At first, longtime resident Karen Howe was not planning to run for Sammamish City Council for the third time.
But as she started to pay more attention to what was happening in city hall, she decided to step up again.
Howe, 65, believes the current council struggles with transparency, engaging residents, and making straightforward decisions. If elected, she plans to increase public engagement as part of the council’s decision-making process.
“Trust the residents to make good decisions,” Howe said in an interview with the Sammamish Independent. “People are very capable. Don’t take it out of their hands. Put the decision-making in their hands.”
She sees current council members as “well-intentioned people” who are stuck doing and thinking of things only in a certain way. Rather than assuming what the community wants, she believes the council needs to get out in the community, ask residents firsthand and collect data.
Howe first ran in 2017 to fight against clearcutting of trees and traffic congestion, but became committed to smarter long-term solutions, rather than short-term stopgap measures, after doing deeper research on these issues.
In her second campaign in 2019, she ran on a more logical, data-driven approach to government, but her platform was quickly overshadowed by an acrimonious debate on growth.
Howe said what was missing from past elections was true dialogue on the partnerships and compromises that are needed to move the community forward.
“You need to be able to network and bridge divides, so that you can get the stuff you kind of need for your city,” she said.
Howe wants to help build bridges between the council and experts in the community, and said she would actively recruit citizen volunteers to form small teams to make recommendations to the city. She believes greater public engagement will strengthened community bonds, which is especially important coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of those issues that Howe wants community input on is housing affordability. She said it is problematic when essential members of the community, such as first responders and teachers, can no longer afford to live in Sammamish.
She believes that it is both possible and necessary for Sammamish to increase its housing options. According to her, the problem is that some people, especially several members of the current council, do not want to deal with development.
“The problem is that people are intellectually lazy. There are people that just don’t want to deal with it,” Howe said, referring to the current anti-development city council majority. “And so, they just say, ‘We can’t deal with it. It’s too hard’.”
Howe’s goal is to create what she calls a livable Sammamish — one that is environmentally friendly, interconnected, inclusive and affordable. Her plan focuses on parks and natural habitats, safe roads and bike paths, which are what most people in Sammamish want. But she also wants to dial up on public transit options, human services, and even add a team of case managers to serve residents in need.
“I want city hall to be more like a lighthouse, rather than a fortress,” Howe said.
That includes changes to how the council operates to increase transparency. Howe wants to implement follow-up responses to ideas brought forward through public comment during council meetings. She said residents who submit public comment today rarely hear back from the council or city officials. If the council made an effort to respond to citizens’ suggestions, it would help everyone better understand its decision-making process.
Formerly a business manager at various technology companies, Howe is currently devoted to volunteer work. She is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care. She serves as the president of the local environmental group Sammamish Friends, and also sits on the King County Children and Youth Advisory Board and the Prescription Drug Assistance Foundation.
Howe believes her experience in the business world has taught her the value of compromise, and given her a methodical approach to solving problems, rather than treating everything as a crisis.
Despite losing twice, Howe feels this election will be different, because residents are starting to pay more attention, and many people want the city to do a better job.
“I want people to feel like I have their back, and that their neighbor has theirs,” Howe said. “Community is so powerful. We lose it in having a suburb that dead ends into cul-de-sacs with no life and no soul.”
Karen Howe is currently running for Sammamish City Council, Position 7, against Melanie Kelsey. The Sammamish Independent reached out to Ms. Kelsey multiple times for an interview, but received no response.