We put a call out to our community and asked what questions you had for these candidates. Questionnaires were sent out July 19 with responses expected by July 23. Candidates were either contacted by email, tagged via social media, called, or contacted using multiple methods whenever information was available. We also offered to extend the deadline or troubleshoot any problems if they had an interest in completing the questionnaire.
Candidates who elected not to respond:
- Lowell "Brad" Peck
- Matt Beaton
What are the top 5 issues which you think are facing this position? How do you differ from others running on these issues?
The top five issues facing the Franklin County commission are:
- The COVID-19 recovery
- The Franklin county budget crisis
- Smart growth and development in the county
- The bi-county relationship
- The Mental Health Epidemic
The biggest difference between myself and my two opponents on each of these issues is that I approach them with a belief that the best way to lead is through listening to others and getting community buy-in. So far, the Franklin County commission has operated almost entirely under the assumption that it knows what is best for voters, and with little effort to actually reach out and engage the community to find out what the community wants in relation to these issues, and how the community would like its elected leaders to approach them.
A prime example of this can be seen in the fact that we are only just getting Spanish language outreach and materials when it comes to educating the community about the COVID-19 epidemic. We have had no town halls in which the public is able to voice to the commissioners their concerns related to Covid, and the county has not done a very good job of communicating with the community about how this virus is actually affecting Franklin County. Another example of the difference between my leadership style and my opponents is that I am a firm believer that the health experts should be leading our response and guiding it as opposed to a group of partisan officials. While I respect the role of the county government in relation to the health district, the reality is that the whole point of having a health district is so that medical professionals are able to address issues like this and guide policy. We need to make sure that our leaders are actually listening to the advice of health experts and that we are all communicating effectively to protect the public.
As a member of the Board of Health, what would you change in order to better meet the following challenges? 1.) The current pandemic; 2.) challenges in the area of Behavioral Health (Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health); and 3.) future epidemics?
If I am elected, I intend to take my role as a member of the board of health seriously. Too often we hear partisan talking points when it comes to issues relating to COVID-19 and to the mental health epidemic that has hit our county. If elected, I will prioritize listening to health experts from the district, and communicating policy in an effective and inclusive manner that allows the public to be part of the solution instead of being isolated and subject to misunderstanding about this virus and what it means for the county.
If elected I would address the current pandemic by working with the Ben Franklin Health District, and my fellow commissioners on both sides of the river to develop a better communication strategy in relation to the public. I would also make a point of working with community leaders and municipal governments in the county to promote compliance with Governor Inslee’s stay home, stay healthy order and all other public safety measures he has put forward. I would also push hard for multilingual materials to be distributed to the public so that we are not excluding communities where English is the second language. Though we have started the process of inclusion in relation to Non-English speaking or English as a second language communities in our county, we have much more to do. We also need to promote an atmosphere where people who think they may be sick feel comfortable coming forward and getting tested and understand that reporting a problem will not lead to you being targeted for discrimination.
When it comes to behavioral and mental health, I think the first thing we need to do is acknowledge that our county has a problem. There are a number of stigmas relating to behavioral and mental health and we as a county need to start combating those first by acknowledging The importance of protecting behavioral and mental health, and then by educating the public about these issues. Once we have gotten the public to understand why this matters, our next move should be to provide the appropriate resources to the public for dealing with this. One of the things that our county is grappling with is the fact that we do not have a detox center, we have created an environment where our law enforcement officers are expected to be 1 million different things, they are expected to be behavioral and mental health treatment professionals, counselors, and so much more without the proper training, and with an enormous amount of pressure applied to them. Let’s get that detox center, let’s do a mental health resource audit of our county to figure out exactly what resources we are missing, and then let’s make a plan to get them. This is a larger conversation and it’s not going to be a quick fix for Franklin County, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, it’s going to take a lot of thought, and it needs to include the stakeholders in our community. We can solve this issue if we work together and if we address the specific components of this crisis in a careful, intelligent, and inclusive manner.
To answer the final part of this question, what do we need to do in relation to the possibility of future epidemics hitting our area, let’s be honest about the fact that we are going to experience something like COVID-19 again at some point. Let’s also acknowledge that the response our county has put forward to fight COVID-19 is far from perfect. What we need to do once this particular crisis has passed is study our response, we need to really dive into what we got right, what we got wrong, and create new plans that will better address crisis situations like what we are going through now in order to better prepare for the future. We are not perfect, we will never be perfect, but we can get better, we can learn from our mistakes, and we can do more. If I am elected as your commissioner, that is exactly what I’m going to do, I am going to work hard to study this crisis and extract important lessons from it.
In your newly elected position, would you consider supporting legislation to create a larger, more representative County Commission of five or seven members instead of three? Please explain your reasoning.
