San Juan County candidates discuss drugs and transparency

The contested local and state races in the upcoming election came alive at a forum on Oct. 11 at the San Juan Island Grange. San Juan Island voters must make their decisions by Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. to mail ballots and 8 p.m. to put them in ballot boxes. The forum was hosted by the Leauge of Women Voters of the San Juans.

Prosecuting attorney

In the race for prosecuting attorney, longtime incumbent Randall Gaylord is running against first-time candidate Nick Power in the partisan position with a four-year term. Both are Democrats.

Power covers civil and criminal cases at his local law firm, and said he is “a transparency attorney,” helping people who “have difficulties” with employers and the government. That, he added, includes his work on about three current lawsuits against the county. If elected, he said he would recuse himself from the cases and outside council, already being used today, would take over. Yet, Gaylord said Power is representing six remaining cases against the county, seeking at least $12 million, and residents would lose an elected official’s service in those cases, if Power takes office.

Power explained that the prosecutor’s office needs a new voice. If he wins, he vowed not to hold the office for the next 24 years, unlike his opponent. Gaylord said holding a seventh consecutive term would be a win for locals.

“As one of the executives of the county, having 24 years of experience is very valuable,” he said. “I bring institutional knowledge.”

Gaylord added that his staff cover every drug case they receive, and he helped to change Washington state law to prioritize victims receiving restitution for out-of-pocket expenses before companies. Power said he ran for office to tackle the local drug issue, and that Gaylord’s longtime service creates conflicts in the small community.

“We do have a transparency and an accountability problem in this county,” said Power.

That, he added, includes Gaylord’s incompletion of vetting former county detective Stephen Parker.

Parker, who resigned from the sheriff’s department in December 2016, was found to have an inappropriate relationship with the victim of a case he was investigating involving Gerald Grellet-Tinner, who was convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor in June 2016. As a result of the relationship, Grellet-Tinner’s case was thrown out and two other sex crime cases received reduced charges.

Gaylord said that “to the best of his knowledge,” a deputy prosecutor called Parker’s previous employer during his onboarding process, after Gaylord was asked to do so. To Power, that is not enough.

“That fact that we still don’t know if the deputy prosecutor actually called … is appalling,” said Power.

Power represents Grellet-Tinner in two matters: a civil suit to request criminal charges against Parker, which is on appeal to the county’s superior court; and a claim stating Grellet-Tinner’s intent to file a $10 million lawsuit against the county over his dismissed case.

Power added that Gaylord knew Parker was allegedly unhirable and did not notify the county council. Later, Gaylord explained that the prosecutor’s office makes hundreds of decisions a week and, in general, “mistakes are going to happen.”

“We own those mistakes, we look for a way to fix them, and we build on that so they don’t get repeated,” he said.


San Juan County Sheriff Ronald Krebs is running for his first re-election against three-time sheriff candidate and current deputy Jeff Asher for the nonpartisan seat, with a four-year term.

Asher, who has worked at the sheriff’s office in positions ranging from a dispatcher to narcotics officer, said his focus as sheriff would be to add additional street patrol to follow up on leads and target those who bring drugs into the county.

“This isn’t about asking [citizens] to write down license plate [numbers] because we already know who [is supplying drugs],” said Asher. “We just need to go after them.”

Krebs said he is helping to create a therapeutic drug court in the county, which includes addiction specialists, because “the dealers need to be stopped and the users need to be helped.” He added he is also implementing a K-9 unit to indicate where drugs are to receive search warrants and get suspects “into the justice system.”

“We can’t just search your car without having probable cause. The dog is that probable cause,” he said.

Asher supports a K-9 unit but said it should be covered with donations, not department funds. He also called for frequent sheriff office staff meetings; a community advisory team to oversee transparency in the department; and standardized background checks to document that those inspections took place.

Since he took office, Krebs said he has improved community relations and office morale, and prides himself on being transparent and available 24-7.

Asher said Krebs was endorsed by the local sheriff’s guild because the members, who are employees of the county’s sheriff’s department, are “indebted” to Krebs. Krebs explained Asher has had problems with the last three sheriffs, including himself.

“You have to have respect for the leadership … to have an effective office,” he said.

Krebs added that a piece written in local blogs about his overuse of Facebook at the office is incorrect and both candidates said they abide by county policies. Krebs said, “everyone is held to the same standards” in his department.

Both candidates said to vote no on state initiative 1639, which calls for stricter gun reform, because Krebs said it was written without law enforcement help, and Asher said it is “unenforceable.”

District court

Steve Brandli and Carolyn M. Jewett are vying for San Juan County District Court judge, which is nonpartisan and holds a four-year term.

Both have been the deputy prosecuting attorney in district court. This is the county’s lower court and deals with issues like misdemeanors and small claims. Jewett has held the position since graduating from law school three years ago, while Brandli was in the position for two years before opening his private practice a decade ago.

Brandli said he is endorsed by the three district court judges in Whatcom and Island counties due to his experience. Jewett said she has more jury and criminal trial experience than her opponent.

Brandli told the Journal that, if elected to the part-time position, he would maintain his private practice, like former San Juan County Superior Court Judge John Linde. Jewett said she would not hold a private practice because she wants to fully dedicate herself to the court and the practice could create conflicts as judge.

Brandli told the Journal that Jewett’s current work with the courts would create conflict if she was elected because Jewett could not preside over cases on which has worked. Jewett said many of those cases would be resolved by the time she would take office and she would recuse herself from others. She added that she has the temperament to be judge including being “open-minded [and] concerned about equality and treating everybody fairly.”

Both candidates agreed that defendants should not be fiscally burdened by the courts. Brandli called for instituting “pre-trial supervision” instead of bails and using the “probation department to increase the frequency of contact with folks struggling with addiction to try to encourage them” to end substance abuse. Jewett said she would continue the county’s procedures of setting low bails and reviewing defendants’ ability to pay fines.

Jewett will hold an open house from 5-6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the San Juan Island Grange, and Brandli encouraged voters to call him at 360-378-5544.

State legislature

Democrat Debra Lekanoff of Bow and Republican Michael Petrish of Anacortes are running for the seat in the Washington state House of Representatives currently held by Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes. Lytton is retiring at the end of this year.

Lekanoff is an Alaska Native. If elected, she said she will focus on transportation, education and vessel traffic, stating that “enough is enough on the Salish Sea.”

Petrish said his family is comprised of Croatian immigrants and refugees. He has worked as a commercial fisherman, carpenter and a NATO interpreter in Bosnia. He said he “entered this race to represent the working class,” believes in labor unions and his work in Bosnia gave him negotiating experience.

If elected, Petrish vowed not to raise taxes “across the board,” including on capital gains and businesses. Lekanoff called to remove the state’s business and operations tax and said she “wants to look at” Lytton’s proposal to use a capital gains tax to, in part, fund a property tax exemption for low-income seniors.

Petrish said he opposes I-1639 because he witnessed the negative effects of gun-free zones in Bosnia. Lekanoff said she supports gun safety and that her “hunting and fishing” family members “are gun safety protectors and educators.”