This week we report on the candidate’s forum held inOkanogan on Wednesday, Oct. 6 and what the candidates for the Okanogan CountyCourt Commissioner, Sheriff, Clerk, Treasurer and District Court Judge had tosay. G.A.D.
OKANOGAN – Candidates for Okanogan County offices met at thePUD Auditorium in Okanogan to explain why they should get your vote in theupcoming General Election.
The candidates took questions from a panel made up of JonWeis, president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau; Karl Sloan, Okanogan CountyProsecutor and Marcy Stamper, reporter for the Methow Valley News. In addition,the panel asked questions taken from the audience, as well as online.
Okanogan County Commissioner, Pos. 3
The candidates for Okanogan County Commissioner, Position 3, are Jim Detro andBecki Andrist, both Republicans. Andrist said she grew up in the county andshe, her husband John, and children live in Riverside. She and her husband owntwo businesses, NCIDataCom and North Cascades Broadcasting. Detro was born inthe county and he and his wife Patty live at Crumbacher. Detro has worked inlogging and construction. He is a pilot and was a smoke jumper for six years inWinthrop.
The first question they were asked was whether they thought the county shouldinterfere with the property rights of an individual to sell their property to awilling buyer, even if that’s a government agency.
“There is no ‘we’ in property rights, I feel it is an individual’sdecision. It is a double-edged sword and a landowner has the right to sell towhomever they may. If it is to the government, then they need to be heldaccountable,” said Detro.
“It is an individual right, but state agencies are ‘us.’ Are we a willingbuyer? I think we need to review such sales to make sure they do what they aresupposed to do and not buy the land and take it off the tax roles,”Andrist said.
The next question was on water rights and whether they should be transferableout of the county.
“The real problem is when you sell outside the county you can’t get themback. I think we need to look at a water bank system,” said Andrist.
Detro answered, “Water rights are an individual’s property rights. Thewater part of the question is when you sell downstream it devalues the land. Awater bank is not a bad idea. Also there should be an opportunity to allowsomeone to buy in the county before they sell it out of the county.”
The next question was about the Comprehensive Plan. The candidates were askedwhether sub-area plans, like one for the Methow Valley and separate from theOkanogan Valley, should be included.
“I realize the compressive plan has not been addressed and needs to be. Ialso know the people of this county overwhelmingly reject the Growth ManagementAct. At the forum in Twisp they asked what can we do to bring our two valleystogether and then said ‘leave us alone.’ I think sub-area plans could be acontentious situation. I don’t totally support them,” Detro said.
Andrist said, “I worked five years on regional planning and the one thingthat they overwhelming wanted was that their zoning be left alone. I don’tthink there is room in the plan for a one-size-fits-all, our county is far tolarge and too diverse… as an example look at the differences in the Methow,Moslon and Barnholt Loop areas.”
She and Detro each agreed that more time is needed for the Comprehensive Planand for county citizens to review it before it is approved.
Both candidates also agreed there were problems with the way the Eastlake SewerProject was funded, relying on future connections to pay back the Public TrustFund Loan, when connections are not being made at the rate that was predictedwhen the Veranda Beach Development went in.
“You can’t turn back the hands of time. It’s not the way I’d do it. Theestimate of how many connections would be made was unrealistic,” Andristsaid.
“Veranda Beach is a good development that brings in tax dollars, but weshould never take Okanogan County dollars and pay for a foreign developer’sproject. The previous treasurer said the connections couldn’t support the payback. That’s not the way to do business in Okanogan County.”
Andrist said the budget tops her list of problems in the county.
“There are budget talks that say we will be $1 million short. We need tofund essential services first and not just do across the board cuts,” shesaid.
Detro said he had problems with the way the county has funded things like theEastlake Sewer Project near Oroville and the purchase of land for a trailheadfor the Whistler Canyon Trail.
On affordable housing, Andrist said the issue was one the county has beendealing with for a long time.
“It is a difficult problem and one we will be facing for awhile,” shesaid.
“Government should not fix what private industry should be fixing,”Detro said.
Okanogan County Sheriff
The candidates for Okanogan County Sheriff are incumbent Frank Rogers and DaveYarnell, both Republicans. Rogers said he has been married 32 years and raisedhis family here. He has been in law enforcement for 27 years, working with theOmak Police Department and then as a sergeant for the county sheriff’s officebefore being elected sheriff four years ago. He is seeking reelection to asecond term. Yarnell was raised in Omak and has been married 10 years and has ason. He has been with the sheriff’s department for 16 years and prior to thathe served in the U.S. Navy for eight years.
