We asked each of the four candidates for the District 2 seat on the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners to answer a series of questions about relevant issues. Their complete responses are below. Here are the questions we asked:
1. Please tell us about your background.
2. Please explain your reasons for running for commissioner.
3. What are your thoughts about land use in Okanogan County, specifically balancing growth, quality of life and environmental considerations?
4. What is your position on public lands: Should they remain public, be returned to the state, county or privatized? Please discuss the financial implications of your position on this issue.
5. What is your position regarding having county employees provide services versus privatizing or contracting for services? What functions do you think are best handled by county staff versus private contractors?
6. The county has been involved in a number of lawsuits recently (Three Devils Road vacation, ATVs, employee relations and management). Could these have been prevented and how does this litigation impact the county budget and spending priorities?
7. How can Okanogan County be better prepared to prevent and respond to wildfires and other natural disasters?
8. Are there other issues facing the county that you want to address, and how would you address them?
1. I am a fourth-generation Methow Valley resident living on my family ranch at Gold Creek where I was raised. I raised my family here on the ranch – my daughter Kara, son Brian, stepson Bucky and foster son Eagle. I’ve been involved in many issues and served on various volunteer boards in the Methow Valley and county also. I was a member of the Methow Watershed Planning board, moving on to be an appointed member of the Watershed Council. I served on the Okanogan County Board of Adjustment through most of the 1990s, being chairman of that board for the majority of that service. I worked in construction and was a building contractor in the1970s and 1980s. I owned and operated my own real estate company through the 1990s up to 2013 when I became county commissioner.
2. I am running for re-election because I didn’t get everything accomplished that I originally set out to get done in my first term of office. I started out with the goals to help restore a vibrant economic base to Okanogan County and protect our customs and culture of this county. We have a diversified economy spread across this county and I have worked hard to protect and enhance the industries that lead to a productive economy.
3. I see natural resources and agriculture as the main foundation of our rural economy and should be free of over burdensome regulations while using responsible regulations to protect our environment and health of the citizens. Tourism is a big part of the Methow Valley and again I am in favor of responsible restrictions that will protect and enhance this industry.
I’m proud to be a part in passing our current comprehensive plan that lays out the foundation for the following zone code that will be adopted in the near future, and will be followed by the subdivision ordinance, shoreline regulations and critical areas ordinance. All of these documents will be in place to insure future development will be done through measures that will allow our county to grow at a reasonable rate while protecting our environment and customs and culture of the county.
4. Public lands should be managed as they were intended, by wisely utilizing the natural resources that come from these lands. There is a need to clean up our overstocked, unhealthy federal forests and return them to the healthy condition they were in when I was growing up here. Our state lands need to be better managed also to ensure there is a healthy natural resource that comes from both state and federal lands. The federal forests and state forests managed lands were intended to generate revenue from proper management of these renewable natural resources that are intended go towards funding education, public roads and the management of those lands.
5. There is a need to continue utilizing county employees for a big part of county services with the utilization of private local contractors where additional help is needed. The bottom line is using the taxpayers’ funds wisely and providing the best service for the lowest cost overall. General road maintenance and minor upgrades and winter snow removal should be left to county road crews. There are circumstances that private contractors could be used to fill in when there are short-term needs. Larger road projects are usually put out to bid.
6. Yes, some lawsuits could have been prevented by doing nothing, which in turn could have brought lawsuits for not doing something. There are always two sides and you can’t make everyone happy. I chose the path of doing what I believed to be right and I will continue to do so.
7. I have spent many hours and days in 2014 and 2015 into 2016 in Olympia working on and testifying on legislation to help us get ahead of these fires. I have approached this looking at how to get resources in the hands of our first responders, our local rural fire districts, to enable them to engage the needed resources on the fires in hopes to get them out before they become the big-project fires that we’ve had these past two years. These local volunteers have the necessary training as do the local contract fire teams. I have asked to have the DNR work with these local resources, both in training together and working together when these fires erupt. We have a very knowledgeable group of local firefighters. We need to be working across private state and federal lands to get our forest healthy again and using the money available to Firewise our private forested communities. A healthy forest can sustain fires as history shows from the past.
