Retired firefighter Scott McDougall says if he’s elected as Pacific County commissioner, public safety will become his first and utmost priority.
That may sound like a common talking point from any kind of politician, but just a few weeks ago it gained an element of importance when a strike was averted in the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office over disagreements over wages. The corrections staff, 911 dispatchers and other support staff were just about ready to bolt, having voted unanimously to authorize a strike “when and if deemed necessary” after negotiations soured between the Pacific County Commissioners and their union.
Ultimately, mediation brought about a 1 percent wage hike for the employees. But Darren O’Neil, Secretary-Treasurer for Teamsters Local 252 in Centralia, called on new commissioners to “make public safety more of a priority.”
McDougall says he sees it as a call to arms that the county needs to do a better job working with all of its law enforcement employees and he thinks he’s the guy to take point on the issue.
“As a county, we have no more pressing need than to make sure the residents of the county are protected,” McDougall said. “I am not naive. I know how tight the budget is. I know we are not going to fill four or five positions during my first term in office unless there is a drastic turn in the overall economy of the county. I’m not promising anybody a fix, but we have to re-evaluate where our priorities are.”
McDougall, who calls himself a “pro-union” Republican, is running against Steve Rogers, a Democrat who is the chairman of the South Bend School Board and a retired school administrator. They’re vying for the seat of Jon Kaino, who recently resigned to take another job. Democrat Beverly Olson of Bay Center is acting as interim county commissioner until the November election. Ballots go out for the countywide election on Oct. 17.
Besides the wage issue in the Sheriff’s Office, McDougall notes that there are far fewer deputies out on the road than there should be.
On Monday, Sheriff Scott Johnson backed up that statement. He said there are just seven deputies patrolling the entire county. He says he has four vacant deputy positions, correcting a previous statement that there were five vacant deputy positions, noting that at one time there was a bit of an overlap between one deputy coming and another going.
“That’s still woefully inadequate,” Johnson said.
There is also himself, an undersheriff, two sergeants and a lieutenant who all sometimes have to patrol the county, he said. As of last week, he says his overtime budget had just $287 left in it.
“I’ve been criticized for saying this, but it’s absolutely, true, at times the only ones patrolling this entire county are myself and the undersheriff because of our lack of manpower,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who isn’t endorsing anyone in the race, said he’s put in a request this budget for the county to hire a deputy, but he has doubts if it’ll be fulfilled.
“If there are that many vacant deputies, that tells me there is a significant issue in how we’re allocating our funds,” McDougall said. “They are literally taking a call and closing it because that’s all they have time to do.”
McDougall says he has experience working with unions and local governments, noting he was the president of his union local for the Raymond firefighters.
McDougall, who grew up in the Wishkah Valley and lived in Bellingham for a time, moved to Raymond to take a firefighter job in 1994. During that time, he became the fire marshal and training officer.
In about 2005 or so, he moved to South Bend, still had his job in Raymond, but also started volunteering with the South Bend Fire Department, as well.
He and his wife Greta have been married for 23 years and have a son, Zak, 18, a freshman at Washington State University.
McDougall served about 18 months on the South Bend City Council before he resigned because his job responsibilities took up too much time. And he has served for 10 years on the Hospital District Board responsible for Willapa Harbor Hospital. He’s in the middle of his second six-year term, he noted.
On the Hospital Board, he notes he’s helped oversee the hospital’s budget, where they now turn a profit and have built reserves.
“By holding line with expenses, we were able to broaden our income base and the hospital is relatively healthy now,” he said. “That’s what I want to do for the county.”
A little more than two years ago, McDougall had to take a medical retirement from his firefighter job because doctors found a bulge on his aorta, known as a thoracic aortic aneurysm.
“I see a cardiologist every six months and he has pronounced me to be in excellent health. However, it did cause me to leave my career in the fire service before I intended to do so,” McDougall said. “A lot about being a firefighter is who you are. It becomes a way of life. When I retired from the fire department, I struggled with my sense of self. That’s one thing that running for county commissioner has given me is a new identity within the community. Win or lose, this has been a winning experience for me. I thought I knew a lot of the community before but, man, I know a lot more of the community now.”
McDougall says he’s a Republican because he believes in smaller government.
“We have an obligation as a society and a government to take care of each other, but there also has to be an accountability,” he explains. “You can’t just take from the government all the time and not have some sense of accountability and I think that really identifies me on the conservative side of the equation than on the liberal side of the equation.”
McDougall does hope to buck a trend in Pacific County, where voters haven’t elected a Republican to the county commissioners since 1972. Former Pacific County Commissioner Pat Hamilton was elected four times as a Democrat before, in 2003, she left the Democrats behind and became a Republican. She left office before ever running as a county commissioner as a Republican.
“Honestly, I think I reflect the views, I reflect the feelings of most of the people in the county,” he said. “I don’t think my views, even though I’m a Republican, are all that different from most of the people who live here.”
As far as budget priorities, McDougall says he’s in favor of retooling the Department of Community Development, which handles planning and building permits. He says the department is self sufficient because of the permits it charges residents.
“So that means their focus in life is to sell permits, as opposed to giving them the freedom to develop the economy of the community,” McDougall said. “They tend to be hyper technical and mitigate on things the public shouldn’t necessarily have to deal with. I would like to empower the department of community development to be just that, a department that just focuses on community development.”
McDougall says the county has a responsibility not just to help with economic development, but to encourage more home ownership to increase the tax base.
“And if we’re going to expand our tax base, we need to make sure there’s an appropriate level of public safety,” McDougall said.
“We’re not meeting that burden so people are choosing to live in Wahkiakum, Grays Harbor and Clatsop counties because those are areas where those burdens are being met. We want to create an atmosphere where those people are living in Pacific County.”
McDougall says he’s generally against tax increases, but he says he will support a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase that benefits substance abuse and mental health programs.
Last year, a taskforce made up of health and law enforcement officials recommended the Pacific County Commission enact the increase. Despite support even from the business community, McDougall says the commissioners never acted.
“Their decision leaves me scratching my head,” McDougall said.”As a first responder, I have seen first hand those with mental illness on our streets. And I am so frustrated in how we treat the mentally ill as a society. I don’t know why it’s so hard for society to think it’s any different for a brain being sick as opposed to your heart being sick.”
McDougall says as a county commissioner he will also aggressively push the state Board of Natural Resources to resume logging in areas of potential habitat for the marbled murrelet. The board put a pause on some timber sales in areas where the seabird had not yet moved to in Pacific and Wakiakum counties, responding to threats from the environmental community. A long-term strategy plan is currently under development by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Because the state managed Pacific County’s timber, the county has no choice but to wait. As a comparison, though, Grays Harbor County, which manages its own timber, recently awarded timber contracts on potential murrelet property to avoid the murrelet issue.
“We are so dependent on timber revenue and yet the state is interfering,” McDougall said.”They say they’re in pursuit of the best available science but it’s all a guessing game.”