The 2020 race for the next Island County commissioner to represent southern and central areas of Whidbey Island is heating up even before this year’s election is over.
Langley resident Melanie Bacon, the county’s director of human resources, announced Nov. 2 that she is running as a Democrat for the District 1 seat on the Board of County Commissioners. The current District 1 commissioner, Helen Price Johnson, said earlier this year that she is running for a state senate seat in 2020.
Coupeville business owner Gary Wray, a Republican, and former county planner Nathan Howard, a Democrat, have already announced their intentions to seek the position.
Oak Harbor business owner Christopher Reed, a Democrat, announced that he will seek the District 2 position. Commissioner Jill Johnson, a Republican, hasn’t said whether she will seek reelection.
Bacon has worked with eight different county commissioners during nine years at the county and sees that “forward movement” has been established in recent years by Price Johnson and other leaders.
“Each day I witness the cooperative work of the current Board of Island County Commissioners,” she wrote, “and I am determined to maintain and encourage that important bipartisan effort to benefit everyone who calls Whidbey or Camano Island their home.”
Bacon has an amazingly diverse background.
She is an Army military intelligence veteran, a former leader in the National Organization for Women, a prison chaplain, a founding member of an educational endowment foundation, a member of a board for a domestic violence shelter and a former chairperson of a planning commission and zoning board responsible for a long-range plan.
Also, she’s a novelist and an actress and musician active with WICA and Whidbey Playhouse.
Bacon said she has a good grasp of the issues. The top concern she hears from people in the community is over the lack of affordable housing. She said the county needs to do more than encourage affordable housing through zoning codes.
“We need to take action too, put our money where our mouth is,” she said in an email, “and actively back creative initiatives that have the support of the local communities.”
In addition, she said that she will focus on “wisely managing Island County growth, on environmental common sense, smart and citizen-friendly government, and on secure public transportation options and solutions to ferry line and bridge congestion.”
The county hired a consulting firm last year that created leadership profiles of county leaders. The profile of Bacon said she looks for “opportunities to generate mutually supportive and collaborative relationships” and that she is “an advocate for harmony, trust and fairness and encourage others accordingly.”
Bacon’s main concern in deciding to run, she said, was the effect it may have on her relationship with county employees and leaders. She said she’s been extremely careful to run the HR department in a non-partisan way. A month before her announcement, she sent out a letter to elected officials and department heads to let them know that she was considering running and that the decision “would not change the service or responsiveness of Human Resources in any way whatsoever,” she said.
Yet her position has given her a perspective of county government that commissioners usually don’t have.
“For the last nine years,” she said, “I have worked very closely with the elected officials and department heads to resolve employee issues and solve problems that the commissioners have not been involved in or aware of.”