By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
COUPEVILLE — All Island County voters will elect representatives to the Board of County Commissioners from the south Whidbey Island and Oak Harbor areas.
Incumbent Helen Price Johnson is facing retired naval officer Jeff Lauderdale in District 1. Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce executive director Jill Johnson (not related to Price Johnson) is running against Commissioner Angie Homola in District 2. The incumbents are Democrats, their challengers Republicans.
The three-member board also includes District 3 Commissioner Kelly Emerson, who represents Camano and north Whidbey islands. Emerson, a Republican, is campaigning against her current colleagues and is raising money to defeat Price Johnson and Homola.
In the primary election, which eliminated a handful of other candidates, Price Johnson collected more than twice as many votes as Lauderdale. Homola trailed Jill Johnson, but by little more than 1 percent of the vote.
As Island County voters complete their ballots in the next few weeks before Election Day on Nov. 6, the commission candidates are reiterating their positions and reasons for running for office.
Price Johnson, when sworn in to finish the final weeks of an uncompleted term held by her predecessor, became the first female commissioner in Island County history. Though she did well in the primary, Price Johnson said she is campaigning hard to keep her seat.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” she said. “Voters need to know that my goals are to protect public health and safety, foster a vibrant economy, preserve our quality of life and continue to make government transparent and accessible through the county website.”
At the beginning of her four-year term, Price Johnson said the county dealt with the economic recession by cutting budgets and retaining only essential services. Some county programs have been saved through community partnerships, she said.
“We need now to streamline the permitting process in the county as the housing market returns, we need to continue to ask for help from volunteers and we need to work to preserve our ferry services,” Price Johnson said. “I bring my experience in the job, my lifetime on the island, my background as an owner of a small business and my collaborative approach to getting things done.”
Lauderdale said the election is about funding public safety programs, making sure Whidbey Island Naval Air station stays open because of its role in the economy and reducing planning and environmental regulations.
Island County’s first budget priority should be “adequately funding our sheriff’s department, prosecutor, courts and roads, which are absolutely essential to preserving and protecting our lives and way of life,” Lauderdale said. “While some (environmental and planning) regulations are desirable, property owners and businesses do not need reams of regulations telling them in great detail how to be good stewards of their private property.”
Lauderdale said he believes that the commission incumbents place a low priority on public safety.
“If elected county commissioner, I will steer Island County government to a more accountable, more responsive and less intrusive course. As a retired Navy commander, I am a proven leader, tested decision maker and seasoned manager with multi-billion dollar budgeting experience. For the last 2½ years I have attended commissioner hearings and workshops twice a week observing, learning and evaluating the performance of county government,” Lauderdale said. “The continuing recession requires the Board of Commissioners to make difficult budgeting decisions. We have a remarkable environment to protect, roads to maintain, laws to enforce, public health to ensure and justice to render. The commissioners must establish clear and focused priorities to meet the challenges facing Island County.”
Price Johnson said Lauderdale campaigned in 2010 against Proposition 1, a property tax increase of about $4 a month for the average homeowner, which was floated before voters as a way to shore up public safety programs after $4 million and 60 jobs were cut from the county budget.
“Voters said they wanted smaller government and turned the proposition down. I would love to give the sheriff more money for new equipment and personnel,” Price Johnson said. “The community needs to come together to have a conversation about what they want cut from the budget.”
Homola also defended her term in office by saying that she helped reduce county expenses by 20 percent, which balanced the budget and upgraded the county’s bond rating.
“My first priority has remained law and justice, while essential services for public health, emergency preparedness, seniors and children were maintained,” Homola said. “As a military spouse, I recognized the need to care for our service members so I overhauled the veterans services program, which now serves tenfold the number of deserving veterans than previously served.”
Homola said she had worked to protect living wage jobs, natural resources and clean water.
“Most importantly, I restored transparency and trust to county government, by video-casting our meetings, providing agendas and attachments to you in advance and offering community committee assignments in an open public process,” Homola said.
Jill Johnson did not respond to recent requests for more information about her campaign.
After the primary, Johnson said she did well in the District 2 race despite the conservative vote having been split three ways among herself and the two candidates who were eliminated from the race.
“To be on top at this point is telling about the way people feel the last four years have been going for the county,” Johnson said. “I hope we are met with the same success in the general election.”
Prior to the primary election, Johnson said that the Board of County Commissioners needed to understand and focus more on the city of Oak Harbor.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the job?
At stake are four-year Island County Commission seats representing Districts 1 and 2 on Whidbey Island. The annual salary is about $78,500.
The board of commissioners has three members. They direct all county government. District 3 voters, primarily on Camano Island, will help choose the commissioners representing the other districts.
Helen Price Johnson
Experience: District 1 County Commissioner since the November 2008 election when she took office to finish the last five weeks of an incomplete term. Owns a construction business with her husband. Previously served two terms on the South Whidbey School Board.
Experience: Retired Navy commander. Mechanical and nuclear engineer with experience in science and leadership, including management of multi-billion dollar budget. Local involvement in septic system issues.
Residence: Oak Harbor
Experience: Current District 2 County Commissioner. Architect, machinist, carpenter, owner of small business, Navy wife.
Residence: Oak Harbor
Experience: Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce executive director. Experience in marketing.