Candidates line up for 2012 Island County Commissioner race

The seat for Island County commissioner District 2 won’t be up for grabs for more than two years but the job is already garnering plenty of interest among Republicans.

Although neither have made any commitments, Jim Campbell, a city councilman for Oak Harbor, and David Sherman, vice president of the Oak Harbor School Board, are both seriously considering runs for the position, which has been held by Democrat Angie Homola since she upset longtime Republican incumbent Mac McDowell in the 2008 general election.

There have also been whispers that Oak Harbor Republican Linda Haddon, who attempted to unseat longtime District 10 Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen in 2008, is also thinking about a run for the seat. Haddon would not confirm or deny her intentions, saying only she had not made any decisions.

When asked whether she plans to run for re-election, Homola said in an emailed response, “As long as the majority of citizens continue to prioritize long term solvency, independence, resource preservation and community values, I will have an interest in leadership.”

That Republicans are already lining up to claim a seat on the all Democrat board isn’t too surprising, said Joel Connelly, a South Whidbey resident and longtime political reporter and analyst for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. During the eight years that President George Bush led the country, Democrats everywhere became increasing angry and mobilized for the 2008 election.

“The effects of that were felt across the country, all the way down to the county and local level,” Connelly said.

In Island County, the result was the election of the first-ever, all-Democrat board. Several years down the road, amidst great controversy over the county’s financial position, that Republicans would want to reclaim their long-held power base in Oak Harbor is only natural, Connelly said.

Campbell, 74, is currently in the middle of his second four-year term on the Oak Harbor City Council. While he has not yet made any definite decisions, he is interested in the job for several reasons. He claims people are consistently asking and encouraging him to run, and he has concerns about the way the board has handled the budget crisis.

Over the past two years, the commissioners have cut $4.2 million from the general fund — that accounts for just over 50 jobs, mandatory work furloughs, and the negotiation of cheaper employee medical plans, to name just a few effects.

But Campbell said the board should have done more.

“I don’t think they’ve gone far enough,” he said.

If he were at the helm, Campbell said he would make public safety and fostering an environment for economic development his primary concerns.

Sherman, 42, is nearing the end of his first four-year term on the school board. Sherman said his interest in running for county commissioner did not originate with Proposition 1. There has been a general “lack of control for spending” overall for several years, he said.

One example is the county’s onsite septic program, which requires all homeowners to have their systems checked at least every three years. He claims the county exceeded the state’s mandate by making the rules apply to everyone instead of just those around identified problem watersheds.

Sherman, who owns his own building business, also criticized the board for its attitude toward development in Island County. Increased building fees have done little to promote new construction or affordable housing, he said.

“I just think they’ve set the direction of the county against building,” he said. He co-wrote the argument against the county’s Proposition 1, which would raise property taxes, in the Island County Auditor’s online voter’s guide.

In her emailed response, Homola said the board inherited a failed financial model and budgetary disaster coupled with a long-term national recession. It responded to the crisis by making sweeping and draconian cuts.

“These radical reductions are alarming, therefore it seems natural that citizens would take note and consider offering their solutions as elected officials,” Homola wrote. “Then again there were many positions unchallenged this election year because people realize the unprecedented revenue challenges and criticisms that come with the job.”

She also wrote that she would welcome a discussion on long-term community planning and a factual uncensored review of the county budget with any citizen or candidate.

“No one wants higher taxes, but population growth, and the cost to support those people require stable revenues that are realistic and responsible,” Homola wrote.

Addressing Sherman’s comments, Homola claimed over 67 percent of watersheds in Island County exceed fecal coliform levels and that cities and counties “need to be proactive, not reactive about the long term effects to public health.”

As for growth, relying on development to pay the bills is a failing financial model, she wrote. Fees, which hadn’t been increased in years, had to go up to help meet reduced revenues resulting from the building slowdown and the county’s budget crunch.

“In order to maintain even minimal staff to meet permit processing statutes, fees had to be adjusted, which is what other counties and cities have done,” Homola wrote.

The board is also currently working to implement permit tracking software to increase efficiency and modernize the department. Sustainable growth and responsible local business stimulus measures are needed to keep Island County solvent for the long haul, she wrote.

Any race for the district two commissioner position would take place in 2012 and the successful candidate would take office in 2013.

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