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Menjivar elected to the Friday Harbor Town Council

Felix Menjivar - Richard Walker
Felix Menjivar
— image credit: Richard Walker

Felix Menjivar is a San Juan County sheriff's deputy, president of the sheriff's guild, and a town planning commissioner.

Tonight, voters gave him a new set of responsibilities.

Menjivar, 40, was elected to the Friday Harbor Town Council tonight. As of 8:16 p.m., he had received 341 votes to Clinton Mills' 115.

Menjivar was unavailable for comment as election results were posted; he went on patrol at 8 p.m. But five hours before the polls closed, he was clear on his priorities once he takes office: Spending.

"We need to get back to basics. We need to look deep and say, 'What can we provide realistically.'"

Menjivar will succeed Liz Illg, who chose not to seek a second term. As a council member, he will receive $85 a meeting, with a maximum of four meetings per month. His vote will help approve budgets, set policy and determine town government's direction on quality of life issues.

Menjivar’s leadership and people skills have been tested in some places that can be pretty contentious: As a deputy, as a union president, and as a neighborhood association president.

“Working as a deputy has given me a very deep understanding of the people here,” he said during the campaign. “I feel a responsibility to bring that experience to the Town Council and try to listen to people, bring balance to what’s going on. I want the opportunity to help shape the future of this town.”

Regarding utility rates, he likes the option of extending the timeline of costly projects — like enlarging Trout Lake Dam to create more water storage, and replacing the main transmission line that carries water to the town limits from the water treatment plant on Wold Road.

As an example, he points to the town’s Six-Year Transportation Plan; road projects are often shuffled on the list of priority projects, depending on funding. But he’s cautious about doing that.

“You look at the capital improvements that need to be done to the water system. I know we have to fund them, otherwise our system’s going to collapse. But we need to somehow keep it affordable.”

Menjivar wants to help local government work more efficiently, and, while he didn’t have any ideas early in the campaign, he said his experience and “analytical mind” can contribute to the development of those ideas.

“I’m learning the process and how things work on the council. I’ve been making the (council) meetings to educate myself on how things work,” he said. “I don’t have one thing (but) to try to bring my experience and bring an analytical mind to the issues that I’m going to be presented with.”

Menjivar feels that regulations can be burdensome for local businesses.

“I know people sometimes ask, ‘What can we do to regulate this thing or another.’ I think we have enough regulations on the books,” he said. “We need to enforce the ones we have and also look at the existing regulations and how those affecting our community right now and their pocketbooks.

“There are regulations in place that are great for keeping the historical appearance (of downtown), but when you look at the cost of business to try to live up to that code and the benefit to the town in the long term, sometimes it’s detrimental.”

Two examples he cites: Historical preservation standards — they are actually voluntary but come with incentives for compliance — and parking requirements.

“You’re supposed to have ‘X’ amount of parking spots for your building. That sounds great, but if you can’t provide that, then there’s a cost to you,” he said. “I guess, in the future, we could buy a lot and put parking on it, and that’s where that money’s going. But that’s a hardship on a business. We have to find a balance. We need parking spots and that’s always going to be a struggle in town. But heavily taxing business for it is not beneficial.”

'I'm willing to commit the time'
Menjivar said he can balance his responsibilities as a sheriff’s deputy — he works the graveyard shift — and council member. The Town Council meets at noon and 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Periodically, there are additional special meetings. In addition, council members represent the town on other board and committees on the island.

With enough notice, he can plan to be off those hours he’s needed for town business, Menjivar said. He said his boss, Sheriff Bill Cumming, is supportive.

“I’m a deputy first and foremost, but I feel a responsibility to do this and I’m willing to commit the time.”

Mills: 'Health care, utility rates, downtown traffic, population growth'
Mills, also a planning commissioner, said he "fell in love" with Friday Harbor after moving here and wanted to get involved in the community.

He and his wife, both licensed counselors, opened a practice here, and he later bought Warehouse Coffee on Tucker Avenue.

Mills is concerned about health care, utility rates, downtown traffic, and the costs of population growth. He supports the development of gravel or grass bike paths and walking surfaces. He also believes his business background will contribute to the town budget process.

“I have a bit of a business background and I can bring that to the table,” he said.

Mills said the Town Council should engage in dialogue about health care needs in the community. He believes technological investments can stave off major costs such as upgrades, further delaying the need to raise utility rates. For example, an aeration system put in place in Trout Lake has lowered the amount of algae in the lake, reducing treatment costs and lowering the amount of trihalomethane, a byproduct of chlorine and organic materials.

Mills would consider rerouting traffic to improve the flow of vehicles offloading from the ferry; past town councils have discussed routing some traffic up A Street to Web or Nichols street to relieve congestion on Spring Street. He said he supports acquiring land for public parking to relieve downtown parking congestion.

Early in his campaign, Mills indicated that he plans to stay involved in town.

“I’ve challenged myself to jump out and get involved and stay informed,” Mills said. “I really want to know what’s going on in the place I live. I kind of like having a little say so in what’s happening. It feels good to say, ‘I helped get that going, I helped stop that and the town’s better for it.' ”

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