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Shelton seeks third term as County Commissioner
"Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton announced Tuesday that he will seek a third term in office.This month the Langley Republican completed his seventh year as part of the elected triumvirate that runs the county, but there are still some things he would like to see through to the end.One is the Island County Comprehensive Plan, a long, controversial and expensive endeavor that was technically completed over a year ago but is still going through the appeal process.We're working at satisfying those appeals, and we've largely done that with the exception of WEAN, Shelton said, referring to the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. The other environmental groups are satisfied.While WEAN maintains that the county's plan still does not adequately protect critical wildlife habitat, for example, some property owners remain angered that their land was downsized. As is often the case, Shelton finds himself in the middle of the extremes. No one likes the middle ground, he said, but everyone can live with it.Completing the comprehensive plan is one of the reasons I'm running -- it's important to me, Shelton said.Another reason he's running is Initiative 695, which dangles as a sort of sword of Damocles over the Island County budget. The commissioners kept that sword suspended this year by using the reserve fund to maintain present services. They are hoping the Legislature will cover some of the lost revenues caused by voter approval of I-695, which eliminated the motor vehicle excise tax. That tax provided funds to several county departments, including Health and the Sheriff's Office.Shelton already sees some help on the horizon for the Health Department. It now looks like the Legislature will direct money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement to local health programs, he said.However, Shelton still expects I-695 to have a significant impact on the county's budget. It's going to present some financial challenges, he said.He described this year's tapping into the reserve fund as a one time thing. The commissioners will begin planning the 2001 budget this March, rather than waiting until August as in a normal year. By the 15th (of March) it will be really clear what the Legislature is going to do. Whatever is going to happen will have happened, he said.Shelton said some employees may have to be cut. Eighty percent is spent on salaries and benefits, he noted. We'll attempt to do it in the least painful way. And he believes he has the experience to know where cuts are possible -- better than anybody brand new.Shelton is active in the Association of Washington Counties and expects to be president of the group next year. He hopes to use his influence to fight one of his favorite targets -- unfunded state mandates -- in which the state requires counties to do things but doesn't supply the funding. That's kind of an old dog but I'm going to keep kicking it, he said. It has a tremendous impact on local governments. As a recent example he cited tougher drunk driving laws. While he supports those, he said they result in more jury trials which are very expensive.Looking back at his last three years in office since being re-elected in 1996, the 54-year-old Shelton cites several favorite accomplishments:* Preservation of the Greenbank Farm.* Helping South Whidbey Parks & Recreation by having the county provide funding for half of a 40-acre park addition.* The work of hydrogeologist Doug Kelly, hired by the county to get a handle on the county's water supply. Shelton said Kelly's progress has been impressive.* A computerized county mapping effort, done at a fraction of the cost that other counties have spent.* Completion of three family resource centers, including one on South Whidbey, where health services are delivered.* Establishing local planning committees for Freeland and Clinton, which gives residents the opportunity to have the major say in their destiny.* And, Running the county in a fiscally responsible way.One goal Shelton hasn't accomplished is speeding up the permit process, which was one of his priorities when he first ran for office in 1992. If you had to judge me on that alone it'd be a struggle, he admitted. He said the county has had trouble adjusting its regulations to meet changing state requirements, but it's something that will continue to be a priority him.Democrats mainly after Mac McDowellDemocrats in Island County have Commissioner Mac McDowell in their crosshairs rather than Mike Shelton.Both Republicans are running for re-election, although only Shelton has formally announced his intentions. But according to Island County Democratic Central Committee Chairman George Pardington, McDowell is their prime target.Not that we know of, Pardington said Thursday when asked if the Democrats will field a candidate against Shelton. Mac is a bigger threat than Mike is. We have a goal to get Mac.McDowell, and Oak Harbor resident, is considered more conservative than Shelton.Oak Harbor resident Lynn Wilcox announced in December that she will run against McDowell as a Democrat. If she wins, she would join Bill Thorn on the Board of Commissioners, giving the Democrats the majority for the first time in modern history.Although Pardington, also an Oak Harbor resident, doesn't seem anxious to find someone to run against Shelton, the same is not true of Fran Abel, Shelton's Democratic opponent in 1996.Four years ago Abel, a Langley landscaper, lost as Shelton garnered 52.3 percent of the county-wide vote. But Abel outpolled him in his own district, which includes Central and South Whidbey, as well as on Camano Island. I beat him both in our own district and on Camano, Abel said Thursday. It was North Whidbey that killed me.I hope somebody's going to run (against Shelton), Abel added. I hate to see anybody unchallenged. I'm hoping there will be a strong candidate.In 1996, Abel based much of her campaign on the county's failure to finish its comprehensive plan in compliance with the state Growth Management Act -- something that still hasn't been accomplished.It's still a serious, serious problem, and it's cost the county a fortune in legal fees, Abel said. It should be a major issue.In fact, Abel didn't preclude running again herself, even though she's busy as the Island County president of a group called Washington Conservation Voters, and as a member of the state Forest Practices Committee.I'm kind of ambivalent, Abel said."