Homola faces two more foes for Island County commissioner

Jill Johnson and Phil Collier - --
Jill Johnson and Phil Collier
— image credit: --

Island County Commissioner Angie Homola will have at least three challengers in this year’s election.

Jill Johnson, director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and Phil Collier, owner of Hilltop Auto Service and Express Lube in Oak Harbor, announced their intentions this week to run for the Commissioner District 2 seat.

Commissioner Homola has already said she will seek reelection, while Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell announced last December that he will run for the office. The candidates will be whittled to two, regardless of political party, in the Aug. 7 primary election.

The current four candidates are a diverse bunch. Johnson and Campbell are Republicans. Homola is a Democrat. Collier is running as an independent.

Johnson grew up in Oak Harbor, graduated from Oak Harbor High School and was a hotshot political fundraiser for 12 years before returning to the island, where she worked at Whidbey Island Bank and then became the chamber director. She describes herself as a moderate Republican.

Collier also went to Oak Harbor High, but purchased a business in the same month he graduated and has run it successfully since then. He describes himself as the “common sense candidate” and believes government ought to be run like a business.

Campbell became a member of the city council after a career in the Navy and then as an engineer and project manager for Lockheed Martin. He’s known as an independent-minded member of the city council.

Homola is an architect and a former employee of the county planning department. She was active in promoting environmental causes before running against, and defeating, longtime commissioner Mac McDowell in 2008.

Both Johnson and Collier came to the News-Times office this week to announce that they are entering the race.

Jill Johnson

Johnson, who was just married last October, said she cares a great deal about her community and is seeking a larger platform where she can have more of an impact.

“It’s very personal,” she said. “I’m from here.”

Johnson said she can help end the current in-fighting and division that she believes has crippled the current board of commissioners.

“Across the board there seems to be a desire to be right and push an agenda, more than to listen and to problem solve,” Johnson said.

Johnson describes herself as a fiscal conservative and has a background with the Republican party. But she said she’s not anti-tax, she’s not a Tea Party member and she’s thinks for herself.

“I’m my own person and I’m not a big fan of group think,” she said.

If she’s elected, she said she will play well with her colleagues on the board, but she’s not likely to team up with fellow Republican Commissioner Kelly Emerson to do anything rash, like closing the county’s juvenile jail. She believes in making informed decisions, listening to people with different opinions and cooperating with fellow decision makers.

She’s helped several conservatives, including Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, with their campaigns. But this time she wants to speak for herself and run her campaign by her own rules.

If she’s elected, Johnson said one of her top priorities will be economic sustainability in the county. While county government may not have a huge role in the economy, she feels the issue isn’t even on the commissioners’ radar. While Oak Harbor city officials, for example, have been working to help Nichols Brothers Boat Builders find a place on the island to build a new facility, she said the county has been noticeably absent from the effort.

“You need to fight for those private sector jobs,” she said.

Johnson is knowledgeable about many county issues, from urban growth areas to budgets; she looks forward to rolling up her sleeves and finding solutions.

“I’m kind of a geek,” she admitted. “I love budgets. I like policy. I like land use. I’m just not cool. The job of county commissioner is perfect for me.”

Phil Collier

Like Johnson, Collier said he was spurred to run for office because of the dysfunction he sees on the board of county commissioners. He wants to bring his small business know-how to county government.

“I can save the taxpayers some money and do a better job,” he said. “And bring some harmony.”

Collier’s life is a great Oak Harbor success story. He purchased his business, Hilltop Auto Service and Express Lube, when he was just 18 --- and gas was just 62 cents a gallon --- and has run it successfully for 37 years by paying attention to details and especially costs. During an interview at the News-Times, he took time to take a phone call to discuss with an agent where he could find the best fuel prices. He said people travel all the way from South Whidbey to go to his business because he’s able to offer low-priced oil changes and other services --- as well as free popcorn and pop for customers.

Collier said he is “the common sense candidate” and a “conservative environmentalist.” He is running as an independent, is not affiliated with a political party and hasn’t been involved in government before. All of this, he said, should be considered as positive factors. He said the board of commissioners needs some new blood.

As an independent, he’s not obligated to anyone’s pet agenda. He is definitely a fiscal conservative, but grew up watching the moderating influences of “60 Minutes” and Walter Cronkite.

With his campaign only just beginning, Collier is still educating himself about many of the intricacies of county government. But he read through the budget and believes there’s still some fat that can be cut. He said, for example, the sheriff’s office is paying too much for vehicle maintenance, an issue near and dear to his heart. He said it was ridiculous that the county paid a consultant $90,000 to come up with a parks plan.

Collier said the county should have a purchasing agent who researches the best prices and gets a number of bids for larger purchases. Coincidentally, it’s similar to a proposal Commissioner Homola has been pushing but has gotten little traction.

Collier doesn’t hesitate to criticize Homola, who he claims has a “no expansion, no development agenda.” He said it took a year to get her to meet with him about his plans for developing low-income, senior housing on a piece of land he owns outside the city limits, but she scotched the idea.

“She shut the door in my face,” he said, adding that he will continue to wave the banner for more affordable senior housing if elected.

Collier and his wife Kathi have been married for 33 years. Their three adult children either live in the Oak Harbor area or help him at his Midway Boulevard business, according to his press release.


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