Would-be commissioners take questions from moderator and public
OROVILLE – After short introductions, candidates for Okanogan County Commissioner Positions 1 and 2 answered questions at a forum held at the Oroville Grange on Thursday, Aug. 25.
The questions came both from forum moderator George Thornton, a retired Oroville teacher and the audience. The questioning began with prepared queriers from Thornton. The candidates are Sheilah Kennedy, a Republican and the the incumbent for Position 1 and challenger Chris Branch, an Independent and Ashley Thrasher, no party affiliation and Andy Hover, a Republican, for Position 2.
One of the first questions the candidates were asked was what were their three biggest issues concerning the county and the economy.
Branch said the county needs a predictable environment in which to get the business of the county government done. He also feels existing business should be taken care of first and to make sure the infrastructure needs are met.
“We have to have infrastructure to serve business, like good roads and railroads,” he said. “We have to go businesses and see what they want.
The other issue is the housing issue, he said.
“We have the opportunity create housing in the community.
Thrasher said infrastructure was first, followed by training, with trainers traveling to the county, rather than the people having to travel to them.
“We also need multiple people working on the economy, trained economists,” she said.
Hover said the people of the county are the most important part of the question.
“Looking at purely on the economics when the commissioners look at whether they could keep this job in the county or farm it out,” said Hover. “When we keep the jobs in the county one dollar paid creates three to five dollars that are spent in the county.”
Hover said the commissioners should also think outside of the box.
“A lot of people have been here since the early 1900s. My neighbor telecommutes, we need to generate ideas that are not just based on the existing industries. There are so many people in this county with so many good ideas.”
Thornton said the county commissioner job is more than full time. He asked the candidates how they would fulfill that role.
“I currently work as a carpenter and I’ve already talked with my employer about being done in October. I’m ready and willing to commit to this job. I’m used to working 12-16 hours, I’m not afraid of hard work,” said Thrasher, adding that the first year, even the first term the learning curve will be very steep.
Hover said he’d be going from managing a lumber yard and fielding hundreds of phone calls a week.
“I work 50 to 58 hours a week, this may actually be going down in the number of hours I work,” he said. “I’m also fortunate to have my father who has done this job before.”
Hover said it took him nine months to a year to actually understand the ins and outs of his current job.
“When I do a job I do to its fullest extent I possibly can,” said Hover.
Branch described him self as “sorta a workaholic.”
He said he works four ten hour days for Oroville as the director of community development, as well as a side job managing some local fueling stations.
“There will be three of us there, the more we work together the more we can accomplish, he said.
Kennedy said that the job was originally two days a week for the county commissioners.
“If you look at the old agendas I’m not sure how they got it all done,” she said. “I made a commitment in 2012 and this is more than a full time job.”
She said that part of the frustration is not being able to get to all the meetings she’d like to attend outside of the regular work day because they are often scheduled on the same days.
“You have to have people who get to all the meetings and report back to you,” Kennedy said, adding that she hadn’t seen any of the other candidates sitting in on the current county commissioners’ meetings.
“We are all familiar with the last two years fires, how would you work with local, state and federal officials knowing how much wildfires play a role in our county?” asked Thornton.
Branch said because of the fires there has been a lot of planning on what to do for the future.
“But before the fires we had All Hazard Mitigation Plans, but they were taken lightly,” he said.
“A lot of the plans are outdated. When we do subdivisions we need to make sure the density is considered,” said Branch, suggesting the county learn from the lessons learned in Kelowna and Penticton when they had big fires.
Kennedy said she has been in constant communication with state and local representatives.
“In 2014 I grabbed the governor’s cell phone number and I haven’t been afraid to use it,” she said. “In 2015 I called him every other night. We were able to get the governor and the Tribe together and the resources started coming in.”
Thrasher said that when a natural disaster starts to break there should be a plan in place.
“Specifically in regards to wildland fire, once the fire has started you’re already behind the curve, you have to plan five years ahead,” she said. “I think homeowners are already starting to realize they can no longer risk the lives of our firefighters. There needs to be proper green space. We need to focus on wildland urban areas and have proper zoning. Communities need to build with fire in mind.”
Hover said he felt the current commissioners had done a very good job with keeping the ball rolling following the fires and in pushing the legislators to plan for future events.
“The Forest Service needs to managing their property better,” he said.”The state is doing a fair job but they still need to do better.”
Hover said one of the biggest breakdowns during the fires was in communications between sheriff, local fire districts an other agencies. He said the communication infrastructure needs to be improved.
Thornton said that although the neither of the positions for commissioner are out of the north end of the county he wondered how they would keep in touch with the north end to ensure that their actions are not just “one size fits all.”
“I will be up here and I feel it’s extremely important to talk to everyone in the county,” said Hover. “When elected I will commit to one day a month in each district. I know it is difficult for working folks to make it to the commissioners’ hearing room.”
“We represent the county, very citizen of the county. If we start drawing lines we make a lot of boundaries,” said Kennedy. “I have a good relations with a lot of people in the county.”
“I’ve worked with every city and town in the county except Riverside,” said Branch. “Oroville has always encouraged me to work with the other cities in the county as well as those in North Central Washington.”
Branch said he felt the commissioners did not spend enough time visiting with the various city governments.
“I love talking to people I’ve actually lived most places in the county. The Methow Valley is a different world and I got to understand that,” he said.
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