Steve Rogers fancies himself as sort of a “Mr. Pacific County.”
He’s chairman of the South Bend School Board, president of the Pacific County Historical Society, president of Kiwanis of South Bend. His family has roots in the community dating back to the 1920s, mostly involved in logging. And he owns a small tree farm.
He and his family even own an island in the middle of Willapa Bay called Baby Island, as well as a tug boat; although most of Rogers’ life has been in the education arena, having served as principal of Willapa Valley High School and later as a principal and administrator at Port Angeles High School.
Rogers, a Democrat, says his accumulated experience is his strongest asset in his campaign for Pacific County commissioner.
“I’m not looking for work,” the South Bend native said. “I’m not looking for a job. I don’t need a job. But I feel I have a calling. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.”
If he does win, he says he will keep his seat on the South Bend School Board. It’s a post that doesn’t have a salary.
“That’s really important,” Rogers said. “I ran for office. It wouldn’t be fair to the people to say I got a better offer. We have a five-member board and we like and respect each other. Someone comes to us with an issue, we deal with it.”
Rogers fended off primary challenges from two other Democrats and will face retired firefighter Scott McDougall, who calls himself a “pro-union” Republican, in the General Election. 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.
Rogers and McDougall are friends and live blocks apart from each other.
“After the election, we’ll stay friends, no matter what,” Rogers said.
“This is a cordial election,” agreed McDougall.
Rogers said the biggest issues facing Pacific County are its budget troubles. Simply put, like just about every local government in the region, the expenditures don’t match up with the revenues.
“It’s not any more complex than a school district budget, which I’m intimately familiar with,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he doesn’t have any specific ideas for solving the budget problem and wouldn’t want to rank his priorities in terms of departments.
“I really don’t want to be in a position to make a commitment that I can’t keep,” he added. “It all has to be studied, from the amount of paper we use, to the vehicle use, mileage. I need to know that why, when I drive to Long Beach, I see two or three county vehicles coming this way. It may all be valid. But those aren’t questions I can ask until I’m in office.”
Rogers said as a county commissioner, he’s more interested in asking questions and breaking down the reasons why the county operates the way it does. He says he’s in favor of budgeting from the ground up.
“If we just roll over the budget from year to year and enlarge or reduce the budget based on how much money we get, I think we can do better than that,” he said. “I think we can look at that a little more creatively, although I have no desire for more county people to lose their jobs. Maybe the county has cut to bare bones, but we’ll see.”
Rogers said he’s in favor of the county having a county administrator, a position first put in place about 10 years ago to oversee day-to-day operations.
And he says he knows very well that the county’s economy is intricately linked to shellfish, dependent on clean water, and timber managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.
“I will be a thorn in the state’s side,” Rogers said. “I plan to work Olympia really hard.”
Supports tax to address mental health, substance abuse
Rogers said he will support a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase that benefits substance abuse and mental health programs. That’s a reversal for him from the primary, when he said he was the only candidate out there opposing it.
Last year, a task force made up of health and law enforcement officials recommended that county commissioners enact the increase. But they didn’t.
“I’ve since read the recommendations by the committee and talked to initial committee members,” Rogers said. “After that, I’m now in favor of it, but I wanted the opportunity to study it. … I like the fact that it will potentially focus on youth. That’s my life. But I will want strings attached because I want to know what it’s specifically used for, because there’s well over $2 million already coming in for mental health in the county. That doesn’t mean they’re getting too much already. (Expected revenue from the added tax is) not a great amount of money, it’s about $220,000.”
Just a few weeks ago, 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.”
Rogers said he saw what happened with the dispute in the Sheriff’s Office.
“Funding courts, the prosecutor, jail, funding 911, all those fit in the public safety issue and it’s a big deal,” Rogers said.
Asked if he would do anything different or what the future could hold for public safety employees, Rogers said, “I think there were some communication issues that, perhaps, caused part of the problem and I think it turned out as well as it could. You really don’t want your folks striking. I’m not a big fan of unhappy employees. I think it’s important to work with them and communicate with them.”
Rogers said he’s never had to deal with a strike as a teacher or as a school administrator.
“I’ve never even had to deal with a grievance in 18 years as a principal,” he said. “You just take care of those things. It’s not an optimal time to strike because so many people are hurting. And there’s not a real positive mood in our culture for public employees. I think our culture is ganging up on public employees to a certain degree. It’s like people who work for the government are somehow second class citizens and people act like they shouldn’t be eligible for retirement or let’s take it away. The public sector are taking their hits across the country.”
Rogers said he’s a Democrat because he believes in the government.
“I believe government is a good thing.,” Rogers said. “I’m proud to pay taxes. I want good roads. We need infrastructure. We need good medical care. … I believe in Democratic principles of caring for those who can’t care for themselves. I believe in our kids.”
Rogers said he considers himself a social progressive, “but I’m a fiscal conservative. I’m very good with other people’s money.”
Rogers said as soon as he got on the South Bend School District six years ago, he was made the chairman. His job has been to work with the superintendent on budget matters.
“You read about school districts in trouble,” Rogers said. “Well, our school district has money. We’re not in trouble.”
Rogers said he’s also been given budget reigns over other groups he joined.
“The historical society has more money than it’s ever had,” he said. “Yes, we got an endowment, but we also take care of the money we do have. The Kiwanis Club is our scholarship and endowment is up $700,000 and we manage that very well and our club fund is probably larger than when I took over. I’m very good and careful with your money.”
Rogers said he has no plans to quit any of his organizations should he win office.
“People ask me, ‘What are you going to give up? How can you do this?’ Well, I’ll just do it. I’ve always just done it.”
After attending school to get his teacher’s degree at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Rogers became a teacher at Ellensburg High School. Yet, besides teaching, he coached three sports and was the newspaper and yearbook adviser. On the side, he also managed three apartments and worked at Albertsons for two hours every morning to stock shelves.
“I’ve always been busy,” he explained. “Maybe, as a county commissioner, I won’t write and publish our magazine for the historical society. Maybe I won’t have time to edit manuscripts for people I know. I just got done editing a 280-page book for a guy.”
Rogers said he will maintain time to work in his garden, which is full of berries and vegetables and there are even Christmas trees growing nearby, which he harvests and sells for a Kiwanis fundraiser.
Rogers worked at a teacher in Ellensburg for 12 years before becoming principal at Willapa Valley High School for seven years. He became a principal and administrator at Port Angeles High School and then came back to South Bend for his retirement and to build his dream house.
“You know, except for this year, I’ve worked every year since I was 16,” Rogers said. “Even in retirement here, I did consulting work for the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, worked at the college in Astoria as director of admissions for a year, was a school counselor for a couple days a week and even went back to work as a teacher at South Bend for four years.”