Dick Haugan – An In-Depth Community Conversation

Bainbridge Island City Council District 1 (At Large) candidate Dick Haugan recently sat down to answer 12 issue-and-policy-based questions with Chamber President Stefan Goldby ahead of the 2023 General Election. Recorded via Zoom as an individual 1-on-1 session, this interview is part of a series talking in depth to all five of this year’s candidates for Bainbridge Island’s City Council.

Each candidate was allotted up to 45 minutes to answer a set of questions written in consultation with Chamber members with expert knowledge of a specific local topic. Each conversation features the same questions being asked of all candidates, and in the interest of fairness, none of the candidates were shown any of the questions ahead of the interview session.

We hope that this format provides a chance for Islanders to see each of the prospective council members share their thoughts, potential solutions, and intended actions to remedy some of the big challenges facing the Bainbridge community in full, without interruption or editing.

Each of the candidate’s responses are presented here as polished transcriptions (edited for clarity and time), and also below as an unedited unabridged video clip, accompanied by timestamps for each individual question.

Read the full interview here below, or if you prefer to watch, simply jump straight to the video interview


Stefan Goldby [SG]: Mr. Candidate, would you care to introduce yourself?

Dick Haugan ([DH]: Sure, thanks Stefan. My name is Dick Haugan, longtime Bainbridge resident, and I ran for city council 10 years ago. Yes, I’ve got my toe in the water with politics, I’ve been involved with several issues since. And this round, actually, my wife said, “Dick, you spend so much time on this, why don’t you run for city council?” So I did. And here I am.

SG: And she’s in the background, she should say hello! Okay, so to begin… could you describe your experience working with different stakeholders in the community: businesses, organizations, residents alike?

DH: Sure, I mean, it’s really all over the map. I think what I bring to the table is when I find an issue, and I have a couple of major ones, and I’m sure we’ll probably get into that… I don’t have all the answers, like nobody has all the answers. So my style and MO is to dig into things, find people who know what’s going on.

I did that with you, actually: When we first started, with the chamber, I didn’t know you, but I knew you were essential to what was going on, so we sat down and we talked a little bit, to find out what’s going on, [how it] could be resourced, and we bounced things off each other a little bit.

You know, that’s what I do – depending on what’s going on, that’s it: Affordable housing, another one I suspect we’ll get into… and when we get there, I can explain how I approach that problem, because when I started it, I think I was talking to Brenda [Fantroy-Johnson] about it. She said, you know Dick, affordable housing is a big issue –  I didn’t really know about it… so I got into it and figured it out.

SG: So what personally makes you want to be a city council member for the next four years?

DH: I think what is lacking, in large part, are good business decisions. If you look at the current Council, there’s nobody on there who’s had what I would call hardcore business experience.

Handling a budget as big as Bainbridge Island or bigger, I have. Handling and managing people as many as the city has or more, I have. I was a GM of a division of a Fortune 500 company, Pitney Bowes. Amongst other things, I started an ad agency; I’m sort of an entrepreneur by nature. But I do have the business background.

When I see some of the decisions being made, on emotion, not necessarily looking at the facts, definitely sometimes not on financial considerations, I looked at that and say, “somebody needs to do something”. I thought it was something that I could offer to the community. To add to that, when you talk to other people I found that I’m not alone, and was a reasonable path to go down.

SG: You mentioned you’ve been talking to people in the community, so what would you say are the top three specific concerns you hear from islanders right now?

DH: Oh, boy… Well, in terms of volume, I’d say affordable housing is up there. Again, I hope we get into that subject because there’s a lot to say about it, and it’s all over the map. Everything from speed limits to… we’ve talked about tourism downtown, parking, do we want tourism? Do we want to preserve the character of the island and leave it alone?

As you know, I’ve conducted some surveys on my own outreach, looking at some of these issues and trying to get a feel for what people think other than me. You’ll hear this over and over from me, not just today, I think you’ve heard it before. It’s not just what I think and my friends, it is what the whole population thinks… the democratic process of listening to the people and figuring out what the majority wants.

So listening, and then taking all that in and connecting the dots, get rid of the gobbledygook priorities, what’s going on. Which I don’t think the City does pretty good, they can do it better. Let me say it that way, in terms of prioritization. If we talk about the Comp Plan – of that, I can point out some specifics that might be helpful. Prioritize saying, “make some decisions, get it done, and keep your eyes on the piggy bank”.

There are many things going on with our local government. I think we could do a lot better with the money.

SG: So let’s turn to the Comp Plan and the Subarea Plan, they represent a generational opportunity to plot a path for the next 20 years on the island. What do you think are the top three things those documents must create for Bainbridge?

DH: Well, here we go: You know what I think, versus what the general population thinks. When I think the general population thinks… they’re not really sure of what’s going on. We’ve got core Winslow, we’ve got Lynwood, we’ve got other areas that are up and coming and what to do with them.

Lynwood might be a good secondary example… of people that live there and don’t want more hotels and that sort of thing going in there. They want to preserve the local character. On the other hand, they are people who think it’s a benefit to have all this stuff done. So it’s one of the things I’m going to repeat. Were it up to me, I would go out of my way, either through surveys, like I’ve been doing on my own to get an idea, or even if it’s really a knotty issue and deciding whether it is or not getting an island-wide, 100% survey or people could chime in.

In the surveys that I do, for example, it depends, some people answer and some people don’t. Is that representative of the democracy?

[Quick pause in recording while a buzzsaw is fired up outside the Chamber offices, and a polite request made to stop that happening…]

DH: If I had to pick one thing about the whole subarea, that would be an issue to focus on – it would be density.

I hear different things about density. I was talking to a past chair of the planning commission just yesterday on this issue, and some people say density is an issue some people don’t ever feel, but it’s all about density, high rises, low rises, middle rises, cottages, whatever. I think it’s pretty much up in the air what density means – it means different things to different people.

Density in core Winslow from the outside doesn’t seem to be a big setback, you know, put up whatever you want, kind of who cares. Density in Lynwood as an alternative seems to be a different issue.

I don’t know if that’s the only thing to focus on. But like other things, what is it we’re trying to do? How are we trying to get there? I know that Inslee has got this deal about housing and 1900 more units and 20 years, that affects density. How do you do it? Where do you do it? What do you do about parking? I would think, in terms of defining density, it would lead to other solutions.

SG: All of those will ultimately manifest in the city code: If you could change one thing in the Bainbridge Island City Code, what would it be?

DH: If I could change one thing in the city code? Well, I don’t have a one thing in the city code I would want to change. What I have said starting 10 years ago: The city code is there. Some of it goes through months or years of thinking and talking and all that sort of thing. The code is the code is the code. If you want to change the code, change the code.

It does seem, from the outside, that when somebody wants to do something different, they go apply for a variation. That sort of thing – and say this code variance is okay, let’s do it. It seems to be too many things. And you ask the question, what single thing? I don’t have a single thing.

SG: Within the city’s Housing Action Plan, there seems to be an almost-universal agreement that increasing housing diversity and supply on the island is, sort of, necessary for the sake of the community. Do you agree with that? And what kinds of housing do you think are the most important and why?

DH: What I would say initially, about this subject, is it’s not defined. Who we’re doing it for? How many do we need? Who’s going to control it? How much is going to cost? Who’s going to manage it, and so on, and so on.

As a concept, let me give you an analogy: Anybody in favor of protecting environment, raise their hand… I’m for it. Anybody for affordable housing, raise their hand… all right. As a subject, as a concept, it’s easy. When it comes down to actually defining what it is and who you’re doing it for, it’s something else. Cut me off, if I’m rambling on too long.

But I tried to dive in this with the HRB. I think you and I talked about this once. When I started this, I wasn’t really sure what we had, so I sat down with Phedra [Elliott, HRB Executive Director]. We took a road trip together and I looked at every affordable housing unit on Bainbridge that HRB manages, to get an idea of what we have.  I’ve done that. It goes from some of them are really kind of cool with views and all that, and some of them are dumps. What do we need it for?

I tried to, in that conversation, say, look, and I hear the 30% of blah blah blah [Average Median Income or AMI] is what we’re aiming for – that really doesn’t mean too much to me. If it doesn’t mean too much to me, I don’t think it means too much to a lot of other people either. So we talked about teachers, firemen, McDonald’s workers… what are we talking about? Because I’ve heard teachers, firemen and that sort of thing?

What the HRB said, no, not not really teachers, they make too much money, maybe early [career] teachers. That got me thinking about the definition – what stage of what is it that we’re really talking about?  Another one brought up that I could identify with, are seniors. Seniors are on fixed income, things are going up, they’re living on Social Security and getting forced out of their house, they need it. I mean, that’s compassion, you can understand that sort of in a New York second.

But then getting into the rest of it, I would say that that whole concept needs to be specifically defined so anybody can look at it and understand what it is we’re talking about. Who it is, who’s it for, how much, who’s going to control it, who’s going to manage it? That sort of thing.

