Thurston County Commissioner candidates Karen Rogers, left, and Cathy Wolfe receive their instructions from George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, at a candidate forum held today, sponsored by the Olympia Downtown Rotary.
County Commissioner Candidates Speak About IssuesBy Janine Unsoeld
Two current Thurston County Commissioners wanting to retain their positions and their respective challengers met today for a fast-paced, speed-dating style question and answer period at an Olympia Downtown Rotary meeting held today at the Red Lion Inn in Olympia. The event was moderated by George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian.
Commission position #1 candidate Karen Rogers (D) and incumbent Cathy Wolfe (D) sat next to each other, and Commission position #2 candidate Andrew Barkis (R) sat next to incumbent Sandra Romero (D) on the other side of the table.
After initial introductions, Le Masurier posed several questions to all candidates relating to the unopened county jail, population growth, environmental issues, the public power initiative, and more.
Each candidate had one minute to respond to each question, resulting in snappy sound bites that at times amused and frustrated the candidates. The answers here are snippets of slightly longer answers. Although many answers lacked detail, the event provided the audience an opportunity to hear the candidates in person and gain some insight on their thoughts about the issues. Le Masurier regularly alternated the order in which candidates answered questions, which are paraphrased.What should be done about the Thurston County fairgrounds?
Rogers: Rogers said the fairgrounds should stay open if the money can be found, and that the agriculture attractions should be beefed up. She said the Agri-tourism Overlay District is not working and that she is proud of her endorsement by the Washington State Farm Bureau.Wolfe: Wolfe said she attended a visioning process about the future of the fairgrounds last week that generated hundreds of creative ideas. “The fair is not mandated as a county requirement, but it is a priority to keep it open.”
Barkis: Barkis agreed that the fair should stay open if alternative revenue sources can be found. He also said the weather is a big factor with attendance.
Romero: Romero agreed that the fairgrounds should stay open, and said the key is to keep it open and have meetings there to generate revenue. “The younger crowd would change the fair with updated music, and activities to become more diverse. Fish Tale Ale suggested a beer garden.”What about the ARC? (The Accountability and Restitution Center, the formal name for the new jail that has been sitting empty for two years)
Wolfe: “It should be open right after the first of the year. The old jail was built in the 80’s and is draining so much money in repairs to keep it running, it’s like a rat hole - you have no idea….”Barkis: “It’s costing $400,000 a year in operations to operate the ARC as it sits empty. It needs a sustainable plan - not just to open it, but years down the road….”
Romero: “We have a plan to open it. We are not rushing it to be open just because it’s an election year….(alluded to by a candidate earlier in the conversation)….”Rogers: “Sheriff John Snaza told me he can’t afford to move in until two more buildings are built to house women, and the mentally ill and work release. The existing plumbing system needs repairs. He doesn’t have enough money to operate two separate jails….”
What’s the plan for a local economic recovery?Barkis: “We need to increase Thurston County’s tax base and be a business friendly environment. We have to take a look at road blocks to promoting that.... We have a budget surplus of $15 million but the reality is, by 2015, they are projecting a negative $6.74 million deficit…They are using their reserves…. ”
Romero: “We are getting it up (our tax base) through rental properties. Richie Brothers left because they didn’t have enough space, but we have someone new now….” (Rogers alluded to the Richie Brothers leaving the county earlier in the conversation).Rogers: “We should have Great Wolf Lodge paying property taxes – there’s a million right there….” Rogers also said the newly adopted Critical Areas Ordinance is driving down the tax base in South County.
Wolfe: “We need to do exactly what we have been doing – sticking to management and control in the budget to maintain financial solvency, to continue working with the EDC (Economic Development Council), to promote ag tourism and Thurston Energy retrofits and savings, and we need to continue improving the environment so businesses will want to locate here.”The state required an updated Critical Areas Ordinance. Thurston County was the last in the state to do so. Please comment on the process.
Romero: “It is mandated, and we were fortunate to see how we fit in with the others around us. We’re in the middle….”Rogers: “I have a master’s in environmental ecology. There is a tightrope that needs to be walked – the CAO has gone too far – it’s already breaking the law….”
Wolfe: “We are protecting the environment. With the CAO, we have protected ourselves from regulations being dictated to us by federal regulations – you wait, in the next few years, you’ll see….”Barkis: “It didn’t need to be rewritten. The requirement is to review and revise, not to be re-written…it’s not in the middle with regard to buffer zones, we’re at the maximum. A lawsuit by the Farm Bureau against Thurston County to the Growth Management Hearings Board is challenging its legality...it’s the beginning of many litigation.”
Should the County Commission be expanded to five members?Rogers: “Yes, it’s too big a county have just three. South County is crying out for representation….”
Wolfe: “Yes, it would be more efficient and much easier. Right now, we can’t even have a conversation with each other. However, it would cost more to have more commissioners….”Barkis: “Yes, this may be something we can all agree on. Representation is the key….”
Romero: “Yes, at least five. Freeholders develop a county charter - and a home-rule charter would be difficult to pass...All three of us current commissioners have frozen our salaries to keep costs down….”What is your opinion about the Thurston County PUD and Proposition #1, the power initiative?
