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Election: Peterson re-elected to San Juan County Council, North San Juan

Top photo: County Councilman Rich Peterson, celebrates his reelection with supporters, from left, Charlie Bodenstab, wife Janice Peterson, Mary Sliger, David Bayley, and Scott Webster. Bottom photo: From left, Sandy Strehlou, Ian Byington, Laura Jo Severson (seated) and County Councilwoman Lovel Pratt review the election results. - Top photo: Scott Rasmussen. Bottom photo: Jane K. Fox
Top photo: County Councilman Rich Peterson, celebrates his reelection with supporters, from left, Charlie Bodenstab, wife Janice Peterson, Mary Sliger, David Bayley, and Scott Webster. Bottom photo: From left, Sandy Strehlou, Ian Byington, Laura Jo Severson (seated) and County Councilwoman Lovel Pratt review the election results.
— image credit: Top photo: Scott Rasmussen. Bottom photo: Jane K. Fox

His vote on the Brickworks project may have cost Rich Peterson some friends.

But it didn't cost him the election.

In his first contested run for public office, Peterson cruised to victory as District 2 voters handed the 68-year-old retired fire chief from Santa Barbara a second term on the San Juan County Council, Nov. 2.

As of 8:10 p.m. on election night, Peterson had 741 votes to educator Laura Jo Severson's 645. It was a large enough margin for Auditor F. Milene Henley to declare Peterson the winner.

Peterson ran unopposed for the position in 2006.

Council terms are for four years and begin Jan. 1. Council members receive $35,000 a year and full benefits. Among other things, they adopt the annual budget, appoint committees, approve laws and set policy. The county administrator, who oversees the daily operations of county government, reports to the council.

Severson said she launched a first-ever bid at elected office only after no one else appeared willing. The 64-year-old retired school teacher, now a part-time job counselor, gained traction on the campaign trail by taking the council to task for its lack of action on critical issues in general -- and by tapping into discontent over the Brickworks project, and Peterson's role in derailing that deal, in particular.

Voters, she said, are not only clamoring for well-reasoned, effective solutions, but for action as well.

"I think it's the council taking action and doing something," Severson said of what voters want most from the council. "That's the biggest frustration I heard during the campaign. And it's one of reason I got involved."

Earlier in the day, Peterson acknowledged that his decision on the Brickworks project became a "wedge issue" for some would-be voters and that it drew sharp criticism from others over the course of the campaign.

Touted as the future home of a year-round farmers market, the Brickworks project, backed by the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, almost came to a halt in August when Peterson and Councilman Richard Fralick, Orcas West, blocked a potential $400,000 investment by the Land Bank in the project. Fralick and Peterson derailed that investment by voting to reject a pair of conservation easements that would have guided the restoration of the last remaining industrial building in downtown Friday Harbor. (The Agricultural Guild has since secured other funds to purchase the building).

Though volatile in the campaign, Peterson said Brickworks wasn't the only issue for those who call District 2 home.

"The biggest issue I think people are most worried about is the economy and employment, and a need for more jobs," he said. "Some people have had to move off the island because there's not enough work or to find a job that pays the bills."

But that's not all.

Peterson said the pending update of the Critical Areas Ordinance and the uncertainty that surrounds it has many people scared. He believes many islanders also share a frustration over the county Solid Waste operation and the apparent inability of county officials to find a stable source of funding for the chronically cash-starved utility.

Peterson said it was an opportunity to complete "unfinished business" -- like an overhaul of the county's wireless communications rules -- that spurred him to seek reelection. It now appears he'll get that chance.

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