Jamie Stephens and Bob Myhr vie for District #6 County Council seat
October 13, 2010 · Updated 11:13 AM
The Sounder asked county council candidates Bob Myhr and Jamie Stephens about their top priorities and positions on controversial community topics. Here's what they said about their past accomplishments and plans for the future.
Stephens has worked as a property manager for Ledger Investments, LLC since 2005; he and his wife Lauren owned the Edenwild Inn on Lopez for the three years prior. They have lived on Lopez for 14 years and have children in college. Stephens earned his B.A. in American Studies and Communications from the University of Notre Dame and has taken continuing education in executive finance at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
Stephens is a board member at the Lopez Family Resource Center, where he teaches small business classes.
A member of the Lions' Club, he substitutes at Lopez Schools and organizes Lopez' annual 4th of July parade.
Stephens' Track Record
Port of Lopez
The Port of Lopez has not taken any annual tax increase while Stephens has been a commissioner, but has completed two capital projects: fencing and runway repaving. Under his term, the port has purchased equipment for the Islands Oil Spill Association, and purchased property around the airport and made it available for farming.
Fisherman Bay Water Association
During Stephens' time as a board member, the association has updated its service plan, upgraded capital facilities and expanded service area to serve Lopez Village urban growth area.
Lopez Community Land Trust
Stephens served as a board member and secretary during the planning, fundraising and construction of the trust's award winning Common Ground straw bale home neighborhood that allows for net zero energy consumption.
Stephens is a member of the village's planning committee, and says he wants a subarea plan and better stormwater treatment for the Village, along with walking paths from the ferry landing to the village,and around the island.
“The charter was promoted for passage with an administrator and a part time council,” said Stephens. “It just doesn't seem right to vote yourself a full retirement package as you're cutting other people's hours. I'm not saying it's illegal, I just think it's wrong.”
CAO and Shoreline Master Plan
“Part of the reason I'm running is that I feel that issues like the CAO, which were issues five years ago, have just been kicked down the road,” he said. “No one's going to be totally happy when it's put together; it's going to take a stiff back to put something into action that's defensible.” He said he would push the planning department to stay on schedule with completing the CAO.
Stephens said his own waterfront home is considered nonconforming; he supports “giving property owners some certainty,” as well as better defined regulatory wording specific to the largely waterfront county.
“We are a unique area,” he said. “It's hard to have all these excessive rules on the shoreline when our whole county is surrounded by shoreline. We need to protect our wetlands and wildlife habitat, but we also need to provided unique solutions when necessary.”
He also said he wants to bring best science and input from local farmers so that the CAO allows farmers to make a living.
He favors converting BLM lands into a national conservation area.
“I like it because its a grassroots effort not a presidential edict; it guarantees the protection it's enjoying right now, it doesn't cost any more, it would just lock in the way it's being managed now,” he said.
Stephens says he will advocate for convenient ferry schedules and oppose the proposed reservation system, citing an overall cost of $25 million, the expense of readying terminals for the system and inconvenience for islanders needing to get off island at short notice.
“It would favor tourists over locals,” he said, continuing, “WSF has been really poor in implementing anything that's computer based. They spent $20 million to put in the infrastructure such as the gates in Anacortes that are unused and for the scanning equipment that an employee still handles for you. The intent was to eliminate the ticket books and streamline operations.”
He also said he is unimpressed that ferry workers in the toll booth cannot say whether the person paying at the moment will get on the ferry or not. He said the money for a reservation system would be better spent on purchasing a new boat or better service.
“Whether it's solid waste or the CAO, it started with just trying to put a roof over the Friday Harbor tipping floor, and now we're at a point where the whole system is collapsing,” said Stephens.
Stephens wants to stop collecting co-mingled recycling, saying less than 50% of collected materials are actually recycled. He favors equalizing self-haul tipping fees, so that San Juan Sanitation and the Town of Friday Harbor pay the same per-ton fee as individual self-haulers.
“The solid waste contract up in two years,” said Stephens. “We need to stabilize the system and start looking forward to how system is going to operate in two years.”
Home Rule Charter Review
“I'm glad it's coming up,” said Stephens. “I think the public will be a lot more interested in this now that they've seen how the charter has actually been enacted.”
He said he would like to see the council question issues more thoroughly and exercise a better management style over the county administrator, conveying clear, specific instructions.
“Yes, there is a lot of buck passing back and forth,” he said. “They are often not asking questions that need to be asked... Bob has abstained (from voting) quite a bit, and I think people are elected to make a decision, yes or no,” he added.
On the Race
“We really need an engaged and energetic person, someone who's been involved in many areas and can
see how individual issues affect the big picture,” he said.
As a council member, Stephens says he wants to foster local entrepreneurship through job skills training on emerging technologies in energy, rainwater catchment and home commuting, and highlight products from local farms.
Myhr was elected as as county commissioner in 2005 and served as the first council chairman under the Home Rule charter in 2007. He and his wife Joyce have lived on Lopez for over 25 years.
Myhr worked as a business and non-profit consultant from 2002-2005. Prior to that he served as the executive director of the San Juan Preservation Trust. During his 17-year tenure he negotiated with property owners to preserve over 8,750 acres of San Juan County woodlands, farmland and shoreline.