Right now, state law mandates that if a county has more than 400,000 residents, that is when they must switch from a three person commission to a five member commission with district based elections in both the primary and the general. That specific population requirement was set because at 400,000 residents, a County should have both the tax base and population base to be able to make an expanded commission work effectively. I think a better solution to issues of representation in Franklin County would be to push the County commission to redraw the current districts so that they comply with the Washington State Voting Rights Act, and to push for district-based elections once the districts have been properly drawn. If we do that, we will create an environment that is more inclusive for our county.
The availability and level of care concerning mental health services and substance abuse treatment in Benton and Franklin Counties is significantly lower than in communities of similar size in the state. How will you work to improve this?
I touched on this in a previous answer, I believe that we need to do a resource audit for our community to figure out specifically what resources we don’t have that the community is going to need to address issues of mental health and substance abuse disorder. I think once we understand the full depth of our deficit in relation to resources, then we can start crafting a comprehensive plan to attract the resources we need. One of the things we know for a fact due to raised awareness from local advocate support services (Tri-Cities Recovery Coalition) and including the Franklin County Sheriff’s office is a local detox center and hiring more mental health treatment professionals is needed. That is something we can address now and both counties should work together to achieve this goal.
As a member of the Board of Health, do you feel the board should only be made up of commissioners? Or are you open/willing to add additional members who come from medical professions?
I think the board of health is very important to the overall safety of our community. It is my understanding that one of the reasons why the current board of health leadership structure exists is because it was believed that it would be necessary for the leaders of both counties to have an active role in the health district because both counties are paying for it. The idea was that it would make the health district more accountable and give the counties more of a say in it’s day-to-day operations. Well this was well intended, the current COVID-19 epidemic has exposed the flaws in the system as it exists today. Because there are no health experts on the Board of Directors making policy decisions, important public safety measures have been either delayed or subjected to partisanship because the Board of Health is made up entirely of partisan elected officials who are in many ways unfamiliar with some of the healthcare challenges presented by this virus. We need to improve the effectiveness of the Board of Health by including medical health professionals as board members and expand the membership of the current board. The fact of the matter is that the current system is not working, and our ability to effectively protect the public from COVID-19 has been severely compromised. We can, and we must do better.
Do you support Black Lives Matter? (yes/no)
Do you believe that there is systemic racism in Benton/Franklin counties? Thinking about actions you could take from this elected position, what do you think the top priorities of our community should be in response—particularly in our law enforcement and justice system?
I absolutely believe that systemic racism exists in Benton and Franklin County and I think that we have an obligation both to acknowledge that it exists and to do the work necessary to combat it. The city of Pasco has done an extraordinary job of working on this issue by forming an inclusion, equity, and diversity commission to serve as an interface between the city and the public. This commission was formed to help the city study issues of systemic racism and propose solutions to make city government more inclusive. I think our county should do something similar to what the City of Pasco has put forward and create a county level inclusion, equity, and diversity commission. This commission at the county level can only be effective if the elected officials value their collective voices.
I also think our county needs to do a better job of outreach to marginalized communities, especially communities where English is not the first language. Our county recorded meetings should be closed captioned in multiple languages. Plus, a notice of each meeting should be published in multiple languages as well. Franklin County needs to adopt a more inclusive communication system so that every part of the county is being served. Therefore, every person in the county has a greater chance to feel like they have a voice in county government and the ability to interact with their government. We also need to acknowledge that systemic racism exists here in our county. When we don’t talk about systemic racism, when we don’t acknowledge that it lives here at home, we deny ourselves the opportunity to have honest conversations and to actually get to the root of the problem and begin to solve it. 60% of our Franklin County residents represent people of color. Our county is beautiful and diverse; all of our county’s residents should be equally served by our elected officials. We need county commissioners who are willing to put a name to the problem and who are willing to listen and engage with the community when it comes to solving it. It's time to listen, learn and change!
Black and Latinx community members are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as white community members. What are your thoughts on the reasons for this? And what would you propose to do at a policy level to address the disparity?
I think that this is one of the most disturbing aspects of the current COVID-19 crisis, and it also reaffirms the harsh reality that systemic racism really does exist at all levels of American society. Communities of color are often denied adequate access to healthcare, they are often made to feel that they are not welcome in the very systems of government that they are paying for and that their contributions to the community helped to shape. In Franklin County we have a long and unpleasant history when it comes to racism, in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, communities of color were often redlined and forced into the eastern half of the city of Pasco for no other reason than because a certain segment of the population did not want to deal with them. While we have made great strides in addressing those issues, this dark legacy lives on end it must be acknowledged and addressed directly.
One of the signs that this history is still with us is the fact that when the COVID-19 crisis first began here in Franklin County, very little outreach with the Latinx community. There were very few if any educational materials about the virus printed in languages other than English, there was also very little effort to actually engage community leaders from marginalized communities in fighting the virus. In fact, by and large on both a local and federal level, communities of color of basically been told what they need to do for themselves and to tough it out. Naturally, this lack of attention and respect for diverse communities has had horrifying results with high infection rates.
