County and PUD Commissioner hopefuls speak in Oroville
Editor’s Note: The Oroville Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate’s forum in Oroville on Thursday, Oct. 6 and six hopefuls for local office, as well as candidates seeking state offices, were in attendance. In our last issue we took a look at what the candidates for state office, or their surrogates, had to say. This week we have the local candidates for Okanogan County Commissioner Positions 1 and 2, as well as the two candidates for Okanogan County PUD, Position 3. G.A.D.
OROVILLE – The Oroville Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum took place at Vicki’s Backdoor Club on Thursday, Oct. 6 and had an attendance of about 50 people in search of more information on those running in this November’s general election.
Oroville Chamber President Clyde Andrews made it clear that it was not a debate. Each candidate had 10 minutes to introduce themselves and talk about why they were seeking office. If the candidate did not use the full 10 minutes they could open it up to questions from the audience for the remaining allotted time.
Andy Hover (R)
Andy Hover is seeking the position of Okanogan County Commissioner, Position 2. He said he was born in Brewster and grew up in the Methow on a 500 acre ranch. He attended Washington State University.
“I was lucky enough to get a job with a nuclear power company and went all over, but nothing compares to being home in the Okanogan,” he said.
After returning to the Okanogan he got a job with a lumber yard and then managed a local hardware store.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been managing a multi-million dollar company. I have a strong sense of home in Okanogan County,” he said.
Hover said he has a desire to find opportunities for the young people growing up in the county. He has a 10-year-old son.
“I’d really love it if he could come back here and work in Okanogan County,” he said. “Some people say we lack the work force. I’d like to develop things for our kids so they can really come back and make a difference in our county.”
Hover said he is willing to sit down one on one and talk to people.
“I’m good at listening to people… I try to listen to both sides of a situation. I listen to the left and the right and try to find something in between that’s a good answer,” said Hover, adding he feels the left and right have become galvanized in this country.
Hover said he was not seeking the office to try and push a personal agenda.
Chamber President Andrews and others asked if Hover would have the time to carry out the duties and balance between his job and family life.
“If you call me up and say, ‘hey, we’re having a meeting at 7 a.m. in Oroville… I could do that,” answered Hover, adding his wife is a very strong woman and “she understand what it takes.”
Oroville Mayor Jon Neal asked “What do you think your interaction with the cities will be like?”
“Cities need to have their autonomy… we can act in a supporting role,” answered Hover.
Ashley Thrasher (No Party)
Ashley Thrasher 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, she moved to Twisp in order to be closer to her family. She said she spent the last seven years as a wildland firefighter serving on the Methow and Tonasket hand crews, on the Baker River Hotshots and most recently, with the Redmond Smokejumpers. She now works as a carpenter.
“I’m lucky enough to live within a mile of my sister,” she said.
Thrasher described her time training to be a smokejumper.
“In your rookie training it is a six week period where they try to break you,” said Thrasher, who added after her first year as a rookie smokejumper she was voted “Rookie of the Year.”
“I want to ensure my niece and nephew can return here if they so chose. We need to have a better economy, we lack affordable housing and child care. I’d like to help address those issues,” she said.’
The three key issues Trasher sees need improvement at the commissioner level are Economic Vitality, Public Health and Transparency.
She said about one-quarter of the county’s population lives below the poverty level and the county ranks 36 of 39 counties in Public Health. She said the county needs to work to improve the economy of the county and needs to have people with health care experience on the Public Health Board.
“About transparency… we need a website that has something as simple as a pie chart that shows where the money comes in and where it goes out,” she said.
The candidate was asked what experience she had with financial management.
“I’m sure I can learn that. A lot of companies hire based on drive,” she said.
Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb asked what the county’s role was working with the cities.
“I think the cities and county can have a very complimentary role. Everyone that lives in the city is still a member of the county.”
Sheilah Kennedy (R)
Sheilah Kennedy is the incumbent candidate for County Commissioner Position 1.
She said that she has been providing leadership in the county during her time on the Board of Commissioners “but we’ve had some issues.”
She said the county is now compliant with the payroll system and with Public Health.
“We do have people on the board with health care experience,” she added.
Kennedy said that the county has a public health inspector to inspect wells and septic systems and we “expect people to be in compliance.”
