PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioner candidates Dale Wilson, Mike Doherty and Bill Peach sparred at a primary election forum Tuesday over regulations, indigent defense and incumbent Peach’s record on the board.
More than 45 participants attended the hourlong question-and-answer session at the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting at Joshua’s Restaurant & Lounge.
Ballots for the Aug. 7 primary will be mailed July 18 to District 3 voters, a broad, diverse swath of residents who live from west Port Angeles within the city limits to the shores of Neah Bay.
The top two votegetters for the four-year partisan position will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
Peach, the one-term Forks Republican incumbent, is a former Rayonier timber company manager.
Doherty, a Port Angeles Democrat, has twice been a District 3 county commissioner.
He served between 1976-79 and for four consecutive terms until 2014, when he did not seek re-election and Peach won the seat.
Port Angeles resident Dale Wilson, who stated “no party preference” on his candidate registration, is a founder and board member of Peninsula Area Public Access TV channel, which broadcasts locally produced programs and county commissioner meetings.
The volunteer nonprofit organization recorded Tuesday’s forum for broadcast on WAVE Channel 21 and online at Wilson’s request, he said in an interview.
Wilson said Tuesday if he’s elected he will stay on the PAPA board “if they need me.”
Wilson also founded Port O Call newspaper, the print version of which he said Tuesday “has been in suspended animation for a few months now” but will continue online as “kind of a blog.”
Doherty, on a long-planned vacation to Alaska, participated by telephone.
He repeatedly cited his record on the board from 1999-2014, including as a key player in obtaining funding for the Elwha River Bridge, the largest project in county road department history, and on state committees and boards.
“I understand the potential of the position,” said Doherty, who has a law degree.
Peach focused in his opening statement on “who I am not,” as he said.
“I do not support a special-interest group, I do not have a personal agenda that I want to pursue as a result of this office.”
He said he and Commissioners Mark Ozias and Randy Johnson “work together very well” to produce “some of the best teamwork” seen on the board in a long time.
Asked about the Port of Port Angeles’ stalled efforts to attract scheduled commercial airline service to William R. Fairchild International Airport, Peach said it is important for commissioners “to stay in our own lane” in terms of what they can and can’t do.
Wilson said Peach’s statement contradicts Peach’s own contribution to the campaign of current District 3 Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Connie Beauvais in 2015.
Peach contributed $1,550 to her campaign and was Beauvais’ campaign manager, according to state Public Disclosure Commission.
“Clallam County ethics policy only allows an elected official to give $50,” Wilson said.
“If you stay in your own lane, you’ll let them run their campaigns, you’ll let them raise their own funds, and then it won’t look like there’s so much collusion between the county commission and the Port of Port Angeles,” Wilson said.
Peach responded, “I’m not going to get involved in crawling through the mud.”
County Administrator Jim Jones said Tuesday the $50 campaign contribution limit applies to county employees who donate to county offices that are up for election, not to offices such as port commissioner.
Jones said the prosecuting attorney’s office also determined Peach was allowed to make the contribution based on that policy.
The candidates differed on the need for additional regulations.
“In certain areas of climate change, there is a need for additional discussion and some regulations,” Doherty said.
“Regulations in some areas can be a supporter of quality of life.”
Peach said “clearly” there are enough regulations.
Taking away private property rights “is absolutely unacceptable,” he added.
Wilson said taxes are needed for such benefits as building schools and roads that individuals can’t fund.
“That’s why we have government,” he said.
Wilson also was critical of circumstances surrounding the commissioners approximately $550,000 settlement in 2014 with Scott and Elizabeth Lange.
“The Scott Lange situation showed that regulations don’t do any good unless you enforce them,” Wilson said.
The couple filed a public records lawsuit related to building permits the county issued to adjacent property owners in Clallam Bay.
The county’s defense in the public records lawsuit fell apart after thousands of pages of documents were discovered in a locked storage room, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said at the time.
Wilson said the shoreline management plan had not been properly enforced.
Under the settlement, the county bought three waterfront properties for $510,000, including the neighboring property that had building permits that the Langes had challenged.
“The Lange settlement was a result of a public records request,” Peach responded, disagreeing with Wilson’s interpretation.
“The need for us to approve a public records process is what we addressed.”
Doherty said he agreed with Wilson.
The land the county purchased, ostensibly for a new county park, “is not a high quality piece of beach,” Doherty added.
The candidates also were asked about the impact of a new state law on interlocal agreements between the county and cities of Sequim and Port Angeles.
Under the law, indigent defendants cannot be assessed fines and court costs, which will lead to a $200,000-$400,000 shortfall, said the questioner, Port Angeles City Council member Jim Moran.
All city and county criminal cases are handled by the county government law and justice system.
Doherty suggested scrutinizing prosecuting attorney’s office and public defender costs to find savings.
Wilson said he would review costs in the prosecuting attorney’s office.
The prosecuting attorney’s office staff increased due to a greater interlocal agreement workload, Peach said.
Peach said the commissioners are working on the issue “this very minute.”
The commissioners approved sending a letter to city officials in Port Angeles and Sequim to form a committee of at least two individuals from each city and the county to revise the existing agreements between the cities and the county.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.