8. Our county has a huge drug and alcohol problem, both with our adult and children populations, that is a growing issue. These problems are affecting our criminal justice system starting with the extra burden on law enforcement, prosecutor, public defender, judicial, jail, rehab, etc. This problem is getting bigger each year. We have a countywide low- and middle-income housing shortage, along with an ongoing homeless housing problem. Our unemployment level is high.
The long-term effects caused by the fires of 2014 and 2015 are yet to be realized. We have cattle ranchers that lost cattle in these fires, miles of fences burned up as well as the loss of range land for grazing. Loss of valuable timber on private, state and federal lands has a long-term negative effect on the economy of our county.
1. I was born in Brewster and have lived in the Methow Valley all my life. Graduated from Liberty Bell High School, valedictorian with honors. Attended Washington State University and received bachelor of science in agriculture technology and management along with a minor in business administration. Have managed North Valley Lumber in Winthrop for the past seven years with three years prior to that managing Winthrop Ace Hardware. Married to Jennifer Hover and have one son, Saxton.
2. I feel it is important for younger people to become involved in politics in order to affect change. Having a father who held both the office of Okanogan County commissioner and director of agriculture for Washington state, I was able to see first-hand how change could be made and felt it important that I play a role in helping Okanogan County and its residents.
3. As a person who has spent all of his life in Okanogan County I value the rural lifestyle that it holds. Also, as a manager of a company that derives its income from growth I have the unique perspective of both sides. Planning for the future is one of the most important things that we can do. This means responsible ideas that promote our rural lifestyle, allow for inevitable growth, and responsibly manage our environment for future generations to have a place they may remain or move back to.
4. I do not promote the idea of transfer of public lands. I believe that all people should have the right to use these lands to hike, hunt, fish and recreate. I feel that the transfer of public lands would make it easier for large corporations or wealthy individuals to purchase these lands and take them out of public use. Financially these public lands provide for tourism, grazing, logging and natural resources that can be utilized by all. I would work hard to maintain and hopefully increase state and federal payments in lieu of taxes.
5. One problem with contracting services is that many of the contracts are awarded to companies or entities outside of Okanogan County. We must work to keep jobs and families from being displaced, which can have a damaging effect on our local economy. Private contracting may be of benefit on time-sensitive issues, where specialized expertise is needed, or where the cost savings are especially significant.
6. Defending these lawsuits is a burden on the taxpayers of Okanogan County and cut into the money available for important programs. Some of the lawsuits might have been avoided if the commissioners had listened to all of their constituents, not just a select few. I would have listened and brought both sides to the table and attempted to establish workable compromises. Some of the issues are procedural and related more to process than substance. I am committed to open government and working relationships between all groups.
7. Natural disasters such as wind, water and fire are unfortunately inevitable, however, good planning on the parts of communities, towns, cities and Okanogan County is the first and best step to mitigating the impact of disaster events. Every community should have an emergency response committee or group that meets to help discuss and plan for different disaster scenarios. There should be communication among all citizens as to ideas that could help confront disaster. Fast, efficient communication between residents, local, state and federal agencies with good rules of engagement must be created. Prevention stems from good management of our surroundings as well as careful evaluation of situations as they start. Firewise forest management, construction practices and good ingress/egress standards would be good places to start.
1. Graduated from Meridian High School in 1973, senior class president, active in band, all sports, and captain of the football team in my junior and senor years. I received seven letters of intent to play college football but logging won my vote. I’ve worked in agriculture, logging, worked for Bonneville Power and have worked in heavy construction since 1985 including water, sewer lines and road and bridge construction. I’ve been a Backcountry Horsemen member since 1998 serving as chapter president in both Okanogan and Whatcom Counties. Through my affiliation with BCH, I have a positive working relationship with Department of Fish and Wildlife, USFA, DNR and Pacific Northwest Trail Association. I have been involved in Legislative Days in Olympia. I have been a member of the 302 Operation Engineers for 22-plus years. In 2005, my wife, Cathy, and I bought 33 acres in the Chiliwist and life is good.
