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Two for the show: County auditor's race suddenly contested
First there was no opponent in the Island County auditor’s race, and then, all of a sudden, there was.
Oak Harbor City Council member Jim Palmer received enough votes in a write-in campaign in the primaries to qualify for the general election ballot Nov. 4.
He’ll face incumbent Sheilah Crider, who assumed the office in January. She was appointed to the $67,283-a-year job by Island County commissioners after former Auditor Suzanne Sinclair resigned in mid-term because she was moving from the state.
Crider’s was the only name on the ballot in the Aug. 19 primary for the four-year term.
But Palmer received nearly 500 write-in votes, about 3 percent of the total cast, and well ahead of usual write-in suspects such as Mickey Mouse, Bozo and Donald Duck.
He only needed 1 percent of the vote to get his name alongside Crider’s.
“It’s fairly clear that a lot of voters want a choice,” Palmer said Friday. “I’m campaigning hard.”
Was she surprised by the last-minute opposition?
“Yes,” Crider said Monday.
Has she been out campaigning?
“Absolutely,” she said.
Palmer, 54, a business consultant and appraiser, said he has long been interested in the auditor’s job, but when the opening occurred, he had just been elected to the Oak Harbor City Council.
“I thought it would have been a very bad thing to do to the city” to switch gears, he said.
But Palmer said that this time around, supporters in the county Republican Party initiated the write-in campaign without his knowledge, and then convinced him to run.
He and Crider are both listed as Republicans.
“But I’m as independent as you can get. I vote for the person,” he said.
Crider, 62, was an Oak Harbor City Council member for 10 years before being appointed auditor, and spent 14 years as a member of the Island County Planning Commission. She also served four years as chairwoman of the Island County Republican Party.
A Whidbey Island resident for 23 years, Crider has a background in media, corporate management, technology, aviation, business and real estate. She has been a Realtor since 1986.
She is working on a master’s degree in business administration, and said she has completed coursework in law, appraisal and finance. She said she has put her education on hold to concentrate on the auditor’s job.
Crider has been a member of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations for years.
She and her husband, Wayne, a Navy retiree, live in Oak Harbor, and have been active supporters of many service and charitable organizations in the area.
They have a son, Chuck, who works in banking management in the Portland, Ore. area.
Palmer was born in Tacoma and moved to Oak Harbor in 1979.
A longtime member of the business community, he is a former franchise owner of RadioShack stores in Oak Harbor and Freeland. He now has his own consulting firm specializing in the appraisal of businesses, machinery and equipment.
Palmer also is a part-time business instructor at Skagit Valley College, and through the years has been active in several civic and community organizations.
His wife, Julie, was born and raised in Oak Harbor and they have four grown children; Kristi, Justin, Joanna and Jacob.
The county auditor’s office handles vehicle licensing, records and archives official documents, performs accounting tasks and prepares an annual financial statement, supervises county payroll and assists in the state’s audit of the county’s books.
But by far it’s most public function is the conducting of elections.
In Crider’s first year on the job, a mistake forced the reprinting of 40,000 ballots and 40,000 voter pamphlets. Earlier, part of a candidate’s statement was omitted from the military voter’s pamphlet, and a page had to be redone.
Palmer said those errors, plus the fact that there was no competition for the office, convinced him to enter the race.
Regarding the errors, Crider said she took “immediate corrective action.”
“We now require final proof from publishers before printing,” she said. “My staff and I are constantly evaluating ways of improving.”
Palmer said his number-one priority if elected would be “to make sure elections are run fairly and equally for all those who are running.”
He said the first thing he would do is interview everyone in the auditor’s office “to learn their strengths and weaknesses,” and he would monitor the county’s mail-in voting system closely.
“It’s a new system and it should be watched,” he said.
Palmer is stressing his business and management experience.
“I’m by far the most qualified,” he said. “I’m skilled in management, planning, customer service and financial statements.”
Crider said Palmer’s experience may be “better suited to the office of county assessor.” She points to her own business, professional and governmental experience, which she said gives her “in-depth knowledge and a working understanding about Island County.”
Then there’s what she regards as her ace in the hole.
“Sheilah Crider is the Island County auditor,” she said. “I am doing the job today. I don’t require time to get up to speed.”