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Candidates talk law enforcement, growth management during forum in Morton

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(Background, left to right) Candidates Gary Stamper, Jerry Pratt, Michael Messmore, Rich Bainbridge, Harry Bhagwandin and John Roe field questions during a forum Friday at the Tiller Arts Center, in Morton, to discuss their qualifications for the office of Lewis County Commissioner Position 3.

Candidates for Lewis County Commissioner Position 3 were present for a round of Q ‘n’ A at the Tiller Arts Center in Morton Monday to address multiple issues regarding their qualifications to lead the county.

Organized by the Centralia/Chehalis Toastmasters, candidates Gary Stamper (R), of Silver Creek, Jerry Pratt (R), of Toledo, Michael Messmore (R), of Toledo, Rich Bainbridge (R), of Chehalis, Harry Bhagwandin (R), of Onalaska, and John Roe (R), of Onalaska, were each posed a series a questions by moderator Hal Blanton, owner of the IGA in Packwood, and below is a series of summaries from the forum:

What is your style of management?

Stamper said a leader should be primarily concerned with the bottom line and the overall quality of services being provided, while being able to work toward a common goal amid differing opinions.

Pratt said, as mayor of Toledo, he listens to and trusts his employees and avoids micro-managing, and as commissioner would support the projects undertaken by cities, as these can support the whole county.

Messmore said he has drawn a great deal of experience from his history as an airline pilot and learned how to bring people and parties with differing perspectives together to work toward a common goal.

Bainbridge said he feels a leader should treat his staff well and not expect them to perform tasks a leader would not do themselves, while maintaining an open perspective and open lines of communication.

Bhagwandin said, as a leader, he seeks to understand issues, and desires to hire qualified people to lead departments and should trust them to do so, while reaching out to volunteers for assistance.

Roe said a he feels a leader should be prepared to work within budgetary and personnel limitations, and should seek out qualified individuals to lead departments while expecting them to do their job well.

In what ways do you think land use regulations should be changed, and how can that be done at the county level?

Stamper said he has seen landowners affected by the Growth Management Act be unable to give parcels from their land to family, and would fight to restore individual rights and increase options for the use of land.

Pratt he would like to see the Growth Management Act thrown out entirely, but acknowledges officials must find ways to work around it, adding he would try to find federal support to modify existing regulations.

Messmore said he feels current regulations need to be clarified so factors such as beaver dams don’t suddenly reclassify a property, and said the fee structures surrounding development permits are far too expensive.

Bainbridge said he is a “huge advocate” for property rights and believes landowners should be given more options to use their land as they see fit, while regulations should be tailored to meet local needs.

Bhagwandin said current growth management rules don’t allow enough flexibility and he would support policies allowing landowners to exchange or develop property freely, provided there is no net loss of effected resource land.

Roe said he sees the Growth Management Act as a “huge imposition” by urban officials placing their interests on rural landowners and, as commissioner, would staunchly support the rights infringed by such legislation.

What policy changes or investments are necessary to attract businesses to Lewis County?

Stamper said he believes development along the I-5 corridor will help increase revenue for the entire county, and said the ultimate factor in growth will be small communities working hard together to attract businesses.

Pratt said the most significant challenge toward business growth is infrastructure expansion, stating such efforts require coordination with outside agencies, as well as with community members, for success and support.

Messmore said the county should adopt policies incentivizing business to start in and move to the area, while expanding infrastructure to places like the I-5 industrial park to prepare property for businesses to move into.

Bainbridge said the costs of permitting has become a significant obstacle for small business growth, stating there should be an effort on the part of the county to provide more exposure for small businesses developing locally.

Bhagwandin said he would like to attract more businesses through the establishment of a Regional Tourism Board, while expanding infrastructure to accommodate business growth, such as larger fiber optic networks.

Roe said he sees the county’s Economic Development Council as a resource to be supported for business growth, and said the biggest hurdle is the costly and prohibitive permitting process for businesses.

What one part of county government, or issue, would receive more attention if you were elected?

Stamper said he considers law enforcement a top priority, but also sees the need for social services to allow young offenders to rehabilitate and not become career criminals, stating he encounters this need among many students.

Pratt said he would like to focus on all departments, but would emphasize the Sheriff’s Office, as he feels they are under-funded, adding Toledo PD has experienced a positive working relationship with deputies.

Messmore said he would increase support for the Sheriff’s Office in light of complaints he has heard about ongoing drug-related crimes throughout the county, and said he would look toward similar agencies for cost-saving ideas.

Bainbridge said he would like to see fire districts and utility districts receive more support, as some are struggling significantly and their success is linked to the county’s ability to expand infrastructure and other services

Bhagwandin said he would place an emphasis on the Community Development Department, stating his top concern is diversifying and increase job opportunities, while continuing to support groups working toward such goals.

Roe said he would focus more on the Sheriff’s Office, given its recent cuts in funding and staff, stating challenges such as those posed by the legalized marijuana industry require more enforcement capabilities for the county.

Additional opportunities to meet and question the candidates have been scheduled locally for 6 p.m. July 22 at American Legion Post 101 (575 Nevil Rd., Winlock), noon July 23 at the Olequa Senior Center (119 SW Kerron St. Winlock), and noon July 30 at the Toledo Senior Center (150 Coal St. Toledo).

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