the member who represents the Town of Friday Harbor District, must identify shared priorities between the Town and County and learn from them. King Fitch had an excellent relationship with the department heads of the County, despite occasional disagreements over finances. Recognizing the differences between County and Town zones of authority, expense requirements, and so on should not blind the County to things we could learn from a government entity who focused on finances and running a tight financial ship in which purchases not affordable were not purchased.
Are you satisfied with the relationship between the county legislative branch, the council, and its executive branch, the administrator? Any changes that you would like to see?
MF: One of the dangers of living in a small, island community is that vital democratic roles can get blurred and the dangers of overstepping what you were elected to do exist every day. I will strive to do what I am elected to do, which is make policy. As for the administration of day-to-day affairs, that would not be my job, and it would be an insult to the professionals who do these jobs for me to try to interfere with their oversight and judgment. Continuing to successfully implement Home Rule Charter will provide assurance of separation of powers. One of the biggest changes in the coming months is the six-member council’s first opportunity to select a county administrative officer. Input from many sources, including citizens, should play an integral role. I believe six heads are truly better than three and look forward to the interaction between all branches of government that encourages solid decisions and compromise when it is vital to move the policy discussion forward. My background in conflict resolution will be put to good use.
What are your thoughts about the update of the county critical areas ordinance?
MF: In order for a regulation to be good law it must be both fair and enforceable. In its current state the proposed CAO is neither. First, it unduly burdens property owners with stringent regulations which seem to be divorced from the reality of the ecology on the ground. Secondly, the proposed regulation is so far reaching that it is, as a practical matter, unenforceable. I am also afraid that the proposed regulation will be enforced in an uneven manner. I would support simpler, more common sense regulations which actually sought to prevent harm to our environment while not being overly burdensome on our local economy.
For four years, the county has balanced its budget through a combination of spending cuts and voter-approved tax hikes. What about the next four, and what are your thoughts about county spending and revenue?
MF: The citizens of San Juan County have generously supported the need to secure revenue for essential services and assistance for the most vulnerable among us. But there is a limit to what we can expect from a stressed economy and the citizens. I have no magic formula for a prosperous future, but I can promise to take an in-depth look at county revenues and expenses and see what savings can be obtained. The residents are developing a justifiable intolerance for bureaucratic inefficiency and unnecessary permits, fees, and policies that seem punitive rather than required by environmental or economic necessity. I want to do better. I want to hold the council accountable for every dollar spent and be sure citizens know what is going on with their government.
Journal: Are the county's land-use and development regulations well-balanced? Explain, please.
MF: I think that this is one area where we risk shooting ourselves in the foot. Our Island’s number one income source is building and property maintenance. If the County is unable to appropriately work with land owners to responsibly develop property residents will leave and take projects to areas which are friendlier towards development. Of course we have to balance environmental factors, but if regulations are made which are too stringent, our economy will suffer and we will lose middle class families which make our community vibrant. Regulations that seem indefensible, overly burdensome, confusing, inconsistently applied, and never-ending are a terrible burden on the many among us who built their dreams around a future in this paradise but cannot manage to build their homes because of obstructive and interminably frustrating regulations.
What public official, either local, state or national, past or present, most closely reflects your view on how government should operate, and why?
MF: I would choose Bill Gates, he is not a politician but he is a public figure that has done enormous good. Not afraid to pursue innovation and base decisions on truly the best available information, he has blazed a path through history that few will match. He ushered in an era of efficiency and effectiveness that revolutionized the way business, government and social interactions are accomplished. His personal commitment to excellence on all levels, including philanthropic, is to be admired and imitated.
Campaign website: www.campaignforlenza.com