2. Living in the United States of America and living free starts right here in yours and my backyard, so let’s get Okanogan county back on track.
3. Public lands should stay public but they should be used in the manner in which they were intended and not be held hostage by environmental groups. Since the early 1980s it’s all been for the green side, no logging, no grazing. Yes, it sounds good but it doesn’t work. We need a sustainable harvest on the logging side of things instead of beetle kill, fire and some more managed grazing, even in our riparian zones.
4. If this question is asking what I’m thinking I believe that once land is turned over to state or federal agencies then it is removed from the tax rolls, then the county suffers from a loss of viable revenue.
5. I feel this needs to be handled on an individual basis. I believe that once a determination is made, local employment means the money stays here, at home.
6. Three Devils – had the commissioners taken the advice of the hearing examiner they hired, there would be no lawsuit. So why did the hire him if they weren’t going to listen to what he had to say?
7. Come up to the Chiliwist and take notes. We were the first Firewise community in the state. All communities throughout the county should work closely with state and local agencies to be better prepared in the event of a natural disaster. Prevention starts with us and having a good emergency management department.
8. How to attract businesses, to put local people to work, by keeping unemployment down and keeping our money at home.
1. I grew up in rural Vermont and came to Washington to attend college. After graduating from the University of Puget Sound with a bachelor of science in biology, I moved to Twisp in order to be closer to my family. I have spent the last seven years as a wildland firefighter serving on the local hand crew, on the Baker River Hotshots, and, most recently, with the Redmond Smokejumpers. As an Incident Commander making critical and timely decisions has been a crucial part of my job. I have become accustomed to working in challenging, stressful and dynamic environments and I have seen first-hand how solid and decisive leadership can make the difference between success and failure. I believe that I am capable of offering such leadership not because I have all the answers, but because I have the confidence and humility to learn from those around me and the integrity to do the right thing, even under challenging circumstances. I am now currently working as a carpenter for Charters LLC. After deciding to step back from my career in fire, I realized it was time to take on a new challenge and expand my life skills.
2. We are a large and diverse county, but for all of our differences I believe that most people would agree that we have shared values: integrity, perseverance, honesty and hard work. And I know that most people want what is best for their families, their communities and their land; the differences manifest themselves in the details about what that future looks like and how we get there. But if we can start the discussion from a point of agreement, then we can more easily do the hard work of collaborating and compromising.
3. As we move into a future that is warming and drying, water will continue to be a pivotal part of any debate about land use. As I mentioned above, I think we can all agree that we want what is best for our families, communities and land, but there may be differences in those details. Ideally, each individual would be able to do what s/he wants on their own property, but practically, what we chose to do in one location has implications further down the line. Just as there are regulations on individual behavior in order to protect the public from harm, there too should be some regulations on land use to protect the public from harm. We live in a semi-arid county and water scarcity and water rights are a real and current problem; how we address this issue will affect the county for decades to come. Agriculture-based industries are the No. 1 employer in the county, employing over a third of the work force. This means that if we deplete our water sources it will not only affect individual landowners, but the entire economy of the county; if there is not enough water to farm, there will be serious job losses in the future.
4. We cannot afford to privatize our public lands. Visits to national forest lands are an important contribution to the economic vitality of rural communities. Spending by recreation visitors in areas surrounding national forests amounted to nearly $11 billion across the United States. Some 14.7 million users visited national forests in Oregon and Washington each year in the 2008 to 2012 period, which is the most recent information available. The Okanogan National Forest share of that is approximately 272,000 visits. Based on the data gathered by the National Visitor Use Monitoring Program, the value of these visits to Okanogan County is $12,468,000. Given the economic multiplier used by the tree fruit industry of 1.46, the total contribution of national forest based recreation on our economy here in Okanogan County is at least $16.7 million annually.