The candidates were asked what actions they would take to support substanceabuse/drug and alcohol avoidance in youth.
Roger said he goes to schools a lot to speak with the kids, as do the deputiesin his department.
“I’ve done meth talks all over the county,” Rogers said.
Yarnell said the county doesn’t currently have a cohesive drug and alcoholprogram since the DARE program went by the wayside.
” We need to get back in the schools about drugs and alcohol and gangs aswell… we know they are a big problem in the central county area,”Yarnell said.
They were both asked to assess the county’s drug problem.
“Prescription drugs are a big problem, many times we have reports thatprescription drugs are stolen, sometimes however they are lost and the subjectneeds to report them stolen to get them replaced,” Yarnell said.”There is also prescription abuse in the schools.”
Rogers said, “The drug problem will never go away… it is horrible. Methis devastating to the county. Until we can figure a way to stop the demand itis never going to go away. The desire and want of people who abuse is what wehave got to stop.”
They were next asked to identify what the candidates have that most wouldbenefit the sheriff’s department.
“I have heart. I truly believe the people of the county deserve the utmostrespect. I would communicate with the communities and find out what their needsare. The needs of the people come first and the department second. I wouldimplement a 24-hour patrol throughout the county,” said Yarnell.
Rogers said he spends much of his time going out into the community and findingout what the citizens want.
“I love what I do. I found out when I became sheriff that when you workwith the communities you sacrifice your life… you go to 100 events ayear,” Rogers said.
The candidates were asked about their law enforcement experience.
Rogers repeated that he had been in law enforcement for 27 years and that muchof that time was spent in a supervisory position.
“I have had hundreds and hundreds of hours of training. I am also thecounty’s emergency manager. Most of my career has been in a leadershiprole,” said Rogers.
“My leadership has been limited to field training officer and leading themarine patrol, organizing it and putting it on,” Yarnell said. “Forsix years I was a superviso
r and also an instructor in the Navy.”
What will you do to make your agency more competitive for grants was the nextquestion.
“I believe in grants and we have brought in millions of dollars to thecounty. They have been used to make changes at the jail and to improvecommunications for law enforcement, fire and emergency response,” Rogerssaid, promising to continue to pursue grants in the future.
“The only problem with grants is the requirements and restrictions,”Yarnell said.
When asked about what changes he would make, Yarnell said, “I would changethe supervisor to officer ration. It is almost one to one… I would reduce itto a more reasonable level. The savings I believe would allow us to add twomore deputies.”
Rogers countered, “My sergeants work the streets, they pull higher statsthan the regular deputies. If we could get more grant funds to hire moredeputies. I would do that,” he said.
Okanogan County District Court
The candidates for Okanogan County District Court Judge areRick Weber and Henry “Hank” Rawson. They are seeking the judgeship beingvacated by Judge David Edwards who decided to step down from the bench afterhis term is up.
“Whoever is elected, you have some big shoes to fill,” saidWeis, before asking the first question of the candidates.
“My question centers around judicial temperament and how youwill handle cases where they pertain to the U.S. and state constitutions?”asked Weis.
“Case law tends to help you decide how the constitution isapplied. The constitution is the supreme law of the land and higher courtsdetermine whether the constitution should be applied,” said Weber.
“I take some exception… very often we are asked to decidehow the state and U.S. constitutions are applied,” Rawson said.
Reporter Stamper asked how the judicial system can bringjustice in a timely matter.
“The district courts are ruled by the government. I feelthe rules set out the needs of the individual and the public, they help usdetermine whether their should be a monetary fine and jail time… they help toprevent recidivism,” Rawson said.
Weber talked about timeliness. “The defendant has the right,no one can make him wave that right, although sometimes it is in thedefendant’s best interest to ask for an extension,” he said. “We always askwhat sentence can we impose to accomplish society’s goals… jail time, fine orboth. It’s an individual thing.”
The judge candidates were asked about how many people aregiven 90-day sentences and end up with 88 deferred and how that is thatdetermined with multiple offenses?
“If you look at a defendant with multiple charges you mustmake them comply with certain behavior, they gain time off their sentence ifthey comply,” Rawson said.
“A suspended sentence motivates compliance with the law,”said Weber. “You tell the defendant they have 88 days hanging over their headto motivate compliance.”
They were asked about defendants on trial who have multipleDUI charges.
“I don’t like to see people coming down the road and youdon’t know if they are Driving Under the Influence,” Weber said.
Rawson said, “It is very personal with me. I have asister-in-law who was struck by a driver who had five DUIs.”
