Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 16, 2014

Interviewing Scot Barg for City Council

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.

Scot Barg

Scot Barg

“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).



  1. He says that he would most likely plan on running in 2015 if appointed. I hope that whoever the appointed applicant is, they will run in 2015… I mean, I hope he isn’t implying that the other applicants won’t. All of the applicants have a wonderful skill set, and I hope that all of them want to serve for more than a year on the council… at least, I want them to. (For full disclosure, I still support Michelle Magee after all of the interviews, but I wouldn’t be disappointed no matter who is appointed).

  2. Barg says: “(the council) doesn’t have any on-fire issues, a lot of issues at a similar level of percolation.”

    Yep, business as usual (BAU) is just fine. The economy is on its way up, prosperity is just around the corner and if everyone would just be nice to each other, we could all be comfortable in our cozy little bungalows with two SUV’s parked outside.

    • Talking about me again (and not in a “naughty” way) Walter.

    • Walter-
      If we were all in our bungalows with two SUV’s parked outside, we wouldn’t be very nice to each other again. Nothing would get done, and the diesel that the SUV’s run does nothing but pollutes the earth and causes war.

      • One of the things I really hate about Whatcom County is that when I am sarcastic I have to explain myself.

        And then there’s Wayne.

      • Diesel causes war? How about politicians?

      • Okay, yes, politicians cause war, too. However, most wars are either over petroleum or religion (that politicians trigger).

  3. “I think he [Dan Pike] is a good guy and a great mayor.”-that is a disqualify-er if there ever was on.

  4. “And then there’s Wayne”. And?

  5. […] each other. Iris brought a slight entourage with her. Next Michelle Magee with children in tow and Scot Barg with his partner Becky. Meanwhile Pinky Vargas, Michael Lilliquist and Terry Bornemann. Michael, a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: