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Mayor candidate Todd Best calls for changes at city hall
A few years ago, before his Cut the Fat Campaign at city hall to save city workers’ jobs in 2011, Todd Best built a rock wall at one of his rental properties in West Bremerton in an effort to beautify what had been a dilapidated house.
The pushback he got from the city over a year later, is the genesis of one of his favorite campaign lines. The rock wall incident, where the city told him that his wall didn’t meet a height ordinance a year after it went up, is where Best’s trademark line, “the Department of Community Non-Development,” was born.
“I had to endure a lot of running around, the hiring of an engineer out of my own pocket,” Best said. “They were not happy with the amount of the permit I paid. And I thought to myself, ‘What is this, modern day extortion? You’re going to come back after me and ask for more permit money because you weren’t happy with the amount I initially paid?’ So, they took me to a hearing and I fought and was ultimately allowed to continue forward with my rock wall that I built.”
The whole experience was a big waste of time and money.
“I should get into the rock wall building business, the guy that’s the engineer I hired told me,” Best said.
From there, Best eventually got more involved in keeping an eye on city government and speaking up
“In doing so, I ended up meeting city workers when the mayor wanted to lay them off in December of 2011 in the budget at the end of the year,” he said. “I saw disheartened, sad, demoralized city workers. They were afraid. I thought to myself, ‘Why should our city workers be afraid of their supervisors, their superiors, the city officials?’ That’s not the way you lead, through fear.”
Best says he learned some of his most valuable lessons about leadership while working as a firefighter in the New York City Fire Department.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “We lead by example. How can we tell somebody to cut their grass when the city owns properties where the grass is up to our knees? How can the city tell somebody to fix something at their home or business when the city owns buildings that need to be fixed.”’
Best says leadership entails motivating people instead of instilling fear in them.
“You inspire people,” he said. “When people feel at ease and are inspired they will go to great lengths to raise the bar and do the best that they can do. Right now, I believe there’s not a lot of that going on in the current administration.”
In door-belling around the city, Best says its a message he hears from a lot of other Bremerton residents as well.
“The people who stand out to me the most,” Best says, “are the city workers and the citizens that have said to me, ‘They’re gonna do what they want. It doesn’t matter. They don’t listen to the citizens anymore.’ That made me mad when I would hear that from people because that’s not the way I believe the citizens should view their city government. City government is there to help, not hinder our citizens and businesses from going forward and prospering.”
Best, who acknowledges that he hasn’t personally visited every home, also says people are pretty surprised to see him at their door in the first place.
“There’s like an amazement level from most people that there’s a mayoral candidate at their door whose knocked on their door to talk to them for however long it takes to hear what they want to say,” he said. “A lot of the houses I went to, a lot of people just want to be heard. They have a story of their own to tell and a lot of the people do care about the city that they live in. They just feel like our city government doesn’t care about them, is what I gather.”
Best also says his lack of experience in elected office is an advantage, not a disadvantage.
“What experience did (Lent) have when she ran the first time for elective office. She ran for county commissioner and was a one-term county commissioner. I think the record speaks for itself. You have a lot to learn when you get into office, but you have a lot of good people around you that are leaders of their respective departments. I’m not gonna tell a city attorney how to handle a lawsuit or how to handle a situation that involves a legal question. I’m gonna listen, I’m gonna learn and I’m going to take what that professional in a department brings to the table. If I feel that something doesn’t fit, then I’m gonna speak up as a leader.”
Best didn’t have any interest in running for city council, school board or some other office before running for mayor.
“I believe I’m qualified to shoot for the top,” he said. “I wan to lead the city as a whole, not just one district. I want to be a leader who inspires the whole city.”
That approach is reminiscent of a position Best held on an FDNY truck company in the busy fire houses of Harlem. His job was to get to the roof as quickly as possible, no matter what else was going on around him, be it people screaming for help on fire escapes or yelling out of their windows. Best had to get to the roof. It was from there that he could help people the most if things went bad.
“It’s not that I didn’t have a heart or compassion, but I knew from being able to analyze the scene quickly, and analyzing how I’m going to be able to get to that roof without taking an elevator, I knew that somebody else is coming to perform that task of getting that person off the fire escape or out that window,” he said. “I had to stay focused on getting to that roof and that’s exactly what being the mayor of the city is going to have to be like if we’re going to relate it to that analogy.”