FORKS — All four candidates running for the Director of Community Development in Clallam County agree that the position ideally should be appointed rather than elected.
The four DCD candidates — Bruce Emery, Cherie Kidd, Jesse Major and Kevin Russell — participated in a forum hosted by the Forks Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Each seeks to fill the position now held by Mary Ellen Winborn, who is not running for re-election. A top-two primary on Aug. 2 will narrow the field to two candidates vying for the post in the Nov. 8 general election.
Clallam is the only county in the nation in which the Director of Community Development (DCD) is elected by a vote of registered voters rather than appointed. On Wednesday, the question was asked if the county should amend its charter to have the job appointed by the county commissioners.
Russell placed the blame squarely on the North Peninsula Builders Association, an organization he twice led as president.
“You can blame the building association for the mess that we are in now,” Russell said.
“Years ago, there was an issue we had, and we pushed really hard to change the county charter to make this an elected position. We then realized we made a mistake and advocated for the charter to go back to being an appointed position.”
Voters have resoundingly rejected each attempt — in 2007, 2015 and 2020 — to change the Clallam County Charter.
“I have advocated that we go back to a county-appointed position,” Russell said, adding, “Why am I running now? Because if the commissioners are not appointing someone, I would like to be the person who gets elected.”
Emery, a former DCD planner, said the department functions better when the director is appointed — and also said he is the best person for the job.
“I think we are all in agreement: it tends to function well when this role is appointed by the board because that way it’s ensured to serve at the pleasure of the board. They need good work from the department; that’s how they make the decisions.
“Now everyone up here brings something to the table, but I am the only one who has actually done that work,” he added.
Major, a public records analyst with the county, a former county code enforcement officer and a former reporter for the Peninsula Daily News, agreed that the position should be appointed, but he noted that the voters have made their desires clear.
“First, I want to be clear, I think the voters have decided that they want this to be an elected position. We’ve put it to the ballot three times, and it continuously fails to pass,” Major said.
“However, after working in DCD, I have seen first-hand why it should be appointed.
“Whoever is elected to this position needs to be able to work with our county commissioners,” Major said. “If the director doesn’t come to the table and present ideas to the commissioners, the department is ineffective.”
Kidd, a former mayor of Port Angeles, agreed it is essential that the county commissioners and the DCD work together.
“It’s so important that the DCD collaborate, cooperate and negotiate with the county commissioners to serve the people,” Kidd said.
“We have had a stalemate, and it hasn’t served anyone because there hasn’t been enough flow of open cooperation. It’s got to be done.”
The candidates also agreed that the West End needs more attention.
Kidd promised she would provide it.
“I am not someone who shows up every four years and says vote for me, and then you don’t see them again,” she said.
“If you vote for me for DCD, you’re going to see me at your community meetings because I can’t run this department without your input. We can’t have an update to the comprehensive plan without hearing what you need.
“I am going to be here. I am going to listen. You are going to see me all the time,” Kidd said.
Said Emery: “It’s incumbent upon us to get out in all corners of Clallam County, to learn the issues, to meet with you and to meet you at your level on what you’re dealing with in local circumstances.”
Major said the county and DCD need to know more about the West End.
“I want to be as available as possible and hear everyone’s concerns and suggestions of what we can do as a county to represent everyone’s interests,” Major said.
“The West End is a very important part of our county, and I feel a lot of what we’ve seen is a lot of listening on the east end of the county.
“We need more listening to what’s happening here.”
Russell challenged the public to hold county government accountable and to share their ideas.
“It’s my intention to come out here and visit with you,” he said. “I want to hear from you.
“I also think there are alternative ways to get information out to you as well, but what are they? What do you want? How do you want to hear from us? How often should we be out here?
“We have a responsibility to come out here, meet with everyone and hear your concerns,” Russell said.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at email@example.com.