I think you said in there do I think it’s necessary: The answer is, I think so, with the caveat that not all people want to live on Bainbridge Island. The bartender at one of my favorite bars in Winslow, but I  won’t mention his name or the place – He lives in Manette/Bremerton. I asked, “So why don’t you live on the island?” [He said], I don’t want to live on the island. So even if the income and all that supports you would qualify you –  some people just don’t want to do it.

Sort of the assumption that everybody wants to live on Bainbridge Island? I don’t think that’s true.

SG: Good job setting up the next question: With more and more of the island’s workforce coming to work over the Agate Pass bridge, how would you try to imagine transportation on Bainbridge? Car share, buses, ferries, bike lanes or something else?

DH:  Well this is outside of the box, and I think it’s been talked about before I don’t know,  and I’m not sure where it all is. A lot of traffic comes over the bridge, congestion, two lane bridge and all that sort of business. I would sort of like to revisit it and and see what the options are.

If for example, hypothetically, on the other side of the bridge where the casino is, or on the other side where it’s no man’s land under the power terminals, if there’s a nice big parking lot and frequent buses going back and forth to alleviate traffic? Or it could be something that would be good for the Casino. That could be one interesting alternative. Are you asking off-island people coming on the island and how to handle that transportation issue?

SG: Once they’re over the bridge, it doesn’t really matter –  if you’re a local or or you know, or somebody coming from over the bridge, you are now a car on the island…

DH: Right? And so what you’re asking is how to handle all the traffic we have?

SG: Yes, what do you think of that? What are the ways to make it better?

DH: Well, one of the goofy ideas I had… you ever heard of Elon Musk?

SG: Yes…

DH: Well, I called him fairly recently… and er, I didn’t get through to him, but I I keep on trying. And I say look, how would you like participate in a social experiment? He’d say, “what do you mean?” This is not… I haven’t gotten Elon yet… but maybe I will.

We have an island about the same size of Manhattan, but fewer people. We have ferry access to one side and a bridge on the other, all sorts of transportation issues. You know, the driverless cars and all that sort of thing. On the Island, we have a bus BI Ride or Pingo, or whatever it is, a whole entire bus to go to pick up one or two people.

What would be wrong with exploring the idea of a fleet of say, 15, self-driving Uber kind of cars, that you know housed somewhere in the middle of the island, totally automated. You call up, one or two people want to go from A to B? Or maybe as far as Poulsbo, I’m not sure. But something clever to get the transportation link going outside the box? Would it work? Might or might not? Do we have the technology to do it. I think we do. What about our trees overhead? I don’t know if it’s a problem or not. But people smarter than me could look at this and maybe they’ve done someplace in the world. But I would think creative things like that should be tested.

SG: Well, I would say someone that would pick up the phone would be Greg Dronkert at Pacific Mobility Group on the island because he’s very much thinking along those lines. So that’d be a good local conversation. You could have and maybe get that moving forwards more.

DH: Would you text me his number?

SG: Of course I would – the Chamber is here to make connections, Dick! I guess more specifically, would you support a new Bainbridge to Bremerton or some variant therein of foot ferry to give a different way to connect the North and the South Kitsap County?

DH: You mean like the Bremerton fast ferry idea and all that sort of idea…. I’m a boater and in concept I think it’s one of these things that is worth exploring. The issue is once you get to the island… for Bremerton, is not an issue, they’ve got that whole metroplex downtown. A nice dock, not an issue. [On] Bainbridge, it depends where you land. If you come around the Cape of Good Horn and go into Eagle Harbor, it would be one thing… but you can practically swim from Bremerton to the south end of Bainbridge Island. At one time Fort Ward was there – would it make any sense to do something down there? It might.

My mother in law was one of the first residents of Madrona house. There was a guy that worked there in the middle of the night, lived in Bremerton. He took the ferry to Seattle, then changed in Seattle and took the ferry to Bainbridge Island: He didn’t have a car and got to work. So how many people are like that? I don’t know. Is there a pool that would would benefit for that? I don’t know.

Part, a part of our labor problem on the island… can we draw from Bremerton for some people that do that? Perhaps. You know, I think it’s a clever idea, I think was one of Leslie [Schneider, City Council Member]’s things. It would be fun to sit down and see if there were some alternatives. Again, maybe thinking outside the box, there is a way to make it better, but I’m sure I will think about it…

SG; So another tricky balancing thing, you sort of referred to it earlier: How do you think the needs of both Bainbridge’s residents and visitors best be balanced?

DH: Yeah. Do you want a precise answer for this?

SG: Generalized thoughts are generally acceptable…

DH: How do I say this gently? I think there’s a huge difference between core Winslow and non-core Winslow, about the tourism question people are floating around. I have heard people say “I’m tired of these damn tourists coming off the boat, dada dada da…”. They just come here and the cruise people say, “Go to Bainbridge Island, it’s a great place, it’s a ferry ride”… and that sort of thing.