Earlier Myhr taught political science at the University of Washington and managed an international group at Weyerhaeuser. He was also a Fulbright Scholar, earning his B.A. in economics from Amherst College, an M.I.A. in international affairs and economics, and a Ph.D. in public law and government from Columbia University.
Myhr is a member of the Lions Club, Friends of the Library, Audubon Society, Salmon Recovery Council, Northwest Regional Council (Area Agency on Aging), North Sound Mental Health Administration, Northwest Workforce Development Council, and the Legislative Steering Committee of the Washington State Association of Counties. He also works with the Lopez Island Prevention Coalition, has served for many years on the board of OPALCO, and has served on the Board of Health, the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, and the Council Government Subcommittee.
Myhr's Track Record
Over the past two years Myhr and other council members have foregone cost of living increases, and the council has enacted $1.3 million in county budget cuts, roughly 10% of the “county current” budget.
“In order to reduce our county expenditures I've been supportive of efforts to reduce management level positions and look at opportunities to combine departments,” said Myhr, citing the combination of the parks and fair departments, as well as elimination of a management position in IT a month ago.
With Myhr's advocacy, Lopez also consolidated emergency services, with sheriff's deputies moving to Lopez Fire Hall.
In November 2009, the council agreed that they work over 90 hours per month and are eligible for full-time service credits in the state retirement system (PERS).
“County employees who work more than 90 hours a month receive full service credits in the state retirement system,” said Myhr. “County council members are county employees who work more than 90 hours per month and are to be treated the same as other county employees, and the county auditor agrees. I would point out that there have been no salary changes in the last two years for county council members; we also voluntarily took at two percent pay cut this summer.”
The council's voter-approved November 2009 levy lid lift was calculated to collect $960,000 in 2010 to support health services, parks, and programs not mandated by the state, like Senior Services, 4-H, and Master Gardeners.
From Myhr's Web site: “I believe the County should undertake a new and thorough study of the current economic factors that drive our economy, how it has changed in recent years, and the trends for the near-term future. Such a study can help plan for the future and help us manage our destiny for the benefit of all islanders.
CAO and Shoreline Master Plan
“Good, bad, or indifferent, the county committed itself to the Growth Management Act in 1990,” reads Myhr's Web site. “In its essence, it is now the law that we must follow.”
“Our citizens were very concerned about the June 2009 draft CAO, and as a result the council and I specifically listened to what our citizens had to say and we've gone back to the drawing boards to re-examine our critical areas and we have commissioned Dr. Paul Adamus to do more study and particularly local study,” Myhr told the Sounder. He hopes for the study's completion by 2011.
“In the recent issue related to the dump... I gained full support of the council to bring a balanced budget that included keeping the Lopez transfer station open,” said Myhr.
He said he is committed to ensuring “an operationally efficient Lopez transfer station with self-haul, recycling, and Neil's mall.”
Myhr supported preservation of Turtleback Mountain and Lopez Hill, and is working on designating Odlin South as a park reserve area.
“On the council, I am a dedicated and effective voice for conservation for all the islands,” he said. “To help conserve and protect these large blocks of land in the San Juan islands seems very important to me.”
Myhr advocated and passed the county ordinance to create the citizens’ Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC), which works for farm interests. He supported Land Bank efforts to acquire farmland and conservation easements to lease to local farmers, supported legislative changes to allow farmstands to sell produce in the rural lands, and successfully opposed a recent county proposal to raise the application fee for ag open space from $1,300 to $3,000.
Myhr established the Lopez Village Planning Review Committee and was involved in completion of the Lopez Village UGA and the Fisherman Bay Road upgrade with a speed limit of 25 mph south of Cross Road, and expansion of walkways along Lopez Village roads.
“I've held regular monthly meetings where people can come and ask questions on a regular basis,” said Myhr. “I've encouraged the council to hold meetings on Orcas and Lopez, and we've held some; I'd like to see more held outside of Friday Harbor. I will continue to encourage that to make the county government more accessible for everyone.”
Last year Myhr helped the county gain permission to use electric vehicles on county roads, through SSB#6346. He said through his advocacy the county now has increased capacity for teleconferencing, with facilities at public libraries and OPALCO offices on all three main islands.
“I am interested in technological innovation here in the county,” he said.
“I have never favored a ferry reservation system for the San Juans,” said Myhr. “However, the WSF says they are planning to implement a system in 2012 or 2013. Instead of fighting the ferry system and saying “no,” we need to work with them so we have a big say, if we have a reservation system, in how it would be structured. If they're going to implement one, I want to make sure we're involved in the process to set up the system.”
Myhr favors continuing to provide affordable housing for working families and senior citizens; favors creation of small lots near utilities to that purpose. He hopes to use county funds for planning and seeking grants and loans from federal and state programs.
Home Rule Charter
As per the Home Rule charter enacted in 2006, in November, 2011, the voters of San Juan County will elect a Charter Review Committee. Myhr favors a thorough review of the charter.
On the Race
“One of the big differences in this election is that I've expressed where I stand on a variety of issues, and my opponent's statements remain very general,” he said. “I think that's a major difference between the two of us.”
Myhr cited as a personal strength his past experience working in the new charter form of government.
“I am very careful that I do not make mudslinging at my opponents, and I will not, but I think its fair to say that I work hard to understand the nuances on difficult policy issues, and try to explain them to our voters. I stand on my accomplishments in the past and my priorities for the future, I don't attack other people."