Heated debate continues at Clinton forum

Spirited political debate continued at a South End political forum this week, as candidates for Island County coroner, clerk and treasurer, and community members for and against the school bond ballot proposal, squared off at Clinton Community Hall.

The event, drawing about 30 people on Tuesday night, was sponsored by the Clinton Progressive Association.

While the candidate presentations were lively, the major focus was on the $25 million, 20-year bond measure placed on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot by the South Whidbey School District.

The new bonds would devote $10 million to repairs in South End schools, with the remaining $15 million to fund an addition and upgrades at South Whidbey High School to accommodate the move to the Maxwelton campus of the middle school by 2012.

“Without a doubt I would vote for this,” Shawn Nowlin of Freeland, who has kept close tabs on the school board’s recent decisions, said in presenting a case for the bond measure. “It’s important to keep kids hooked on education.”

“I’m a mother of a second-grader,” Nowlin added. “I have a lot of investment in this for the next 10 years.”

Damian Greene, who runs an insurance business in Clinton, presented another view.

“This needs to be scrutinized,” Greene said of the school district’s proposal. “I’m not sure they can do all they want to do.”

“This has divided our community,” Greene added. “Voting no is our appeals process.”

The bond measure would cost property owners

47 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That’s about $164.50 for a home valued at $350,000.

School officials say property owners would see a drop in their tax bills if the measure is approved. The current bond measure, which is about to expire, is 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Greene said the big issue is the drastic decline in enrollment. The district has lost 400 students in four years, enough to fill a school. In the past two years, approximately $3.4 million has been cut from the district’s $16 million budget, and 40 employees have been laid off.

“Why do we need to build more schools?” Greene asked.

Nowlin said the issue was about maintaining quality education, concentrating on programs with infrastructure that fits.

“Do some of these things seem extravagant? Not to me,” she said. “If 10 kids stay in school and don’t end up in jail, you’ll pay for your bond.”

Greene said updating Langley Middle School and leaving students there makes more sense than the district’s alternative. He said the school district may be drastically underestimating what can be accomplished with $25 million, given that $5 million alone has been allocated for a new heating and ventilation system, which may not even go

10 years without repairs.

“Our first responsibility is fiscal responsibility,” Greene said.

“This isn’t just a school problem, it’s a community problem,” Nowlin responded. “We need to create a system that’s smaller and better, with the opportunity to grow.”

Coroner debate

In the coroner’s debate, 16-year incumbent Dr. Robert Bishop continued to emphasize his record in office, his 24/7 dedication to the job and his fiscal responsibility in not having requested a budget increase during his time on the job.

“From top to bottom, it’s been me,” Bishop said. “And our caseload is up 50 percent.”

This is the first time Bishop has had opposition on the ballot.

His opponent, retired opthalmologist Dr. Paul Thompson, said his medical training amounts to “superior credentials” for the job when compared to Bishop’s background as a veterinarian.

The coroner’s job is to investigate deaths not obviously the result of natural causes.

Thompson said that although he’s never operated on a dead body, his extensive medical training and background would allow him to save money during autopsies.

“The coroner should be the one with the most medical knowledge,” Thompson said.

“If you see a dog by the side of the road, call Robert,” he said, pointing to his opponent. “If you see a corpse, call someone like me.”

Bishop said he’s performed thousands of autopsies in his 16 years in office, and takes pride in the way he deals with friends and relatives of the deceased.

“We’ve tried to treat people as if we were in their shoes,” he said.

Thompson said if he’s elected, he’ll be the only MD coroner in the state.

“Long incumbency brings baggage,” he added of his opponent.

Bishop said he prides himself on running a clean campaign, focusing solely on his own qualifications.

“I never mention my opponent,” he said, “while he’s said my name more than I have.”

Treasurer, clerk

Meanwhile, one candidate for county treasurer and one candidate for county clerk came forward together to talk about their individual qualifications.

They did so, they said, because both of their opponents failed to show, as they have at previous candidate forums.

“It’s very telling our opponents weren’t here,” said Ana Marie Nuñez, the Democratic candidate for treasurer. “I won’t say another word about that.”

Nuñez is chief deputy treasurer, the number two job in the office. She’s also a certified public accountant and a former biologist. She has worked in the treasurer’s office for more than five years, and has the endorsement of retiring treasurer Linda Riffe.

Nuñez said she’s proud of efficiencies she has introduced to the treasurer’s office, and decried her opponent’s lack of qualifications and experience.

“You can’t afford to bring in someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Nuñez said. “This job is how I can best serve the county.”

Her no-show opponent in the Nov. 2 election is Republican Shane Fortune, who has an extensive academic background but no experience in county finances or in elective office.

In the past, he has said his priorities are to reduce taxes and eliminate wasteful government spending.

Meanwhile, Fortune’s wife, Carol Ann Fortune, is also on next month’s ballot as a Republican candidate for county clerk. She also has academic credentials, but no legal or county administrative experience.

She also failed to attend the Clinton forum.

Her opponent, who did show up, is Democrat Debra Van Pelt, a deputy clerk in the office for the past five years. Van Pelt, too, stressed her qualifications for the job, when compared to those of her opponent, and said she would hit the ground running.

“I’ve a clear understanding of the position,” she said. “I love the law.”

She said the clerk’s job is complex and technical. The office keeps all files for superior court, and the clerk must be present for all court proceedings and keep an accurate record. The clerk also works closely with the judges, attorneys and the public, she said.

“You should vote for the best candidate,” Van Pelt said, “the one giving you the most for your money.”

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