District 1 incumbent focuses on disaster planning, job growth
By Marcy Stamper
Incumbent Sheilah Kennedy is running for a second four-year term as District 1 county commissioner. The District 1 commissioner represents Omak, most of Okanogan, and the Colville Reservation and southern Okanogan County, but all voters in the county vote for the position in the general election.
Kennedy was not available for an interview in time to be included last week’s Methow Valley News, which featured a profile of her challenger, Chris Branch.
Kennedy has served one term as county commissioner. Before being elected, Kennedy worked in the weed-control industry, as owner of S-K Environmental, a portable system for washing off noxious weeds from vehicles and boats. She was coordinator of the Okanogan County Noxious Weed Control Board for 15 years.
Kennedy has a degree in cosmetology and has taken courses in natural-resource management. She lives in Okanogan.
Kennedy prefers the Republican Party.
Kennedy listed the following as her biggest accomplishments during her first term:
• completing and adopting several countywide planning documents (including the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance) that had been “sitting on the shelf” for years.
• bringing together department heads on a regular basis to open lines of communication.
• revising outdated documents to bring them into compliance.
Land use; lawsuits
“When I ran, I planned to dig in and get the work done,” said Kennedy, referring to county plans that had been languishing for years.
While Kennedy said she hadn’t initially understood why the comp plan and zoning ordinance treated some parts of the county — including the Methow Valley — differently, she learned that there was an agreement to “leave the Methow alone,” which they honored.
“Everyone knew there was a strong potential for lawsuits [over the comp plan and zoning code], but we felt we had extra meetings, public hearings and work groups. We feel we have a very good document,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said she believed the process had provided an opportunity to work out differences in advance. Some members of the groups suing the county had been part of the process and the work groups, she said.
“We’re in the day and age of filing lawsuits,” said Kennedy, who said the commissioners had reviewed thousands of pages of comments, even if they are not all listed in the record.
“I take responsibility for the decisions. We didn’t knowingly create documents that would lead to lawsuits. No plan is perfect, but I believe we have documents that we can continue to move forward with and improve,” she said.
Jobs and economy
Kennedy sees excellent opportunities for county government to support new industries and businesses, but doesn’t want the county to be in a position where it’s competing with towns.
She remains concerned about housing for workers. Before the county invites businesses with new jobs, officials need to look at the lack of rentals and affordable housing. “That’s a huge issue,” said Kennedy. “Where will people live?”
The commissioners are not trying to privatize county services such as road work and weed control, but in some circumstances hiring a private contractor is more practical, said Kennedy. For example, they decided to hire a contractor to handle weed control on county roads after experienced workers with the county’s weed crew retired and Public Works staff had other responsibilities, she said.
“We decided to try it — we knew it would cost more in the first two years, but then the cost goes down,” said Kennedy. “If someone has the interest to be trained and wants the responsibility, that could be an option” for bringing the job back within the county work force, she said.
The only way to add county employees is by increasing taxes, said Kennedy.
Concerns about liability
Measures she has supported protect the county from liability, said Kennedy. For example, weed spraying must comply with strict environmental and herbicide-storage regulations, and using inexperienced applicators could put the county at risk.
Similarly, the decision to have a contract attorney handle the comp plan and zoning code was made after consultation with the county prosecutor’s office. The prosecutors already had a heavy load with trials, said Kennedy.
“We decided it would be in the best interest of the public — and would save money — by going with Sandy Mackie, because he’s a land-use attorney and has experience,” she said.
The commissioners’ decision to do an in-depth review of options for juvenile detention — including sending juveniles out of county or renovating the existing facility — was a fact-finding process, said Kennedy.
Kennedy had been concerned about a list of deficiencies in the county’s juvenile-detention center. “What if somebody gets hurt in our facility? The report was out there — it was shocking,” she said, referring to the county’s 2013 proposal to the Legislature to fund a new justice complex.
“We take an oath to protect public health and safety — nobody wants that on their shoulders,” she said.
Goals for a second term
Kennedy’s goals include focusing on fire recovery and coordination of emergency services to be prepared for “the next disaster.”
She is pushing for legislation that would require the state to fully compensate the county for non-taxable lands. The state has been paying just 30 percent of what the county bills, she said.
Kennedy wants to focus on county infrastructure, including transferring boxes of county records to storage and upgrading the juvenile-detention facility, now that the commissioners have decided to continue to house juveniles locally.
Kennedy is committed to providing services with a balanced budget and without raising taxes, she said.
Kennedy took a voluntary 10-percent cut in salary and declined the stipend for travel within the county.
“I am a worker. The only thing I failed in is that I wasn’t at every parade, every coffee shop, or every meeting,” said Kennedy.