PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioner candidates Randy Johnson and Ron Richards tackled issues of school bonds, substance abuse and homelessness during a League of Women Voters forum.
The two spoke to about 50 people at a forum Tuesday night in the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. They are vying for the District 2 commissioner seat, which covers Port Angeles, in the Nov. 8 general election.
The position is being vacated by Democrat Mike Chapman. Only District 2 voters, a third of the county’s population, can vote in the race.
Richards — a Democrat, fisherman and former county commissioner — said the county needs to combine mental heath and substance abuse services with a workforce creation effort and that the county should have a program modeled after the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which began in Gloucester, Mass. and Arlington, Mass.
Police using the program refer addicts who come to the police for help to treatment rather than incarcerating them, according to former Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher, who spoke about it in February.
Richards also proposed creating a grantwriter position so a person would be dedicated to getting grants that would help address the problem.
Johnson — a former executive at timber company Green Crow Corp. who filed as an independent — said addiction is a major issue in the county, calling the present Clallam County needle exchange a good program.
He also said there are other issues commissioners need to consider when creating the budget, including how the county addresses homelessness.
“My worry is there are so many wonderful needs and there is such a limited resource,” he said, adding it comes down to priorities.
Johnson said agencies addressing the homelessness problem in Clallam County need to be working together, saying there appears to be an overlap in services.
He said the cause of homelessness for many is suddenly losing a job.
“[Creating] jobs is one of the most important things we can do,” he said.
Richards called it a difficult situation, saying homelessness is often tied to mental health and substance abuse issues.
“That is the top of my priority list for getting a handle on,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of groups involved in this issue, and some of them are sort of at each other’s throats.
“We need to get them working together for their own cause.”
The two were asked about school bonds. Voters did not approve a $98.25 million bond to replace most of the high school in February 2015.
They agreed education should be a priority in Clallam County.
Richards said he is hesitant to say he would support any school bond proposed but said he would “support a bond the school board came up with that is reasonable.”
Johnson said when companies try to recruit employees from out of the area, those prospective employees look at school bonds that have been passed.
“You need to have school bonds that are passed, and we need to have a good educational system,” he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].