PORT ANGELES — A soon-to-be open Clallam County Public Utility District commissioner’s seat has drawn four opponents to the Aug. 4 top-two primary election.
Neil Knutson, Safeway store manager Marty Michaelis, consultant Patti Morris and retired utility cooperative manager Rich Paschall are vying for the six-year seat being vacated by appointee Dave Anderson.
Anderson is filling the expiring term of the late Hugh Haffner, the Sequim-area District 2 commissioner who had resigned in June 2018 and died of complications from a stroke in February.
Ballots for the primary will be mailed Wednesday to 14,900 voters in District 2.
The voting area stretches from the Dungeness River west to Port Angeles and includes the Dungeness West, Carlsborg, Agnew, Deer Park and Blue Mountain precincts.
The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election, which will include all voters of Clallam County except in the city of Port Angeles, which has its own electric utility.
The position pays up to $48,724 a year, comprised of a $30,804 salary and up to $17,920 a year in a per diem allotments for meetings and PUD-related business. Commissioners approve an annual budget that in 2020 is $82 million, including $75 million for electric services and $6.7 million for water services. The budget funds 145 employees.
Michaelis, Paschall and Knutson have registered with the state Public Disclosure Commission to raise less than $5,000 in contributions, exempting them from regular public reporting requirements.
Morris has registered to raise more than $5,000.
As of Friday, Morris had reported $9,950 in funds, including $5,100 in loans, $4,850 in contributions, and $2,729 in expenditures, mostly for campaign signs.
Her contributions include her own $2,000 as well as $1,000 from Steven Wirth of Port Angeles, $500 contributions from Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict and Rachel E. Closs of Sequim and Eileen F. Schmitz of Carlsborg, and $250 from Diane M. Haffner of Port Angeles, Hugh Haffner’s wife.
Morris recorded a $100 contribution Friday from the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington.
The Peninsula Daily News asked Michaelis, Morris and Paschall the same questions for this story. Information was not immediately available for Knutson, who filed for the position March 22 with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
What is the main issue the candidates will focus on if elected?
• Michaelis said he would concentrate his efforts on technology and keeping rates low.
A licensed commodities trader, the lifetime Port Angeles resident said it is important that the PUD’s contracts with the Bonneville Power Administration offer flexibility.
The former real estate agent said it is important for the PUD to work with other districts.
“As a whole team, we have to go after everyone,” Michaelis said.
• Morris was a 27-year employee with Tucson Electric Power before she and her husband, Larry, left in 2000 and moved to Port Angeles because “we were tired of the heat.”
She said low rates, reliable service and access would be her priorities, asserting rates could be lower and reliability better on the West End.
She said commissioner meetings should be recorded, public access to meetings should be expanded and the public’s ability to comment at meetings made easier.
Morris, who has done permitting and other consulting work for the PUD, said her husband, a PUD safety manager, will retire if she is elected.
• Paschall, who moved to Port Angeles three years ago, said he would focus on keeping rates low and that he opposes removing the Snake River dams, which proponents say is needed to restore the salmon population.
“We are spending millions and millions to help recover the salmon, and we should just continue down that path,” he said, adding the energy produced by the dams would have to be replaced.
Wind and solar power are not yet viable alternatives, Paschall said.
How are the candidates better qualified than their opponents?
• Michaelis, who owns properties in Clallam County, said his commercial real estate background would be an asset to the PUD.
He said he has deep ties to the community and that his grandparents, Faith and Ellis Bundy, ran the Olympic Hot Springs Resort.
• Morris said she worked in various areas of the utility industry while with Tucson Electric Power, including budgeting, contracting and marketing.
“What sets me apart from my opponents is I have a lot of community experience,” she said, adding that she has served on numerous boards and is past president of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.
• Paschall said he was not familiar with Michaelis or Knutson and said Morris has a good background.
“I’m putting my hat in the ring because I have a lot of experience,” Paschall said.
“I know a lot of players in the region, and I can help Clallam PUD keep its rates low.
“It won’t take me long to get up to speed to be a functioning commissioner.”
What effort, if any, should be made to rejoin the regional Public Power Council (PPC), which recently expelled the PUD?
Dues for the PUD to be PPC members in 2020 were $30,130, of which a prorated amount of $22,597 was returned when the PUD was expelled.
All three candidates said the PUD should try to get back in the PPC.
• Michaelis said being part of the PPC allows the PUD to have more options.
“If we are isolating ourselves, it’s not really what we need to be doing,” he said.
“That’s the last thing you want to do, is burn bridges.”
• Morris said the PUD’s exclusion makes it more difficult to work with other utilities as well as Bonneville Power Administration contracts.
“The PUD would be on their own,” she said.
“They would have to be setting up separate meetings, not know what is doing on with the other PUDs, trying to negotiate contracts on their own.
“They need to be in that council and have a representative sitting at the table with all the other PUDs.”
• Paschall is “a very big supporter of the PPC and other like organizations,” he said.
The organization is essential to informing the PUD about issues germane to the utility’s operations.
“Without [the PUD] understanding what’’s going on in the industry is scary,” Paschall said.
“That’s really one of the bigger reasons I want to get on the commission, so I can repair those relationships and get Clallam PUD into the good graces of those organizations.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].