And maybe I can answer this question… I wasn’t expecting it, but I  wasn’t expecting anything… But maybe it goes back to you know, the number one guiding principle about preserving the nature, whatever that is, of Bainbridge Island. I would say, let’s reach out to the population as a whole, but I suspect it’d be skewed against businesses versus core Winslow or businesses versus not. So where I live on the north end, it doesn’t particularly bother me. Unless you have to leave when the ferry comes in, and you’re trying to get a parking spot, which there aren’t any. It’s not a straightforward issue, there’s definitely two camps out this one.

SG: Can you explain your understanding of the role of city council member has in promoting economic development?

DH: Well, I come back to… first is to listen. If somebody comes forward, maybe the hotel didn’t make it, or something like that, some issue like that, you know – What does the code say? What do we have in place? What are we trying to do? Who’s gonna benefit? We don’t just want to be benefiting the architect or the builder, you know, what’s the social value to all this? How does it fit our scheme? Make that evaluation.

It’s not just me, but I might have an opinion. I’m not saying this is my opinion, but my opinion might be no more of this, period. Status quo, or I might be, a little bit. But what’s important here is who the stakeholders are, and listen to what they have to say, get it on the table. I’m not talking about a work session or a work group, because those things can be very skewed, depending on who’s doing them, and how it’s being read and who’s invited, and who goes and a lot of people don’t go to public meeting, and don’t necessarily get get the full deal. What I would want to do, is figure out a way to get an honest full spectrum of the stakeholders put them around the table, and if it’s obvious one way or the other, like it’d be in an election – that would lead you down one path. If there’s room to do something else, that would lead you down a different path. But yeah, listen first.

SG: Well, certainly along those same lines, I hope, what role do you think the chamber can play in the community to best help Bainbridge?

DH: I, this is not a patronizing thought, but I think the chamber is doing a superb job of putting people together, and making information available. Being sort of a focal point to connect. So is your question how can the chamber do a better job?

SG: Yeah!

DH: I think you’re doing a terrific job. I don’t… I don’t have a single piece of of criticism. I have, you know, a faint recollection of of the past. I’ve been involved a couple of times over over history. But yeah, I think… do more of what you’re doing.

SG: Thank you. I’ll quit while I’m ahead on that one… What strategies do you intend to use to promote civic engagement and boost citizen participation in our local government?

DH:I think I’m sort of said it with maybe the tourism thing, or with density; figure out a way to reach out more than the city is. Here’s a very current example: Last week there was a planning commission meeting where they’re talking about stuff, I wasn’t here, I was out of town. But I look it back up. I think 90 people showed up at this meeting with a Comp Plan review, and I think there’s like 10 workgroups established – I’m not sure how the workgroups are established, I’m not sure who’s running the workgroups.

I’ve got to a note in to Patty {Charnas, City Planning Director] so she could tell me you know, what these groups, how they were formed, who’s doing it, and all that sort of thing. The city has historically, and the shoreline planners want to, put together these workgroups, and they ostensibly represent what the people want. But if the workgroups aren’t balanced, if they’re biased, and all the rest of that stuff, but it’s not truly what the people want, it’s a tricky business.

I’m not saying I’ve got a perfect solution. But I am saying get very broad-based statistically, an unbiased cross section of people who chime in on, you know, what the subject at hand is.

SG: All right, let’s go on a quick flight of fancy: If you received a million dollar grant, to use for the city in any way, what would you do with it and why?

DH: A million dollar grant? I would look at the priorities, however defined, which I don’t think they are well defined, right now. I’ve looked at the priorities. And then, which of those required a capital infusion? And this is a hypothetical? I don’t know if I’m ready to stand up on a soapbox and say this, but that we sort of touched on it like transportation, how do we deal with this?

It sort of bugs me that the BI ride and all that – you got a huge bus going to pick up one person, I would… if we had money left over from Harrison, one of the things I’ve said, do something to invest in a test fleet of the self driving cars, if that was a viable option, put it on the table and try it. It’s a social experiment.

You could do the same thing with affordable housing. One of the things that’s going on now, the city has property that they could give some to HRB, which is the best business model we have. The island right now, there may be other alternatives, so if the property is free, then maybe something like infrastructure, a million bucks. We can talk about Suzuki if you want to. But that is a hypothetical.

