Clallam County Commissioner candidates engage in first debate

by Sue Forde
Citizen Review Online

Posted 8/23/2011

Sequim, WA – Candidates for Clallam County Commissioner District 1 met to debate at the regular Concerned Citizens of Clallam County (FourC) meeting of on August 22, 2011.  The meeting started at 7 p.m., with approximately 200 people in attendance.

Jim McEntire (R)  is running against Linda Barnfather (D) of Sequim for the position. Current Commissioner Steve Tharinger (D) will not be running again since his election as a State Representative.

U. S. Representative candidate Jesse Young led in the Pledge of Allegiance, and elected officials in the audience were introduced, including Sheriff Bill Benedict, State Rep. Kevin Van de Wege, and County Commissioner Mike Doherty (D), District 3.

Linda Barnfather spoke first, relaying information about her qualifications for the job. She is a member of the League of Women Voters (LWV), and has been endorsed by the Sierra Club and a local union, Local 66 Sheet Metal Workers Union.  She volunteers at the Port Townsend Film Festival. She said she’s running because she “cares deeply for the place we live and call home.” She wants a balanced approach to the budget.  She said her family “spent half their life in healthcare.” She currently works as an Executive Legislative Assistant to State Representative/ House Majority Whip, Kevin Van De Wege.

Jim McEntire stated that “you own your government…we are your servants”, and he’s asking the constituents to “hire him” for the job.  He talked about his experience as a senior Coast Guard officer, in executive and policy positions, as well as his current job as an elected Port Commissioner (He served 28 years as a U.S. Coast Guard officer, retiring as a Captain).  “The Board of County Commissioners serves as both executive and the legislative branches” of county government, he said.  McEntire stated he has over 41 years of experience, as team leader and team participant, stressing the need to cooperate.  “We have to reach a consensus,” then move ahead, he said.  He talked about the “four pillars” he “rests upon”: Fidelity to the U.S. and State Constitutions; to “preserve and maintain your individual rights”; individual liberty; self-determination, and local control.  “Government is best when closest to the people,” said McEntire.

McEntire said his plan is to keep taxes level, and find a way to get behind our economy and “push just as hard as we can” to get it moving forward.

Each candidate posed a question to the other.

McEntire asked Barnfather about her views as to private sector and unions.  She responded that she presumed he was raising the issue of her involvement with the recent SEIU (Service Employees International Union) rally, and explained that she was invited to attend, and that she comes from a healthcare background.  She did not directly answer the question.

Barnfather asked McEntire: Would he repeat what he did regarding Harborworks?  He responded that he would achieve a cleanup to make sure of the economic base.  “There are things I could do better,” he said.  He said Rayonier had assured the Port they would enter talks, but they didn’t.  What he would do differently is an environmental cleanup sooner than later.

Jerry Sinn acted as moderator for the next two sections of the debate: one covering property rights; the other, economic development.

Q: Have private property rights eroded in Clallam County?

(LB) The Carlsborg UGA is the biggest priority – to get the business there going.
(JM): Property rights are in jeopardy – with unclear science, using the so-called “Best Available Science”, and a “cautionary approach” can adversely affect private property.  He would rely on “good science” based on local results.  (Applause).

Q:  Do you think the WA State Dept. of Ecology (DOE) has diminished rights?

(JM) To the extent that DOE doesn’t take all factors into account, like the economy.  Does DOE set out to dimish property rights?  No.  We need to safeguard the environment and the economy – need a good balance.

(LB)  She has worked with DOE on the WRIAs (watershed resource inventory areas), and it is “mission-drive”.  A balance we strive to achieve, we need to make the best policies for you.  She said she would listen “in a nonpartisan” way.

Q.  Carlsborg – PUD. Status?

(LB) The UGA (Urban Growth Area) has the ability for business to have the current moratorium lifted, which would create 600-1100 jobs there.  There is the sewer issue and whether it is feasible for residents to afford it.  Has to be sustainable and work for the people of Carlsborg.

(JM)  the “GMA (Growth Management Act) is a blunt instrument in an area like our own.”  If no one can start a rural business, it’s a bad law.  People should be able to do what they want with their own property, within the confines of planning and other laws.  The county has the ability to finance the sewer in a way where it doesn’t fall on just a few.  It is an intolerable situation where no one can get a building permit.

