PORT ANGELES — Two Port Angeles City Council candidates in each of two races had the primary election forum stage to themselves last week to discuss homelessness and other issues despite having a third person file for the contested seats.
Position 4 incumbent Kate Dexter, the council-appointed mayor, was joined by challenger John Procter, a retired veterinarian, at the Clallam County League of Women Voters online Zoom event Thursday featuring Port Angeles School Board and City Council races.
Position 4 candidate Jon Bruce dropped out of the race earlier last week, citing time and financial constraints, although he withdrew too late to prevent his name from still being on the ballot, which will be mailed to voters Wednesday.
Also attending were Samantha Rodahl, a Peninsula Behavioral Health residential aide, and Position 2 incumbent Mike French, owner of First Street Haven restaurant.
Position 2 candidate John Madden, a building contractor, said Friday he had a prior work commitment — supervising a floor installation — and because he did not get a chance to fill out a League questionnaire, which he thought was due by a certain time and was required for forum participation. He also objected to some of the questions.
Forum moderator and League member Sue Erzen said questionnaire responses were not required for candidates to participate in the forum.
County election officials will mail out more than 58,870 primary election ballots for all races Wednesday that are due at the county Auditor’s Office by 8 p.m. Aug. 3 or must be postmarked by that date.
Homelessness and housing were the forum’s main topics.
“At other forums, some candidates have talked about cleaning up the streets,” Erzen asked them.
“How do you do that, and where do you intend to put the homeless that you want to remove from the streets and parks?”
They were also asked what is their top issue — besides homelessness.
“We have to offer those individuals opportunity for treatment, and if they refuse, then we have to proceed with other alternatives,” Procter said.
Procter said he suspects most homeless individuals are offered housing but that, given the option of giving up drugs or alcohol vs. shelter, they choose the streets.
If they remain there, “then we have to turn it over to the police and let them do their work,” he said.
“The number one thing we have to do is clean up our streets of vagrants and drug users. We need to make our city cleaner and safer and more appealing to potential investors and possible retirees.”
Police Chief Brian Smith said Saturday that officers can offer people services and enforce trespassing and disorderly conduct laws but cannot arrest people for public drunkenness, being under the influence of an illegal drug, vagrancy or loitering.
“We can’t criminalize homelessness,” Smith said, adding that is a legal concept established by state and federal case law.
Dexter, a Peninsula College nursing program specialist, said being asked where homeless should be “put” rubs her the wrong way.
“People are not garbage, they’re humans, and they’re part of our community, and I think it’s really, really important for us to remember that as we talk about how we find permanent solutions to issues like chronic homelessness,” she said.
Her top issue other than homelessness is the municipal code update.
“There are so many concerns that we hear about that can be addressed thoughtfully in a code update,” Dexter said.
It should be easy to use, meets the needs expectations of the community and “brings us into the 21st century,” she said.
Rodahl said her top issue other than homelessness would be access to services for drug treatment and mental health.
Rodahl said the city needs more places like assisted living homes.
For French, “the word affordability is the word that just keeps popping in my mind,” he said.
“It’s about housing, but it’s also about utilities, it’s about wages, it’s about propriety taxes. If we can have more density in the city, we can spread that burden a lot better to all, so that we can have more improvements.”
French said there are only 44 supportive housing beds and there are at least more than 100 people who would qualify.
The League’s candidate questionnaire answers are posted at vote411.org. Several of the Port Angeles City Council candidates had not submitted answers to the questionnaire as of Monday.
Those without answers are Madden, Rodahl, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and Jason Thompson.
Madden took issue with some of the questions.
“A lot of the questions were leading toward something I just didn’t agree with,” Madden said.
“One was how do you propose to provide housing for every single resident of Port Angeles, and I was like, wait, where in the charter does it say I have to provide housing for every single person in Port Angeles?”
He said the dynamics surrounding homelessness cannot be easily characterized.
“It’s not a simple thing,” he said.
A recording of the forum is at https://lwvcla.clubexpress.com.
The Clallam County elections office has produced a voter guide available at clallam.net/Auditor/Elections.html.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].