The importance of clean water is immeasurable. We cannot do without it. If the national forest land that is the source of all our water in the county was privatized, the quality of water delivered from those lands could very well be diminished. Billions of gallons of water flows annually from the public land. All decisions about land use on public land are required by law to involve the public; this would not be the case if these lands are privatized. If lands are passed on to state or private interests, those parties may have the public interest in mind, or they may be guided by more personal interests and profit motivation. The fact that we have land that belongs to each and every one of us is a treasure that most other people in the world do not enjoy, let’s not give that up.
5. Privatizing the public sector is often brought up in times of economic decline as a way of decreasing the operational budget of the government; this can happen all the way from the local level up to the federal level. The argument for this shift is that the private companies are more efficient than the public and can thus save the government money. However, there can often be hidden costs to privatization. In order to reduce their costs, the private companies often pay their employees much less than the government does, and rarely include benefits. In reality then, this “cost saving” to the government is often more a “cost shift” as those low-paid employees often qualify for Medicaid and/or food stamps. Additionally, the low-paying jobs tend to have high turnover rates, so the quality of the services may decline. For these reasons, I do not think it is wise to aggressively pursue privatization.
However, there are some jobs that are necessary to contract out, whether they are too big to be completed by the county work force, jobs that require specialized skills or equipment, or one-time jobs and it does not make sense to hire a permanent position.
6. There is currently a lot of distrust and anger from the public, and most of it stems from a lack of transparency. The people of Okanogan County know what is best for them. It is the county commissioner’s job to listen to the voters and, to the best of their ability, implement policy and decisions with public support. The county is currently in court over many issues and these litigations could have been avoided had the experts and the public been listened to. The disregard for public input is unacceptable, but I also see it as an ineffective use of the budget. With money already tight in the county, the added expense of legal fees defending proposals that have little to no public support is irresponsible.
7. I support taking a more proactive stance in fire reduction. Wildfire is a very important topic to me, and one that I am intimately familiar with. With the reality of a warming and drying climate, the risk of wildfires is increasing. Fires are becoming more numerous, larger and more destructive, while the fire season is becoming longer. The aggressive suppression of wildfires in the past has left us with forests that are too dense, overgrown and sickly and after decades of suppression. The fuels in the forest (the accumulation of pine needles, branches, dead trees, etc.) is so thick that fires often become destructive.
Thinning and prescribed burning: This is only a partial solution; there are millions of acres of forest that are in need of fuels reduction due to decades of fire suppression. It is not possible to treat them all, so the focus is placed on the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Along with agency work, homeowners need to become more educated about what they can do. Firewise communities are much more likely to survive a wildfire than untreated communities. However, these solutions have not been entirely effective in the past.
Funds to triage areas: I worked for a group in California that created a digital triage of communities in the WUI. All firefighting resources had access to this document. Some of the important information for resources to know are: ingress/egress, water resources, is there a safety zone available and is the house defendable. This could go a long way to increase firefighter safety, as well as incentivize homeowners to make their homes defendable.
8. Economic vitality of the county: Currently, 55 percent of jobs held in the county fall into one of two categories: agriculture or local government. This raises two points: first, if we focus our efforts on bolstering just two areas of employment, we will positively affect over half of the population; and secondly, we need to stop trying to privatize public sector jobs. However, it is known in biology that diversity is key to a sustainable population. In order to truly revitalize the economy, we must work to diversify this job pool. I will work to foster creative new industries within the county.
Public health: Okanogan County is currently ranked 36th out of 39 counties. We need to address poverty through education, job training, affordable child care and housing, transportation options and proper mental health care. An easy start to this solution is to have people with health care experience be on the Board of Health.
Disaster preparedness: I want to continue working with the cities and the county to maintain the disaster preparedness plans. Unfortunately, we have had two consecutive years of record-breaking fires, but that has worked to increase public awareness of the importance of planning for and working to mitigate natural disasters. This includes planning for the future of the county by working to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the risks of limited water and increased fire danger.