Aberdeen City Councilman Frank Gordon says he’s not only ready to be the next county commissioner, he’s ready to be commission chairman on day one.
His opponent, retired PUD lineworker Allan Shores, says he’d rather delegate the chairmanship role next year to Republican County Commissioner Herb Welch.
The one thing they both agree on is that even if incumbent Democratic Commissioner Terry Willis wins re-election, she doesn’t have support from either to retain the chairmanship of the commission, a position she’s had for the past two years. The commission chair usually is the point person on county business, including budget matters.
Gordon, a Democrat, and Shores, a Republican, were the finalists in the four-way primary for County Commission District 1, an election that ended incumbent Democratic Commissioner Mike Wilson’s re-election bid. Gordon finished first with 29.27 percent of the vote and Shores had 28.87 percent. The primary election was only open to voters in the geographic district, which includes the Aberdeen and South Beach areas. The General Election is countywide. Ballots are expected to be sent out on Oct. 17.
Willis is running against Republican Wes Cormier and should either of the Republicans win it would be the first time in the county’s nearly 150-year history that the commission would have a Republican majority.
Both candidates met recently with The Daily World’s Editorial Board to discuss a range of issues — from budgets and personal philosophies to experience germane to handling county issues.
“If Terry won — while she has a lot of experience — going around the county we have so many entities that have hard feelings toward her right now, I think we need a fresh face in there,” Gordon said in explaining why he wouldn’t support her as chairwoman.
“I feel I’m the best choice with my practice on being on the City Council and being on the Public Safety Committee, working with the police and fire chiefs and having Aberdeen Finance Director Kathryn Skolrood schooling me,” Gordon said. “And I have different people to fall back on, including former Commission Chairman Dennis Morrisette. They wouldn’t make decisions for me, but I can ask if I’m making good decisions or if I’m being stupid. No man’s an island.”
“It wouldn’t be me,” Shores said, of who would assume the chairman role. “I think it should be Herb, who’s next in line. I would like to see Herb be chairman and I’d like to see more openness, not just one commissioner meeting with this group or that group. I would like to see more open meetings. There are very few times you really need to have closed session or a meeting with just one commissioner. That way everybody can hear the same information and improve communication.”
Gordon noted that he likes Welch, “He’s is a super nice guy but I don’t think he’s up to speed to be chairman.”
Gordon is among the Aberdeen City Council members advocating for the city to leave the multi-jurisdiction Chehalis Basin Flood Authority, convened in 2008, months after a devastating storm that flooded Interstate 5.
The council is set to make a decision on that during its Oct. 10 council meeting.
Gordon said he would also advocate for Grays Harbor County to leave the Flood Authority, as well.
He says Willis, who sits on the Flood Authority, and Flood Authority Chairwoman Vickie Raines have turned Flood Authority meetings into “a pissing match.”
“I’ve been to meetings where they put them on opposite ends of the same room,” Gordon said.
“I don’t see any benefits to us for being on the Flood Authority,” Gordon said. “More than 90 percent of our flooding comes from storm surges and tidal influences. … Our problems should be worrying about the ocean rising. Because if the ocean rises three or four inches, then we have dikes we have to worry about.”
He says he feels the Flood Authority “is not working for us, but is working for Interstate 5.”
“There’s not a major benefit to us down here for the county as a whole,” Gordon said, acknowledging later in questioning from the Editorial Board that areas of Oakville may see some benefit, but he says the city officials there should be able to work on solutions with the Chehalis tribe, which isn’t even a member of the Flood Authority anymore.
Shores said he doesn’t have much of a general opinion on the Flood Authority. However, he thinks private landowners should take responsibility for their own flood solutions rather than having the government intervene.
“State and federal funding is going to go away. … If Burger King wants to solve their flood problems, they needs to pony up some money to do it,” Shores said of proposed dike improvements behind the Burger King property in Aberdeen between the Wishkah and Heron street bridges. “Walmart’s another one. Nobody forced Walmart to build by the river.”
Shores noted that, perhaps, Mary’s River Lumber in Montesano should consider shifting their mill site a bit farther from the Chehalis River. It could cost millions of dollars to solve the flood problems plaguing the lumber mill, which recently had its sawmill burn to the ground.
“If it keeps chewing away, I would move that,” Shores said. “I don’t want to lose the jobs but at the same time you can look out there and it looks like a big lake.”
Shores said he would also not be a fan of using the county’s general fund dollars to fund an early warning system website under the purview of the Flood Authority when there are other priorities that need the funds, including public safety.
Among the two candidates, Gordon is the only one willing to consider some kind of tax increase as one of the ways to help the county’s budget for next year.
Shores said he would not support sending any kind of sales tax measure to the voters.
Shores said he is especially not in favor of a road levy shift, which boosted property taxes this year for those who live within city limits. Those who live in the county actually saw their taxes go down because of the budget move.
“I don’t agree with that,” he said.
Gordon said he still considers a road levy shift a possibility, depending on the county’s budget situation. He didn’t want to take the issue off the table.
Gordon is also in favor of a countywide sales tax increase, which could be shared with cities to help them fund transportation projects. Gordon said what will be important is if a sales tax is sent to the voters, that it has an expiration date on it so it goes away.
“I’m praying five to six years from now the economy would turn, but I think with a sunset law on a sales tax increase we could keep the barebones of the county running and at the same time build our reserves,” Gordon said.
Shores said the Harbor should “reach into the Puget Sound area and get some businesses to come down here to give them a tax break and a break on overhead costs.”
Such a maneuver, he said, would require cooperation from cities that use business & occupation taxes, and perhaps the Grays Harbor PUD to provide lower rates and connection charges for new businesses that bring a certain number of jobs to the Harbor.
“If we can grow our tax base, it’s a better solution than trying to raise taxes,” he said. Shores said he’s fine if cities want to pursue sales tax measures on their own, but leave the county out of it, he says.
The city of Aberdeen is looking at doing a small sales tax increase to help pave city roads.
Last month, Gordon abstained from a vote creating a Transportation Benefit District that could eventually be used to put a sales tax proposal before the voters. Gordon said he abstained because he believes the proper fix for roads is a regionwide approach starting with Grays Harbor County.
“I’ve had some second thoughts on that vote,” Gordon said. “I was looking ahead to being a commissioner instead of speaking for the people of Aberdeen.”
Gordon said he should have voted yes. The resolution was approved even without Gordon’s vote.
Neither candidate offered up specifics on what to cut from the county’s budget.
“If you ask employees for comments or suggestions I think you’ll get them,” Shores said. “They’re part of the solutions in this whole mess. I think the morale is stressed out or touchy right now. There’s insecurity on what’s going to happen.”
Gordon said he remains a big fan of a “share the pain” concept. He said he understands and supports the raises sheriff’s deputies have received because they were among the lowest paid law enforcement in the area. The Teamsters contract gave deputies a 5 percent bump last year, a 2 percent increase this year and will give them a 2 percent increase in 2013 — the only union contract guaranteed to receive a raise next year.
Many county employees are now asking for raises, including the Sheriff for his exempt staff, who could be making more money if they were line officers than they are as supervisors.
Gordon pointed out, “If the deputies would have held the line and not gotten pay raises, two of the deputies they’re short could have been financed with the money that went to pay raises. So, sometimes, down the road you do have to make a hard choice so I’d have to look at things and there are hard choices you have to make. I feel for the guys not getting raises, but right now in my heart and soul, if others can’t get raises, I have a really hard time picking favorites.”