“What I have a problem with was when we (the county) were out of compliance,” she said.
The candidate added that when she ran in 2012 she said she would take a 10 percent pay cut and had done so. She also foregoes her travel stipend.
“That’s giving back $14,000 and since I have been in office there has not been an increase in taxes. We’ve also put $2.7 million back into county roads which the county had been unable to do for many years,” she said.
Kennedy said she had experience with union contract negotiation and when salary increases were asked she said “no because we just came through two years of fires.”
When communications failed during the 2014 fires, the commissioners went to the Seventh District Legislators for money to improve them. She also talked about the new bathrooms and grandstands at the fairgrounds, as well as the completion of the county’s Comprehensive and Shoreline plans.
Chris Branch (I)
Chris Branch is also seeking the Position 1 spot on the Board of County Commissioners. He was born in Okanogan, worked on ranches as a kid and and served in the U.S. Coast Guard as a trained mechanic. He used that training to work in the woods when he came back to the Okanogan. Later he took accounting and writing and Wenatchee Valley College.
“After I worked in the woods I got real curious… their were some big issues in the timber industry.”
Branch then went to Evergreen College where took Environmental Studies.
He eventually went to work for Oroville and other cities through Highlands and Associates. Later he became Oroville’s director of Community Development.
“I wrote a grant in 1989 to improve Deep Bay Park. It shows that if you do a little planning it makes it easier to find funding,” he said. “Economic development is where my heart is now.”
“I’ve lived around Okanogan County and all over it. I’ve met a lot of people and continued to do so. I have a side job taking care of a card lock.”
Branch has concerns about the big ticket items in the county like the sheriff’s department and the county jail.
“We also have issues with heroin. People watch it go on in their neighborhood and hear that it can’t be improved until conditions are right. That’s frustrating,” he said.
“We have to identify clear objectives, we’ve got to make it clear to the public where we’re going,” he said.
Branch said the county that the county needs to work more closely with the cities and towns.
“The Council of Governments is a good start,” he said. “We have to work together so our actions help to make jobs.”
Jerry Asmussen is running for Okanogan County PUD Commissioner Position 3. He was born in Omak and spent much of his early life on the family ranch in Mallot and then Tonasket. In the 1980s he went to school and worked in Oregon.
“I came back to work on the family ranch,” said Asmussen, who also works as an auctioneer, both as a job and as a volunteer for many charitable fundraisers.
I have been on the Tonasket School Board for 17 years. I am also an appointed member of the Conservation Board and serve on the Hamilton Youth Foundation Board,” he said.
“The PUD Board is mostly a policy board. They work with the manager. I have a lot of experience and in many ways it is the same role as a school board member. I’ve helped to hire a lot of executives,” he said.
The candidate said as a PUD Board member he would work to improve customer service; make sure there was reliable power; be cost sensitive and work on future infrastructure.
When asked about his feelings on Enloe Dam, near Oroville, Asmussen said, “It is an asset, I’d vote to keep it open as an option.”
He was also asked about the possibility of bringing a natural gas line down from across the Canadian border.
“It should be explored,” he said.
Aaron Kester is also running for PUD Commissioner, Position 3. He grew up in Missoula, Montana and attended school at WSU where he took business classes.
“I came back to Tonasket with an entrepreneurial degree and went to work for the family store,” he said.
He talked about the process his family went through after a fire destroyed the family business, Lee Franks Mercantile.
“We couldn’t afford to build the beautiful brick building we have, but the contractor helped to finance half,” said Kester. “The reason I bring that up is the PUD needs to do what is efficient and needs to do it in a less grandiose manner.”
Kester described his time working for Boeing on the west side of the state. He said he worked as a “bridge” between the engineers and the mechanics.
“I watched friends work and buy homes there, but it was not where I wanted to be so I came home to work with my family,” he said.
Kester said in addition to working at the family store he also serves on the Tonasket Police Commission.
He would like to see the PUD look into solar collection, using mirror grids to concentrate solar energy in a central collection head. He’d also like to look into bringing in natural gas from Canada.
“Any energy we could produce here that was green would be of a benefit, including Enloe,” said Kester, reminding the audience of the prospect of upcoming carbon taxes.