Orcas candidate forum

The five candidates running for the position of County Council District 1 each got a chance to share their opinions on topics plaguing San Juan County at one of three forums held by The League of Women Voters.

The first of the forums was held on Tuesday, July 5 on Orcas. On Wednesday, July 6, the candidates held forums on San Juan and Lopez islands.

Incumbent Bob Jarman is running against Sheryl Albritton, Frank Penwell, Bill Watson and Steve Wehrly.

Albritton said she would provide true transparency, solid experience and empowering representation to the position. She described herself as “strong, hardworking and 100 percent representative.”

Next came Jarman who said, “I want to continue working with them (Jamie Stephens and Rick Hughes) to conquer the big items we have ahead of us: the comprehensive plan and housing issue, I believe are the two biggest issues and I do believe I can contribute the best to those issues moving forward.”

Penwell said he would put community first. He has spent the last 12 years leading the Community Treasures’ recycling activities on San Juan Island.

Watson followed by saying he’s a critical thinker and problem solver.

Rounding out the introductions was Wehrly, who said he has been working in government for 30 years.

Moderator Steve Bowman presented a question to candidates at the Orcas forum about how they would tackle the issue of affordable housing.

Each candidate agreed that there is a need for affordable housing in the county, and the necessity for a funding solution.

Sticking with the theme of affordable housing, one audience member asked if the candidate supports using a lodging tax to fund housing projects.

“Because the increased tourism is one of the main causes,” said Albritton. “It makes sense to use the cause as part of the solution.”

The candidates all agreed that some sort of tax may be the best route to take in financing affordable housing development.

“This is for their workers, this is about their economic success,” said Watson. “Therefore they need to share a part in that; especially if we’re asking taxpayers to share in it.”

Another voter broadened the question to whether or not the candidates would be in support of an excise tax for housing. An excise is a tax put on goods. There is an existing excise tax on real estate which funds the San Juan County Land Bank.

The candidates each said they would support looking into an excise tax, or allocating funds from the existing land bank one. Jarman said he would look at an excise tax only as a last resort, and Wehrly said that an excise tax may be a more appropriate funding source than a lodging tax would for affordable housing.

The handling of personnel issues and the lawsuit about a violation of Washington State’s Public Records Act that Albritton had brought upon the county at the end of 2015 were mentioned. Each candidate stressed the need for transparency, communication and fairness.

Environmental issues were of concern to the audience as well, from deforestation and reforestation to the water supply.

Next, an audience member asked what the candidates’ top priority would be were they elected as a council member. The most common reply was: a solution to the housing situation.

Wehrly’s priority varied from the others, however. He claimed his top priority is the county’s budget.

A question was raised by a member of the audience whether the candidates would be interested in amending or repealing the ordinance that prohibits using and building guesthouses for long-term rentals outside of the urban growth area.

“It would have to be restricted, in my opinion, to long-term rentals,” said Watson. “That runs into the face of the enforcement, or lack of the enforcement, capabilities in the county.”

Penwell agreed, “We all need to work together on things like this.”

In closing statements each candidate explained to the audience why they would be best suited for the position of council member.

“You guys understand a lot more about this than I do,” said Wherly, who explained that he would want to hear from the people of the county when considering his decisions relating to the council.

“Only by working together can we do better,” said Watson, who read a list of things he commits to, including transparency in government.

“I have a purpose, a plan, passion, perseverance and I will be positive,” said Penwell, followed by him showing a chart of how Community Treasures has grown under his command.

“We’ve got to get the right people in the right places,” said Jarman, who added that he is confident that the existing county council has the skills and cooperation to continue to work well together.

“I know what solid government and leadership looks like, because I have walked in those shoes,” said Albritton, who claimed she would ensure every citizen is treated equally if she were to be elected as a council member. “If not, I will expect a phone call.”

The primary election ballots, to narrow the field from five candidates down to two, will be mailed out toward the middle of July and due on Aug. 2.