Questions then came from the audience.

JoAnne Estes asked each candidate’s position about the shoreline management plan, where properties would have setbacks of 200 feet.

(JM)  The Shoreline Property Management Act was passed in the 1970s.  The term “No Net Loss” is not mentioned in it.  It is “undefined.”  The elected DCD (Dept. of Community Development) director is responsible for formulating the update.  The County Commissioners will pass, make changes.  He shared his principles in looking at any bill:  (1)  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it;” (2)  a minimalist approach to No Net Loss; (3) Use “good science” – with a 200’ zone, raise the question “Is there good science to support it?”; (4) Communicate with property owners as to what would be changing and what would remain the same.

(LB)  We are working with Jefferson county, whose Shoreline Management plan is “not quite done” – holding “stakeholder meetings”, most of the “feeling” is that people are already good stewards.  The Plan hasn’t been updated for 40 years – we have critical areas that are “endangered.”

Charleton Epps asked where the idea comes from that Carlsborg is a UGA – it “is NOT” under the law, he said.

(LB)  It is noncompliant with the GMA as a LAMRID or UGA; we don’t know; it’s in a moratorium.

(JM)  It’s been designated as a UGA for some time now.  The county has had plenty of time to get the infrastructure in place already.

Bob Forde asked about the proposed movement of the 2.2 miles of dike along the Dungeness River, due to be pulled back by 400 yards; and also asked if the candidates believe there’s a water shortage in Western Washington.

(JM)  No water shortage.  About the dike, not as informed.  If county is going to do something, they need to compensate property owners for loss of property; if sellers are “unwilling”, county needs to make some kind of compensation for diminished use.

(LB)  If it cuts a homeowner short, they should be compensated.  Re: water shortage, there are some aquifer property and some water shortage because of wells, and rainfall has changed the course over the last several years.

Sinn then moved the conversation to economic development.  He raised the following questions:

Q:  How would you bring jobs to the county, based on your past experience?

(JM)  Serving as a Port Commissioner, “that’s what they’ve been doing.”  He gave two examples as to how he would push for jobs; one was a lumberyard business where the entire local government showed up when the new owner came to visit the area, and assured him they would do everything they could to help him get it done.  They were ready to “encourage” business.  We can adopt that attitude of “we’re open for business,” he said.  Another example he cited was for a renewable biodiesel plant, where permits were issued within 89 days.  That’s the type of plan I’ll do, he said.

(LB)  The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) should focus on good, stable, strong, dependable government – get regulatory things under control.  The duty of the BOCC is to have good courts, etc.

Q:  What specific plans do you have to reduce unemployment in Clallam County?

(LB)  Could be jobs lost in county government.  We need to match essential dollars with essential services.  A tough task ahead.

(JM)  In funding resources for county government, the county property taxes are at around $1 million; and sales tax revenues have gone down – we’re at a “wash” since 2003.  “Government can create direct employment, but we’re out of that business,” he said.  Most important things require breaks – he will advocate a “review of all regulations to see if they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing”, and work to get rid of the ones that don’t.  “I intend to be a very strong voice in Olympia; we need to rein in regulations that hold us back,” he said.

Q. There is a shortfall of over $2 million for the next year.  Would you go to the union to hold union pay increases?

(JM)  Would approach unions to re-open contracts.  The county needs a head count for critical positions like deputies.

(LB)  County employees are drivers to our local economy.  Some $35 million is put into the local economy by government employees.  Voluntary furloughs are working to help at the State level – an example of things we can do.  (She did not answer the question.)

Q.  What is your position on grant funding?

(LB):  Each grant process = “dollars” – grant system is good for our community as long as it works.

(JM):  Grant funding will not be available with the economic times we’re in.  States’ finances are not doing well.  Far fewer State grants coming.  County governments have the legal authority to do only certain things.  Without funding, county is not authorized to proceed.  The alternative is to rally citizens to “fill the gap”, and find ways to accomplish the things where grant money previously did.

Q.  What is your position about ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, now “ICLEI -Local Governments for Sustainability”)?