Okanogan County Court Clerk
The candidates for Okanogan County Court Clerk are CharleenGroomes and Rae Jean Kelley, both Republicans. They are running to fill theposition being vacated after longtime County Clerk Jackie Bradley decided toretire and not seek reelection. Before asking the candidates any questions,Bradley was recognized for her “long personal service to the county in whichshe carried her self with the utmost grace and professionalism.”
They were asked about how they would go about collectingoutstanding court fines.
Kelley said she would hire the services of a debt collectionagent and that she believed in payment plans, even if the court could onlycollect $25 a month.
Groomes also believes in payment plans, but would keepcollection in house and not outsource it. She said a debit/credit card machinewould make it easier for some with outstanding debt to make payments.
Groomes was asked a follow-up question on budgets and thecollection of fees. She was asked how she could justify hiring someone to keepcollections in-house in tough budget times, when outsourcing may save money.
“Collection of fees has always been the responsibility ofthe clerk’s office, by outsourcing it puts another fee on those that have topay. However, if outsourcing saves the county money I will look at it,” Groomessaid.
The candidates were asked what plans they had to make iteasier to obtain court documents and about electronic filing.
“Right now we have scanning of documents and filing, but itneeds to be more efficient,” Kelley said.
Groomes answered, “Laser fiche is what is used now, it canbe more upgraded.”
When asked about the archiving of documents, Kelley saidsince she had never worked in the clerk’s office she was unsure how it wasdone.
“They’ve scanned the documents and files for 2008 and 2009…the fourth floor is about to collapse,” said Groomes, referring to the numberof documents that still need to be turned into electronic files.
She added that she would seek grants and other fundingsources to speed up the conversion of the files from hardcopies to electronic.
The candidates were asked questions about how they wouldwork with the employees in the clerk’s office and with judges and attornies.
“I will relieve pressure on employees, I don’t mind workingthe front desk. I know filing, I know computers, there is no job I can’t do,”Kelley said.
She also said she would strive to improve working relationsbetween the clerk’s office and the judiciary.
“Right now I have an excellent working relationship withattorneys.”
“I plan on alleviating overtime by being in there every dayand working wi
th them. When it is after 5 p.m. I’m the elected official and I’mgoing to be there,” Groomes said.
” I’ve always had a good working relationship with thejudges and attorneys. I plan on keeping the lines of communications open,” sheadded.
They were asked how they would pay for maintaining andoperating the IT department.
“Chelan and Douglas counties require lawyers and the mediato pay a yearly fee for document services,” Kelley said.
“Those that want to get electronic files will bring in moremoney because there would be a fee charged for them,” Groomes said.
Okanogan County Treasurer
The candidates for Okanogan County Court Clerk are incumbentLeah McCormack, a Democrat, and Pam Wyllson, a Republican.
The would-be treasurers were asked about the payback on theloans for the Eastside Sewer System that runs from the Oroville city limitsnorth along the east side of Lake Osoyoos. Both seemed to agree that basing thepayback of the Public Works Trust Fund low-interest loan on the fees paid forfuture connection to the sewer were too optimistic.
McCormack, however, explained that the county was obligatedto make the loan payments even if the connections to the system are not comingas fast as originally predicted by developers.
“We had to make that payment, we need a ‘Plan B’ now,” shesaid.
They were also asked about warrants and there use, mostnotably by the three hospital districts, and whether there was a time limit forpaying back warrants and if there are indicators that say when warrants shouldno longer be issued by the county.
“All three, the one with a warrant for 10 years is too long.They need to come up with a plan to pay the warrants off,” Wyllson said. “Iwould like warrants to go to a finance committee before they are issued.”
McCormack explained that warrants were a legalline-of-credit available to taxing districts that go into a negative cash flowposition.
“If you set a limit for a school or fire or district youcould end up with a real problem. As far as the hospital district, they take onindigent care for which they do not get paid. It is not a loan, it is aline-of-credit and it is discretionary as far as the treasurer goes.”
The next question was about the current rate of return onthe state investment pool.
McCormack said the rate was .28 percent while registeredwarrants return 2.5 percent.
She referred to the warrants as “the best investment thecounty could make.”
Wyllson said she agreed, but added the warrant money didn’tgo to the general fund while the state investment pool does.
McCormack disputed Wyllson’s statement saying the warrantinterest does go in the general fund.
“I want to make that clear,” she said.
The candidates’ forum was sponsored by the Okanogan CountyDemocratic Party and the Okanogan County Republican Party.