Sunday, October 21, 2012
Blackman sees communication as critical issue in race
WALLA WALLA — Communication between county residents and their government is among the critical issues Chris Blackman said she plans to address if elected.
Blackman is running against Perry Dozier for the Walla Walla County commission District 2 seat. This is her first run for public office.
In an interview earlier this month, Blackman said that among the concerns she had heard is the lack of communication between county officials and residents.
Blackman said that concern, among others, “has affirmed my belief that this is truly a full-time position.”
She has said if elected she intends to resign her current job as a high school teacher to devote her full attention to being a county commissioner.
As she has stated earlier in her campaign, Blackman said she wants to hold meetings at different locations to establish a plan regarding the use of the county’s reserve fund.
“I think there truly needs to be a concerted effort to look at all the data and understand what the people want from this entire county,” she said.
Instead of the current three months, or 25 percent, of operating expenses held in reserve, Blackman said she would proposed that 10 percent of the county’s ending fund balance be allocated toward the reserve with the remaining amount spent on items and services most in need.
But, she said, “if we’re going to reduce that, there has to be a plan in place. We certainly don’t want to reduce ourselves to the point where we don’t have a cushion.”
Blackman said she disagrees with the commissioners’ decision last year to implement furlough days as a way to avoid layoffs.
She said if it came to a choice between decreasing work days or pay with furloughs or eliminating a program where it involves laying someone off, “I would take the layoffs.” However, layoffs last year could have been avoided by using the reserves, she said.
“That’s why we need a strategic plan, so we know when to dip into the reserves. But I think that’s a question that needs to be presented to the people.”
Blackman reiterated that other top issues facing the county are potential loss of services to children and working families due to the uncertain economic situation and public safety issues.
In regards to the latter issue, Blackman said every effort should be made to avoid decreasing the number or effectiveness of law enforcement officers in the county.
“If we are losing visibility of our law enforcement, that causes concern,” she said,
Blackman said that her marriage to Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Capt. Barry Blackman would “obviously” pose a potential for a conflict of interest if she were elected to the commission, but that she would excuse herself from deliberations if that possibility arose.
“When it comes to the Sheriff’s Office, I would expect to recuse myself from matters of the budget or other matters involving the sheriff’s office until my husband retires,” she said.
Blackman said her interest in law enforcement started well before she met her husband and she feels she can and will disagree with Sheriff John Turner when she feels it necessary. Concerns that she would write the Sheriff’s Office a “blank check” are simply not true, she said.
Dozier points to challenges of funding county government.
WALLA WALLA — As he campaigns for his second term, Walla Walla County Commissioner Perry Dozier said he sees keeping county finances on an even keel without raising taxes as one of the biggest challenges facing the county.
Dozier is running against Chris Blackman for the commission’s District 2 seat. Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election were mailed to county voters on Friday.
“I think looking down the road for the next few years (the main goal) is to still provide the same level of service to the residents of the county,” Dozier said in an interview earlier this month. But flat revenue combined with rising expenditures are making this increasingly difficult.
“Our departments ... all of them are about as lean as they can get. We’ve balanced the budget and have done so without raising property taxes. We hate to put the burden on the taxpayer, especially those with fixed incomes,” he said. “My hopes are as we work through the budget process is that we find some way to keep doing this. (But) we have cannibalized the ending fund balances and reserves to continue to provide the same level of services.”
Although commissioners have been criticized for maintaining a reserve fund equal to three months operating expenses, a practice established in 2000 by former Ccommissioners David Carey, Pam Ray and Chuck Maiden, “the reserve has paid dividends in these tough times” by allowing commissioners to deal with unexpected expenses and to take advantage of opportunities, Dozier said.
Among these have been providing matching funds for a grant to revamp the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Juvenile Justice Center and the boiler at the county jail, the purchase of bullet-resistant vests for Sheriff’s deputies, the purchase of new vehicles and replacement of equipment vital to maintaining the county’s computer network.
Dozier said his first term on the commission involved “a very, very steep learning curve” in discovering how county government works as opposed to private business.
“It’s a whole different scenario when you sit behind that desk,” he said.
One example, Dozier said, is that although government is a service provider, “we’re not here to make a profit. We’re allocating every bit of the funds we receive, unlike a business, which has to show a profit.”
Another difference is commissioners have to work cooperatively with all of the other elected officials in the county. Along those lines, two years ago commissioners passed a resolution to have each commissioner be a liaison to a set of elected officials and department heads. This gives the elected officials and department heads a specific commissioner they can go to as needed.
In regards to the charge that he and other commissioners are not working full time at their jobs, Dozier said the job of being a county commissioner isn’t defined “as being someone in an office 8-5.
“I’ve always been accessible to people no matter what the hour or day,” he said. In addition to regular and special commission meetings “there are night meetings, out-of-town meetings and a lot of other business you have to attend to ... I took this commission job seriously when I took it on and will continue to do so.
“I do feel strongly that being a county commissioner is like being the chief executive officer of a major company,” Dozier said. “I think having a strong background in business has helped me in that respect ... I run a business and I’ve dealt with land issues for 20 years. I’ve been a businessman and I’ve seen the ups and downs in the economy. It’s trying to figure out how to survive through these periods without a lot of damage to (the county) that’s the main challenge.