Candidates queried at business forum

A chance to gain information and direct questions toward local politicians at the Greater Grays Harbor Inc. business forum luncheon on Tuesday presented an exclusive opportunity for the community to hear from some of the candidates running in the November General Election for positions unique to Grays Harbor.

More than 50 people showed up to the event which featured opening statements, moderated questions, as well as audience questions for candidates running for County Assessor, County Sheriff and District 3 County Commissioner.

With the election less than six weeks away, these are some of the highlights of the candidate’s forum for undecided voters to ponder.

District 3 County Commissioner

Perhaps one of the more heated contests on the ballot is none other than the race for District 3 County Commissioner between incumbent nonpartisan candidate Vickie L. Raines, and Republican candidate Lisa Zaborac.

Raines, who received over 46% of the Aug. 2 primary election vote, is seeking her third term for office as county commissioner. She was adamant to talk about her public service work and the relationships built over her 23 years of elected service ranging from councilwoman and mayor of Cosmopolis to her previous two terms as county commissioner.

“My opponent would have you believe that this service to Cosmopolis and my community equates to that as a career politician,” Raines said to the crowd.

Raines showed her achievements as a commissioner by providing documentation that shows the county tax levy rate and county road levy rate decreasing by 26% and 24%, respectively, over the last eight years.

Zaborac, who received nearly 32% of the primary vote, signaled that a change is needed for the future of the county. While she was quick to mention she’s never held an elected office before, she cited her 27 years of running a business and the problems facing the county as a platform for why she should be the next county commissioner.

“I just don’t see how some of the projects that have been proposed are going to help our county, are going to help our people,” Zaborac said. “There are some really big issues that we need to be focusing on and we need to be prepared for the future to be ready for when things happen.”

Zaborac, the current chairwoman of the Grays Harbor Republican Party, continued by prioritizing the need for county money to be set aside for important projects such as a new county sheriff’s office and helping small businesses.

While multiple questions were brought up for Raines and Zaborac to give their perspective, one of the main talking points stemmed from the homelessness issue in Gray Harbor County.

Although both candidates viewed the issue as extremely complex, Raines made it a point that cooperation is needed with local officials to combat homelessness, citing she has worked with three mayors over the last five years to figure out solutions. Raines also talked about recognizing employment issues and mental health issues as symptoms of homelessness, and that while outreach is needed to help people, not everyone wants that help.

Zaborac took a different approach. She lambasted the “Seattle model” of combating homelessness, citing that needle exchange programs do not work and that enabling drug use is not compassionate. She also advocated the county adopts a program like the Union Gospel Mission to help homeless people.

County Assessor

The candidate forum for Grays Harbor County Assessor between incumbent Democrat Dan Lindgren and his Republican challenger Rick Hole, primarily centered on the work done while each of them held office. Lindgren, who is seeking his third term as assessor, had held the position since 2015. Hole served as the county assessor from 2011 through 2014.

While inquiries about the process of valuations of properties and rising taxes came up, one of the main questions asked discussed the increasing number of underutilized and unused buildings within the inner Harbor over the last several years and how those buildings are valued.

While Hole maintained the county is supposed to value buildings based on what was in effect on Jan. 1 of the year in question and comparing it to other properties in the surrounding area, Lindgren saw that the question was regarding the acquisitions from Terry Emmert, an Oregon businessman who has amassed more than 40 properties in the downtown Aberdeen and Hoquiam areas.

“As far as the valuation of those properties, (Emmert) is setting the market for them. When he buys those properties, most of them are commercial, they are going to lose value on them as vandalization continues,” Lindgren said.

Lindgren said he has previously spoken with Emmert and he is under the belief that Emmert plans to do something with the properties he owns, although Lindgren doesn’t know to what extent. He also said valuation can come from a middle point from where the seller wants to put the pricing point to what the expected amount a buyer would most likely consider.

An interesting moment came during a question talking about how party affiliation affects being an assessor since neither has declared themselves as a nonpartisan candidate.

“The party affiliation has nothing to do with what the valuing of a property will be. I declared myself as a Republican since those are the values I tend to hold and it’s what people can connect with me about,” Hole stated.

Sheriff’s Office

Although both candidates for Grays Harbor County Sheriff, Darrin Wallace and Michael Catlett, were invited to partake in the candidate forum, only Wallace accepted the invite.

Wallace, who currently serves as the chief investigations and civil deputy for the sheriff’s office, talked about his prior experience in law enforcement and was adamant to discuss the current state of law enforcement in Washington.

“Change is good. It’s good to get new blood in there and have people with new ideas and come up with new strategies on how to run an agency,” Wallace said.

He continued by talking about how some of the police reform that has occurred nationally is positive, citing the changes enforced following the death of George Floyd, but also said police officers still need to be able to stop people from committing crimes.

“If someone was to steal a car from the parking lot, I wouldn’t be able to legally chase them given that I’m police. I would have to write down the license plate and go through the different channels of law enforcement,” Wallace said. “We need our officers to be able to have some of the actions that allow us to keep communities safe available.”