LONG BEACH - Last week's Community Candidates' Night brought a big crowd to the Super 8 Motel in Long Beach to hear candidates for the District 2 County Commission seat. Fred Hill, Ray Bowman and Melissa Goldberg are challenging long-time Commissioner Bud Cuffel for the seat on the commission. The forum ran about an hour over its scheduled time-frame and involved spirited discussions. Each candidate's speech was limited to 15 minutes.

The event was sponsored by the Willapacific Chapter of the American Association of University Women. Natalie Hanson, AAUW chairperson for political action and public policy, led the meeting.

A random drawing decided the order of candidates speaking. Incumbent Cuffel started the discussion, saying he had served on the commission for more than 11 years. "I bring 35 years of business management experience to the job," he said, adding that he has been a volunteer firefighter for 25 years. "I will honestly and fairly address the concerns of the county," he said. "I have a good relationship with state and county officials."

Since he's been a commissioner, "I've streamlined county government and reduced county employees by about 30 by introducing modernized and electronic communication." He said he'd added two new deputies to the Pacific County Sheriff's Office and had obtained a state-funded grant for two more.

Land use problems have "been in turmoil since I've been a commissioner," Cuffel continued. "The state cut off funding, but I got a decent comprehensive plan in place that protects the environment and the county. I ask voters to once again support me as Pacific County Commissioner."

Ray Bowman was up next. He described his building and remodeling business, C3 Design Center, in Ocean Park and Long Beach. "My priorities are faith, family, country and community," the president of the South Pacific County Homebuilders Association said. "I'm not politically correct," he said. "I don't think local offices should be partisan, that's why I'm running as an Independent."

Bowman said his vision is to make Pacific County a "high quality, livable area in which to raise a family, work, do business and retire. We need good schools and great county services."

Discussing county-related issues, Bowman said he's "unhappy" with property tax rates. "There have been 100 to 300 percent increases," he said, "a bitter pill. Incomes aren't going up, especially among retirees on fixed incomes. It's difficult. It's important to address this issue and find solutions. The answer to the problems isn't raising taxes."

He said county spending "needs to be checked and double-checked. We can improve efficiency in government. The economy affects all of us and requires changes in lifestyle. The county government also has to do things differently. A lot more questions need to be asked."

Bowman used the proposed replacement of the stained-glass dome at the Pacific County Courthouse as an example. He said an estimated $1.2 million has been budgeted for the job but the only bid was for $2.7 million. "The commissioners tabled the issue for more investigation," he said. "Why was the bid so high? I called my contacts for more information and found that only repairs to the dome are needed and they can be done for less than $200,000."

Bowman also questioned why 11 county employees came to a commission meeting to discuss a minor issue with a building code. "Why 11 county people?" he asked. "That's a terrible waste of productivity. The issue could easily have been resolved with an inspector and the commission. My mission is to make sure every county department is spending money wisely. We were in boom times, now we're hurting. I want to make sure the county is spending money appropriately."

Another issue Bowman cited is jobs in the county. "We can do a lot better," he said. "The schools lose our best and brightest because there are no good jobs." He also mentioned uncontrolled growth, water issues, law and order and the methamphetamine problem.

Quoting his "favorite person," Harry Truman, Bowman said "the buck stops here. Truman took personal responsibility. I'll try to do the same as a commissioner."

Candidate Melissa Goldberg was next up at the podium, saying the county "deserves the best governance possible and for commissioners to serve all voters fairly and equally. It can be better here."

She cited the need for better transportation services in the county with "more frequent buses and expanded coverage. "It's good for tourism and for senior citizens. We need smaller hybrid buses that go longer distances, giving tourists an easy way to visit and explore the area."

She'd also like to see improvements to the dial-a-ride bus service. As a nurse for 20 years, Goldberg said she has seen post-surgery patients waiting for two hours for the bus to pick them up at the hospital.

Improving and broadening road shoulders and adding more bicycle paths are other concerns, Goldberg said

"The beautiful Peninsula is in need of protection," she said. "We need to take more care with building permits and scrutinize all practices, not just for the people who benefit from them. We need more vigilance over pesticides and chemicals used for controlling invasive species. We need to preserve the future of the Peninsula."

During her career as a nurse, Goldberg said she has lived all over the U.S. and in Spain and Australia. "With all my travels, I finally found my home on the Peninsula," she said. "This is the best of all worlds. I bring a broad range of experience with people's needs. The community is also a client. We support one another."

Last on the agenda was Fred Hill of Ocean Park, a Pacific County resident for 50 years. He said he had worked in the oyster industry, owned a gas station and started in the construction business in 1984, also operating a tool-rental and auto repair business. He said he raised two children on the Peninsula, one now a doctor, one a veterinarian.

Hill said he's been a volunteer with Pacific County Fire District No. 1 for 22 years, serving 10 years as a commissioner for the district. He served a four-year term on the Ocean Beach Hospital Commission. He also served as a reserve Pacific County sheriff's deputy for four years. "The deputies do an important job," he said. "We need to support them.

"I'm diligent on budgets and unions," he said. "The fire district and the hospital boards are the same as the county, but on a smaller scale."

Hill said dealing with the county building department is "frustrating. There is no help from the department for people applying for permits," he said. "I want to make the permitting process easier by supplying more help for people.'

A wide-ranging question-and-answer session followed the candidates' talks covering subjects from differences between issues in the north and south county, sewer and water, spartina control and other environmental concerns, taxation of the oyster industry, the closure of Jeldness Road and violation of open-meeting laws by commissioners..

"It was a diverse discussion," Hanson said. "There's a lot going on."

Absentee ballots for the Aug. 19 primary will be mailed Aug. 1. Aug. 4 is the last day for in-person registration for voters not currently registered in Washington state for the primary.

Aug. 6 is the first day to apply for an absentee ballot for the Nov. 4 general election

Aug. 18 is the last day a void in candidacy or vacancy in an elective office (other than Superintendent of Public Instruction or judge of the Supreme Court) will cause filings to be reopened for a three-day filing period for which the names will appear only on the general election ballot. It is also the last day to apply for an absentee ballot for the primary and the final day to file as a write-in candidate for the primary.

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