Wolfe: “I have no position about it. I am conflicted. I love the idea of public power but I’m nervous – I don’t think we’re ready. I’m worried about the lack of infrastructure, capacity and debt. I’m struggling with the issue.”
Barkis: “I am not supportive of the public power initiative. I’m not keen on taking a private company out of business. I come from Chehalis, where we have the Chehalis PUD, and they’re great, but PSE has been doing a great job. We’d be losing a valuable corporate community partner if they went away.”Romero: “I have a couple of real concerns. I’m not opposed, but when I was in the Legislature, initiatives by Tim Eyman allowed us no opportunity to deliberate. We need more time to study it.”
Rogers: “This is an issue I’ve been asked by both sides to support. I’ve stayed out of it because it’s up to the campaigns of both sides to sell their argument. The issue is in front of the voters. From what I understand, the initiative was started because PSE wanted another rate increase and it was a way to put some market pressure on them.”Thurston County is growing. Please comment.
Barkis: “Embrace it. Smart growth dictates where growth should occur – and it will occur here. It is a challenging topic….”
Romero: “We’ve been working on this for years with Thurston County Regional Planning. We want to make sure it occurs where there is infrastructure….”Rogers: “Growth is going to happen, we need density. It’s how we get there. The regulatory arm needs to have farms stay in business so they won’t be tempted to sell off their property to developers.”
Wolfe: “This is a tremendous challenge. We do not want to raise taxes to pay for growth. We have seven jurisdictions and three tribes in Thurston County. The more we can collaborate, the better.”
Should Thurston County ban plastic bags?Romero: “Yes, I support a ban in a manner that doesn’t compromise food safety….”
Rogers: “I can support it, with exceptions. For example, the Tenino Food Bank – Tenino has a huge poverty rate – has a backpack program where they use bags for food and send the backpacks home with recipients – after three returns, the backpacks get unsanitary. I’m sure we can work it out.”Wolfe: “Plastics are a problem, but we’re in the middle of a conversation about it. I prefer not to rush to ban them, but to raise awareness to work closer with people to not use them.”
Barkis: “No, I don’t like the word ban. Remember a time when we didn’t want to use paper bags because they used trees? Well, that led to plastic. We’re a smart group here in Thurston County. Let us individually make that choice. Yes, they’re bad, but we know how to decide what to use.”Regarding the boundaries between agriculture and developed areas - there needs to be a balance between both interests. Please comment.
Rogers: “We have a trend toward locally grown food and food security now – it’s not just your traditional farms anymore. It’s becoming a mixture….”Wolfe: “Agriculture is an important part of our economy – there needs to be a balance. We have the Agri-tourism initiative and a working farm plan, and a farm advisory committee working on a working lands report….”
Barkis: “An example is the USDA Workable Lands Program – agriculture is an economic driver. There’s going to be a blending….”Romero: “When I came into office, I said I would help farmers stay in business. Now we have the Agri-Tourism ordinance – 40 people worked on this. We could be like the Fruit Loop in Oregon….”
How should Thurston County support/work with the Puget Sound Partnership and improve water quality in the South Sound?Wolfe: “We play a huge role. We’ve improved Henderson Inlet so much that we’ve been able to re-open shellfish beds, now we’re starting on the Nisqually watershed, and sewering the Woodland Creek area, and we’ve improved monitoring.”
Barkis: “The Lacey, Henderson watershed areas have been difficult projects and they need to be continued. Yes, we should work with the Partnership….”Romero: “We’re on it. Puget Sound is a treasure, it’s our jewel. They need us to all pitch in. It’s a high priority….”
Rogers: “I helped write the bill creating the Puget Sound Partnership…we need to prioritize the issues: water quality and our drinking water supply. We need to play nicely with the agencies to get the grant monies.”
In closing remarks, Rogers said she will work hard and listen. “I go door to door year ‘round. I want to restore public engagement.”Wolfe said she has a “proven track record as a team worker, and I’m proud to receive five out of seven endorsements from Olympia city council members." In what would be the forum’s only evidence of what could be called a personal attack, Wolfe added, “I’m glad to hear Karen would play nicely with the agencies because she doesn’t play nicely with those from other jurisdictions.”
Barkis said he enjoys bi-partisan support and announced that he just received the endorsement of Sheriff John Snaza.Romero said there are huge challenges facing Thurston County, and, “if you want to keep Thurston County on the right track, please retain me.”
Little Hollywood encourages voters to contact candidates to receive the context of their full remarks and opinions on these issues. The following information is provided on their campaign literature distributed today:Position #1:
Karen Rogers for Thurston County Commissioner #1, 1509 5th Ave. SE, Olympia, WA 98501, (360) 628-7052; firstname.lastname@example.org.The Committee to Re-Elect Cathy Wolfe, PMB 124, 120 State Ave. NE, Olympia, WA 98501-8212, www.ElectCathyWolfe.com.
Position #2:Citizens for Sandra Romero, 2023 Westlake Drive SE, Lacey, WA 98503; (360) 357-8131; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.sandraromero.com.
Andrew Barkis for County Commissioner, PO Box 7298, Olympia, WA 98507, www.andrewbarkis.org; (360) 918-5256.
Thurston County Commissioner candidates Andrew Barkis, third from the left, and Sandra Romero, right, listen to forum instructions given by George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian.