Scot Barg is a man who lives up to his resume. Skimming through the highlights, graduate of the Havard Kennedy School of Government, then assistant director of research there, it is clear that Barg has spent most of his professional life firmly at the intersection of public policy and academia. Now he is turning his eyes to the city council.
“I have something to offer. I don’t have a big agenda, because this is an appointment, not an election. The agenda for all the applicants should be to learn, apply the skills you have, take a look at the issues in front of us and try get the best value for the city.” Barg says that his interest is in economic development and sustainability becase, “Too many of us are using too much, too quickly.”
He has some experience with the public policy side of economic development. As the chair of the recently deceased Public Development Authority (PDA), Barg worked as an intermediary between the Port and the City. The group was disbanded a few years ago by the city council – a decision that Barg says is “disappointing” in light of the recent movement on the waterfront development.
“I still think a PDA is actually a great way to run a project like this. Urban intensive development is not in the Port’s wheelhouse.” Barg contends that the PDA added “a lot of value”.
As for the issues the current council faces, Barg is a bit blaise. “(the council) doesn’t have any on-fire issues, a lot of issues at a similar level of percolation.” For instance, Barg notes there are some “big decisions” coming on Lake Whatcom. “I support doing whatever it is we have to do, maybe that is a more aggressive schedule. We need to look at the cost benefit analysis and get resources from the state or the feds to help.” He shakes his head. “We only get one Lake Whatcom, we don’t get a second try. Once it is not usable, it is over.”
Barg shares Michelle Magee’s depressed slump over the waterfront. “We have a waterfront plan. It is better than the one we had. It is a compromise like all these things need to be.” He says that the key change was the amount of infrastructure investment. “The city was on the hook for hundreds of millions of infrastructure, with very little assurances that anything would get built.”
He says part of this is looking at the costs. “Sometimes the benefits and the costs are not financial, they are environmental or social. We need to look at things in a complex way.”
This methodology is key to his partnership with former mayor Dan Pike. The two of them are currently involved with Huxley College, developing curriculum for executives around sustainability. “Dan had made some big changes in city government in terms of sustainability and moving that forward on the city agenda – so he wanted to share lessons learned and his vision of things. I had this experience bringing people from the different levels of government, private sector, academics, and so we came together on this project.” Barg sees it as a rare opportunity, “When the traditional sort of barriers break down, when you are all in a room . . . in a learning environment, we found an amazing sort of synergies, cross boundary relationships begin to develop.”
I jokingly ask if his candidacy is a secret attempt by Dan Pike to sneak back into public office. “Believe it or not, we are actually separate people!” He laughs. “I think he is a good guy and a great mayor.”
What does he think is missing from the current council? Barg demurs, saying that he is, “impressed by the breadth of experience and perspectives that are already there.” He believes his added value is “the perspective of analytics.”
“I don’t want to say dispassionately but I like looking at the broad spectrum of costs and risks. Its not that I don’t have things I care about, I care deeply about sustainability and being responsive. I’m not that politically different from the current pack of people who are applying. I don’t see that there is a gaping hole, I don’t think it is a missing perspective but is something I can add.”
Speaking of perspective, he says the main struggle for the city is including the next generation of Bellinghamsters. “Bellingham is known as a sustainable city, we’ve done really well on that. We’ve done well fiscally, we’ve been a really responsible city. We do social services well. We think well about people with housing and services needed. I would like to see us moving beyond what we call tolerance or even inclusion to engagement with young people of color and LGBT people. I think all government looks monolithic and I want it to look like ‘a place for me’ for everybody.”
Closing up our interview, Barg notes that if appointed, he would most likely run for the seat in 2015. If he is not appointed, he would still seriously consider running. “The process has been so interesting to me, talking to the city council people. You have to love it – it is a lot of work. But I’m definitely interested.”
The appointment is tomorrow night at 7pm. I will be there providing live coverage if the wi-fi is up and running strong. In the meantime, read the rest of the interview with the candidates (Iris Maute-Gibson, Dan Hammill, Andrew Reding, Michele Magee).