If I am elected, I am going to push for us to continue the efforts we are now making to engage communities of color in Franklin County and non-English speaking communities. To be more specific, I am going to work tirelessly to engage with community leaders who know how best to speak to the sectors of the Franklin County that are not getting enough attention to receive services to help protect our residents., I am going to push the health District to shift some of its resources into these areas, I I am going to work with farmworker advocates and civil rights advocates to make sure that we have equal access and that we are promoting a non-judge mental atmosphere where people feel safe enough to seek treatment or should be part of our efforts to solve this crisis. The best way to summarize my policy approach to this issue if I am elected is that I will push for the health department and for my fellow commissioners to lead through listening to community advocates, and to work with them to make sure that the resources we have to fight this virus are distributed equitably and effectively.
How will you improve the relationships between Benton and Franklin counties to increase the effectiveness of bi-County organizations? Do you support separating traditionally shared functions between Benton and Franklin County, such as the Courts and the Public Health system?
This is one of the most pressing issues of our time at a local level and the question of how to approach the bi-county relationship has been an ongoing conversation between both counties for over 70 years. While we have always had challenges in our bi-county relationship, we reached a historic low points when the commissioners in both counties decided it was necessary to divide our shared human resource department. The effect of this decision is when we are still observing, but the initial impact seems to arise in the cost of doing business for each county, and a lot of acrimony that didn’t used to be there. I do not support splitting up shared county services, and will not support it until evidence is presented to me both that this is what the voters of each county want, and that doing so is cost-effective and helpful to the long-term physical and economic health of each county. Recent efforts to split our court system were divisive, ill-conceived, and a product of personality conflicts between members of each county commission; not effective public policy.
If we want to strengthen the bi-county relationship, the best way to do that is to elect new leaders who are willing to work alongside one another to promote a fresh start for both counties. We need leaders who will build bridges, who will take the time to get to know their fellow commissioners, and who will actually attend meetings in the other county so that they can get a better understanding of the unique political climate and leadership culture that exists there. I’m running because I believe I have a long history of bridge building by bringing people together, because as a former teacher, and an active community leader, and someone who is proud to live in Franklin County; I believe that I have what it takes to get the process of reconciliation between the county started, and to create an environment where both counties bring out the best in each other. We don’t have to have the drama, the divisiveness, or the unhappiness we have been forced to live with when it comes to this issue. We have the ability to make a change, and I’m not ready to give up on a strong and productive bi-county relationship, and I don’t think the voters of Franklin County are either.
What are your thoughts on pushing forward legislation to move our state/district/county/city to Ranked Choice Voting?
I think ranked choice voting is a very interesting idea, but I also think that the only people who should be weighing in on that are the voters themselves. One of the most beautiful parts of our state government is the ability of the people through initiatives and referendums to impact and draft legislation. We have seen this time and time again with voter drafted initiatives being put before our state for approval, one of the more noteworthy cases of this was an initiative that formally created our current public disclosure commission, which works very hard to regulate money in politics. The voters of our state have it in their power to decide how elections are running the state not just by electing those who will implement election law, but by changing election law itself. I think when it comes to reforms such as ranked choice voting, it should be put before the voters as an initiative and we should respect the will of the people and allow each side of that issue the opportunity to make their case.
Should we reopen indoor restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters before our case numbers go down, we’ve flattened the curve and built up our testing/tracing capacity to CDC-recommended levels?
The simple answer here is ‘no’ we most certainly should not reopen before we have flattened the curve, and before we have confirmation from health experts that it is safe to do so. We live in difficult times, and the economic crisis that has been created by COVID-19 affects all of us deeply, but the reason that we have pursued a phase system for reopening is because that is what the health experts in our state thought was best. We should always be willing to ask questions, and we should always be studying our reopening efforts to see if the data supports the idea that we can reopen more quickly. However, we have to be safe, we have to be careful, and we must make sure that we are considering the lives of every member of our community before anything else when making decisions about which public safety measures should exist and for how long.
What metrics should be met before schools reopen? And what precautions should be taken once they’re open to limit COVID-19 spread?
As a parent of school age children and as a former teacher I take this question to heart. This is another area where we need to make sure that we are putting public safety and the lives of our community members first. Right now, our local health experts, our state level health experts, international health experts are very clearly telling us that it’s not the right time to open schools, that doing so would place the lives of our staff, children and families at risk. We need to listen to them, and we need to let them guide the conversation when it comes to what metrics should be put forward to determine when it is safe to reopen our schools. Our schools, community and individual citizens have led with their hearts in innovative ways to help decrease the implications of this past Spring’s ‘learning through COVID’. Working together as an entire community to decrease the spread and devastation of this pandemic while also supporting each other in unity we can get through this crisis together.