Commissioner candidates tout leadership styles

Island County commissioner candidate Janet St. Clair said that if elected, she’ll bring a different leadership style of “looking for solutions” and treating “department heads with respect.” St. Clair, running as a Democrat, faces Republican Rick Hannold for the district 3 seat on the board of commissioners in the November election.

“I have a strong commitment to leadership that listens,” St. Clair said.

Her background as a social worker and director for nonprofit social service organizations has given her experience in finding “research-driven” and “community-based” solutions, she said. If elected, she said she’ll establish evening office hours on North Whidbey and Camano to increase her availability to the public.

Hannold, who is rounding out his first four-year term, said he has also demonstrated a history of listening to the constituents.

“Not just listening …. but seeing the underlying issue,” he said.

Hannold thinks he and the other commissioners have done “a lot of good things in the last four years,” and he wants to build upon their progress. He’s enjoyed the job, especially working with the community and county employees and thinks the commissioners make a good team.

“We’re going to have disagreements from time to time,” he said. “The trick is to leave emotion out of the discussion. More often than not, we’re able to work things out.”

Hannold said the amount of government programs each candidate wants to provide is the biggest difference between the two of them.

“It’s a thin line between compassion and enabling,” he said, “and we have to be careful what we do.”

St. Clair said one of her priorities is addressing the lack of mental health services in the area. She noted that Island County’s suicide rates are high compared to other counties in the state, despite not having typical risk factors such as high rates of violence and poverty.

“There is no logical reason for that,” St. Clair said.

She said she wants to build resources for children, families and veterans to have greater access to psychiatric care. She also would like to bring substance abuse treatment to the island and closer to those who need it. She supports the jail’s transition to providing medically assisted treatment but said it isn’t the ideal solution.

“The jail is not a great place to do treatment,” she said. “You can’t arrest your way out of addiction.”

She was supportive of the recently adopted update to the housing element of the comprehensive plan, especially its language regarding possible incentives for low-impact developments and temporary workforce housing. She said data on what housing policies work best should drive future decisions to facilitate “careful, smart growth.”

One of Hannold’s focuses is to support businesses that provide higher wages so that more people can afford homes and rent in the county. He also thinks costs associated with regulations and permitting are too high and drive up the building and subsequently living costs.

He said the density associated with rural zoning, which covers much of the county, is also a barrier to affordable housing.

“Five acres per home is killing us,” he said.

Both candidates expressed support for subsidized housing projects to help address the county’s housing crisis. They also agree that it’s likely the November election will be close, as it was in the primary.

“This is a game of inches,” St. Clair said.