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Council Candidates Q&A Dist. 2

Left to right: District 2 County Council candidates Rick Hughes, Lisa Byers. - Contributed photos
Left to right: District 2 County Council candidates Rick Hughes, Lisa Byers.
— image credit: Contributed photos

By Sounder Staff

This is part two of a three-part series of Q&A segments with county council candidates running in the April 23 election. The revamped three-person council, and the upcoming elections, are the result of revisions to the county charter proposed in 2012 by the Charter Revision Commission and approved by the voters in November. The revisions returned the council to three members elected countywide from “residency districts” comprising San Juan, Orcas and Lopez and their respective nearby smaller islands.

Lisa Byers and Rick Hughes are running for the Orcas Island District 2 position. Byers is the director of OPAL Community Land Trust on Orcas.  In November, Hughes was elected to councilman position 4, Orcas West. He is also the owner of Ray’s Pharmacy in Eastsound.

Lisa Byers

Sounder: What do you bring to the table that is different from the other candidates and why did you decide to run?

LB: My career has been to serve my community through public service. I have successfully managed a complex nonprofit business that develops real estate for affordable housing. I have used a combination of private and public funds to achieve a public purpose, and I have worked with volunteers as well as paid staff to get the job done. This is similar to the county in many ways.

Much of the county council’s work relates to adopting regulations related to land use. I have obtained five land-use permits for sub-dividing properties, and overseen projects that required more than 100 building permits. I understand the frustrations of the permitting process, and I have the experience to help make it better.

I have many skills that are the right match for the county council. I have been a frugal manager of budgets – maintaining an organization with less than 6 percent in administration and fundraising expenses during good times and bad. I am a creative and thoughtful decision-maker – gathering the information necessary to make investments and take calculated risks that have succeeded time and again. And I am a leader who gets the job done – I have repeatedly been elected to serve as the chairwoman or president of volunteer organizations.

Sounder: How do you plan to balance the county budget? Do you support renewal of Prop. 1, the voter- approved property tax increase that expires at the end of 2015?

LB: It is too soon to make a determination about the renewal of the Proposition 1 property tax increase that was approved in Nov. 2009 by 57 percent of the voters for the period from Jan. 2010 – Dec. 2015.

The services supported by that tax increase are important. The tax funds a portion of senior services, the fair, county parks, extension programs, public health, the sheriff and the prosecutor’s office. However, the tax increase was necessary, in part, because of a loss of revenues from other areas. As the economy recovers, it is possible that these revenue streams may also recover. In addition, the county should continue to look at ways to streamline functions and partner with other entities to keep costs down.

Sounder: What is the single most critical issue facing county residents?

LB: The biggest issue facing many county residents is the viability of the economy and the community. “How do I continue to live here? Will my kids be able to live here? What will happen to my business? Will I be able to get the services I need to stay here?”

There are many ingredients necessary to tackle this problem. We must diversify and strengthen our local economy. The council needs to work with representatives of all local business sectors to reduce barriers to their success, and to promote opportunities, such as local co-ops and OPALCO’s efforts to bring broadband to the county. We need to support businesses by zoning adequately so that they may have space to grow.

We must insure that farmers are able to work the land and that producers of all products made in the islands are able to get their goods to market-both locally and on the mainland.We must continue to provide affordable housing, and to support and promote our schools. If young people can find work and housing, they will raise their children here, and we need a diversity of ages to remain a healthy place.

Sounder: What accomplishment are you most proud of as director of OPAL?

LB: I am most proud of successfully navigating the current recession. OPAL Community Land Trust provides permanently affordable housing on Orcas. When the recession hit in 2009, we had completed construction of the first phase (18 homes), of a 32-home neighborhood, but did not yet have all the funding in place for the second phase. We had families ready to purchase most of the 14 homes, and a construction crew of 10 full-time workers who needed the work. I led the board of trustees through a thoughtful, thorough and inclusive process that resulted in taking on substantial debt in order to finish the project. We kept 10 people employed through the worst part of the recession. We sold all 14 homes. And by the end of 2012 we had funds in hand to pay off the debt.

In addition, late in 2010, the owner of an 1100 square foot house asked if OPAL would move their house, so they would not have to demolish it. The challenge? It had to be moved within two months and we had never moved a building before. We dove in, figured it out, and moved the building. That spawned a new approach to achieving OPAL’s mission. In April, OPAL will move its fifth house.

Sounder: What have you learned during this campaign?