(JM):  Fidelity to our national and state constitutions are uppermost.  I work for you.  Willing to adopt any idea from any place to help do a better job.

(LB):  Don’t know enough at this time.  [She announced she spends her time with constituents.]  Don’t have an answer.

Q.  What about membership in ICLEI?

(JM)  We need to get back to being a “meat and potatoes” government.  This falls below the essential priorities at the county level.

(LB)  Will find out more about it.

Questions then came from the floor:

Q.  What is your first concrete order of business?

(LB):  Getting the Carlsborg matter settled.

(JM):  Agrees with taking care of the Carlsborg situation.  Would do a review of the current regulations.  Also would coordinate the tax levies.

Q.  Deborah Groesbeck asked“When, if ever, is it appropriate for an elected official to take sides with one side or the other on a labor dispute involving a public or private labor union?”

(LB)  Said she has been involved with various functions on her “lunch break” – sees no problem with it.

(JM)  He appreciates the role of the unions.  “I draw the line between private and public sector unions,” he said.  An executive is responsible for negotiating contracts with public sector unions.  It’s not proper to take sides before negotiations are complete.  Can have an opinion, but should not voice it, in this position.

Q:  Money accepted from unions?

(JM)  Not aware of any union donations – but would welcomes donations.

(LB)  Received donation from Local 66 Sheet Metal Workers Union so far.

(Q) Are you in favor of forced unionism or the first amendment right to associate with whomever they wish?  (re: right-to-work).

(LB)  People can still get together to exercise their rights, and people should.  Up to the individual.

(JM):  You’re talking about “right-to-work” laws versus compulsory union laws?  We are a nation of laws, as interpreted by the courts.

Q:  One gentleman asked about jobs that can be created in Carlsborg.  There are no jobs to individual families.  Jobs to government?

(LB)  Jobs in Carlsborg are family-wage jobs.  Machinests, etc.  People will come here to work and live, which will put more money into the county coffers.  There are 490 miles of roads to attend to; homelessness; mental health services, etc.

(JM)  We have 10.2% unemployment here.  Household income has dropped around 26%.  His sole focus will be to get the economy moving.

Q.  About Carlsborg.  Social services at $2 million shortfall.  Of those who live in Carlsborg, only 20 proponents to the changes; and approximately 200 who signed a petition against it – we are ignored.  We will fight it; the debt will be astronomical.

(JM):  Will make sure the economic burden does not fall only on the people of Carlsborg.  Will not vote for anything that would go that direction.

(LB):  Has to make sense.  Burden can’t be on the small business owner.

Q.  About Carlsborg.  Over 200 homeowners are opposed to the sewer; if business wants sewer, they should pay for it.  In North Bend, Oregon, they voted for sewer system – one property owner is being assessed $316K for the “potential” of value on his property.

(LB)  More studies to be done; she is concerned about the costs for everyone.

(JM) Reiterated his earlier statement.

Q.  Darlene Schanfeld – questioned McEntire about Rayonier.  How do you equate public input – behind closed doors, secret deal.  We were ignored.

(JM):  Obliged to listen to everybody.  Some decisions are not all agreed to by everyone.  Made decision in the public interest.  He would have liked to have the environmental cleanup done sooner than later.  Now stalled – for 10 years.  The Rayonier property is a strong asset to the waterfront; we need to get some economic project going there.

(LB)  In a public process, we need to collaborate with the other commissioners.

Q:  Bob McGonigel asked about the incoming homeless population.  For the past few years, a larger number of homeless people; he’s spoken to many, and said they are being shipped in here from other areas.  Would you sign on to a grant if string attached is housing homeless from other areas in our county:

(LB):  Most are from Clallam County.  (Didn’t answer the question.)

(JM)  Such a string would not be legitimate.  We need to see if strings are worth taking a grant.

Q:  Regarding “good science.”  Would you use county resources to fight “inconvenient truth” type of science?

(JM)  Would spend local money to find out the science for “our” county.

(LB)  Data comes from DOE, Fish & Wildlife, etc.  We have to “regionalize”.  Jefferson County, Kitsap County part of the “region” that has information to share with us.

The meeting ended at approximately 9 p.m.