PORT TOWNSEND — Roughly two dozen attendees listened to the three candidates for Jefferson County District 3 Commissioner, incumbent Greg Brotherton and challengers Jon Cooke and Marcia Kelbon.
The Port Townsend Rotary Noon Club hosted the forum in a conference room at the Fort Worden Commons on Tuesday.
The three candidates are on the Aug. 2 ballot in the partisan race. The top-two primary culls the slate of candidates to two for the Nov. 8 general election.
The lack of housing in Jefferson County and an inefficient bureaucracy were the main topics brought up as attendees questioned what could be done to create more housing in the community.
“(Past commissioners) all said we’re going to streamline this,” said Jon Cooke, former chair of the county Republican party and now a state committeeman. “But you’re still fighting the same battle.”
Cooke said local regulations need to be eased and the county should work with state lawmakers to ease requirements at the state level.
Audience members complained about certain requirements for septic for accessory dwelling units such as mobile homes.
Candidates acknowledged that many of the issues regarding housing are governed by Washington’s Growth Management Act but said there were many things that could be done at the county level to lower costs.
Kelbon, a former chemical engineer and attorney, said when she built her own home, thousands of dollars in inspection fees were added to the cost.
“We paid a bunch of fees for inspections that added nothing to process,” Kelbon said, suggesting the county should “have a builder establish that they can build to code, and have a spot inspection process.”
Kelbon, also a Republican, said in addition to expanding the amount of affordable housing in the community, she wants to work to attract businesses with higher-paying jobs.
Brotherton, a Democrat, said in serving as commissioner, he had “found my true calling.”
During his tenure as commissioner, Brotherton said he had worked to make the county government more efficient with better software, including a soon-to-come online permitting website.
Brotherton also pointed to the completion of the Port Hadlock sewer system and said he had helped secure roughly $20 million to bring broadband internet to rural parts of Jefferson County.
“We’re creating the density that we need to address the housing crisis,” Brotherton said.
More than one audience member complained about onerous regulations and permitting, to which Brotherton said the process for revising regulations and zoning was lengthy.
“We’re largely girded by the Growth Management Act,” Brotherton said, adding also that the county is experiencing staffing issues. “We run into GMA all the time.”
Asked what they viewed as pressing issues in the community, Cooke said as a member of the Quilcene School Board he had advocated for technical education programs but said graduates were leaving the county for lack of jobs.
“We need private (sector) jobs that can hire kids and people,” Cooke said. “We need to be giving kids the opportunity to stay in this county.”
In addition to her concerns about housing and zoning, Kelbon said she was concerned about personal rights. Kelbon said she received a COVID-19 vaccine and encouraged others to do so but said she was concerned when public employees were required to be vaccinated.
Brotherton said one of his biggest concerns was climate change, which he called an “extinction-level event,” and said the county had taken steps to address climate by electrifying its vehicle fleet and with progressive forestry policies.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]