LB: I have learned that many people do not know what the council does or what county government does. I have learned that people have lost trust in the county’s decision-making process. I have learned that there appear to be deep divides about land use, and yet people from all perspectives share a common commitment to care for this place and this community. I have learned that people are looking for strong leadership that is inclusive and respectful of their time and ideas.

I have known, but have also gained a deeper understanding of the wide range of lifestyles lived in the islands. I have heard time and again how much people value that diversity, and do not want to lose it.

On every island I have met creative, dedicated people who want these islands to thrive. I have learned that the answers to our problems will come from listening to and productively engaging county residents. Time and again we have figured out how to do hard and extraordinary things that serve as models for other communities. I am running for council, because I want to help lead the county to tap into the creativity of our residents and to work together for long-term solutions.

Rick Hughes

Sounder: What do you bring to the table that is different from the other candidates and why did you decide to run?

RH: My roots in these islands go three generations deep. In many ways, who I am and how I see the community is grounded here in this county. Not only have I seen what works and what doesn’t in local government, I understand why it did or did not work. I run a small business in Eastsound, but also one of vital importance to my neighbors. We depend on each other. I know how to efficiently run an organization.

I’m also a concerned citizen; I’ve witnessed and been a part of people working together to solve problems such as the countywide drug take-back program.  My experience, initiative and judgment can effectively make a difference.

As a current county council member I have been fair, honest and transparent, I’ve worked for better communications and interactions between county employees (I have been actively trying to meet each and every one of them) and their fellow citizens of the county. And I’ve worked to have county government be more responsive to the public.

Sounder: How do you plan to balance the county budget? Do you support renewal of Prop. 1, the voter-approved property tax increase that expires at the end of 2015?

RH: As a current member of the council, I am trying to insure we continue on the fiscal progress we’ve seen for 2012 and begun in 2013. I will continue to look closely at costs, but just as closely, I will continue to evaluate opportunities, because one reasonable opportunity lost could mean several jobs to our community and corresponding revenues to the county. I can make the hard choices. In my career I’ve made some very difficult decisions based on economic conditions. But I know that smart people working together can create conditions ripe for economic growth by encouraging new ideas, development of new companies and an influx of existing ones.

In general, I am not in favor of any supplemental taxation unless other avenues have been explored and applied. Regarding Prop.1: This is a hypothecated tax where the proceeds can only be used for eleven specific purposes. A thorough evaluation of those 11 programs must be conducted showing current status and projected status with this tax continuing, with it expiring or with a new program in place that falls somewhere below the current $0.12 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Sounder: What is the single most critical issue facing county residents?

RH: There are several critical issues, many of which are interdependent. However, the single most critical issue is economic development, or in a single word, jobs.  The recession that began in 2007 has shown that an economy like ours, based primarily on tourism, construction and real estate is hit hard with any prolonged economic downturn and it takes that much longer to recover.

We need local jobs that people can live on; jobs for farmers, jobs for carpenters and tradesmen, jobs for skilled professionals and retailers and entrepreneurs. We need to ensure that our limited finances remain here in the county. In essence, we need a multi-dimensional economic system that can provide a framework from which we can sustain our traditional industries of tourism, construction and real estate. I see my role as council member to help redesign county government with a customer service focus that assists local businesses thrive by making it easy to work with agencies and by constructing clear regulations where needed.

Sounder: What have you been able to accomplish in your short time on the council?

RH: I feel that we have been working very hard over the last few months to maintain county government in an interesting transitional period. The council has successfully implemented CRC Prop. 2 and 3, we have set the groundwork for a timely hiring process for the new county manager and executed a successful Community Conversation dialog on San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw. We have worked hard to provide representation to all county boards, established a docket for much needed updates to the Comprehensive plan for the Economic Development and Transportation elements, began a process to evaluate and simplify county code, process and fee structure.

Personally, I have made an attempt to meet with as many departments and staffers as possible, so I can better understand the needs of staff and how each aspect of county government works first hand.

Sounder: What have you learned throughout this eight-month campaign process?

RH: The eight-month-plus campaign process has afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people, see each of the other islands from a different perspective and to better appreciate two sides of an issue.

Throughout this process, I’ve seen the divisions within the county, yet I’m hopeful. I’ve heard the angry words, yet I’m hopeful, I’ve seen families struggling to get by, and even then I’m hopeful. Because this long, long campaign season has shown me time and again the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor, of our county’s remarkable sense of belonging and sense of family. And from this sense of neighbors and belonging, we can close the divisions, soften the words and ease the struggle.

Am I looking forward to the campaign to end? Indeed I am. Because I’m looking forward to hard work just beginning.

 

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