Put in infrastructure, streets, lights and all that. And rather than start paying architects and designers and all that, there are some really, really nice, manufactured homes on the market today for about a hundred grand. And you could have a bunch of them up in six months. So where properties are controversial, as a social experiment, we’re going to do let’s see, a million bucks, that’s 10 homes, we are going to do a model 10 Affordable Homes on property X, and see how it goes.

If that works, we’re going to multiply it across various places on the island. So if I had to pick two for a million dollars, pick the affordable transportation thing as an experiment and maybe the affordable housing or manufactured homes as an experiment. Or give it to the chamber!

SG: Yeah, I think that would probably be slightly problematic, but you know, I’m willing to talk about possibilities… [laughs]  Okay, back in the real world, where there’s only limited time, money and resources to tackle the challenges of Bainbridge and given that you have been surveying and talking to people for a while in the community, can you name three specific actions you intend to take as a council member that you think would be the most important things in a four-year term of office?

DH: I’ll start with my, one of the issues that I think is missing, is oversight with money. It’s not that we don’t have a nice balance sheet. It’s not that we don’t get awards for the way we’re presenting our budgets and that sort of thing. An oversight the way we spend money, and how we spend it, if it’s accounted for properly. And if people know about it, I mean, the way our government works today, every year is a new chapter. There’s no kind of carryover or project management. If you do, excellent.

It spans three different fiscal years. Nothing’s ever tying that together, you don’t really know what’s going on. So keeping our eye on the money, and money flows, and everything. So, oversight.

Another one that comes top of mind is an ombudsman. There’s all sorts of things that happen, and you don’t know where to go.

And this may lead to number three, as I think about it: We probably have all heard the frustration, you have some sort of issue, you go to City Hall, who do you talk to? Well, you guess you talk to Blair. You could talk to whomever, but there is not necessarily a resolution and nothing happens. An ombudsman could be helpful in that regard, at least people would know, if they complained about something, that it would have ears and get followed up on.

Another one, I guess I could rattle off more than three, but I know one of the issues that is raised over and over and over again, is the permitting process on Bainbridge. Especially what you’re talking about core Winslow – getting things done and permits are terrible. But for the homeowner to you go to the counter, you get two different answers on two different days from three different people. And it takes forever.

Some years ago, maybe five, the city hired an individual from Port Orchard, and the idea was they’re gonna get the permitting process from the 12th of never, down to like five days or something like that. And this guy came in. And they had a pretty good process in Port Orchard, he is here for a few years and quit out of frustration. There’s a whole avenue in the planning department and what goes on there… that I think from a citizen satisfaction point of view… again, I don’t have all the answers… but let’s talk about the planning department and customer satisfaction – maybe do a survey, get a straw vote of what the top problems are. So that I’m not just guessing, with heresay from one or two people. Put it on the table. Here’s the top three, prioritize, are these things real, and then how do we fix it and get it done? Slap it on there, and report out.

SG: Well, thank you very much -that concludes our 12 questions, we appreciate the time and your honest answers. Do you have any words with which you would like to close this session?

DH: Well, sure! Even though I’ve been involved with issues for the last 10 years, the main issue, the main catalyst for me getting involved with this, I just could not sit still for the waste… the Harrison police station business. I got into it after the deal was done; like most people when it was going on, I did not pay more attention to it than anybody else, for multiple reasons I got into it. And sort of scratching my head. It seems kind of expensive.

I’m the guy that dug in on my own, and figured out the finances behind that. We overpaid. We paid $9 million for a $3 million building. Why the hell would anybody want to resurrect a hospital into a police station, when there was an alternative? I found that alternatives weren’t presented well, we could have gotten out of it, it involved undoing the deal – could have kept what we had if we really wanted to – but getting money back and maybe even making a better decision.

It just irked me – every day of my life that we could spend that much time – and bright nice people in the city council… “Water under the bridge”, “I don’t want to deal with it”, “Made the best decision I could at the time”, “I think you’re lying” –  whatever it is… you know, this is wrong. I want to do something about it.

My business, so  I think what I have in all this is my business sense, my business background, which I think is sorely missing. And I have said to people, so I’ll say to you my strategy in this is to get myself elected, and over the next couple of years, finding people who don’t really want to run for city council… [get] a couple of more business people on board and I think we’d make much better business decisions and have fun doing it – and have a better Bainbridge government.

SG: Good words to end on. Thank you very much.

DH: Well, thank you

NOTE:  Transcript has been edited to reduce vocal repetition and improve clarity.
The uncut video is also included here, with all questions and answers (and any glitches or technical errors) intact.

Watch The Video:


Learn more about Dick Haugan at his campaign website:

In a recent Bainbridge Review Interview:

To see all of our 2023 City Council Candidate Interviews, head back to the Chamber News homepage