ILWACO — Candidates for the open Public Utility District seat discussed resident concerns at a recent forum.
The Oct. 11 forum, hosted by the American Association of University Women, featured PUD candidates Debbie Oakes and Don Pape, among candidates for state Legislature, sheriff, and prosecutor. Voters should receive their ballots by Oct. 25 for the Nov. 6 general election. Oct. 29 is the last day to register to vote in person.
Oakes is a longtime Peninsula resident. She and her husband, John, recently sold their commercial fishing business of 40 years. She served as a school board member for the Ocean Beach School District in the 1990s.
Pape and his wife, Lynda, have lived on the Peninsula for about nine years. He has 42 years of electrical utility experience, including a 34-year career with Idaho Power. He also worked for Western Electric Coordinating Council and Clark Public Utilities in Vancouver, Washington.
PUD candidates were asked four questions during the forum. Topics focused on weather emergency preparation, online issues, how the candidates make decisions and what each candidate would include in a PUD strategic plan.
Candidates were asked about if the PUD is prepared for weather emergencies, what happens if residents lose power and whether Pacific County gets help from other communities during outages.
Both candidates said they believe there are short-term emergency management plans. Both candidates stressed the importance of creating a long-term strategic plan.
“I’m sure we must have a plan, but there’s so many things we need to be prepared for that I don’t think we are,” Oakes said.
Pape acknowledged there are other utility district plans along the coast that the county isn’t involved in.
“I was told that from 8 to 5 they practice. When the storm hit, that’s when they really go to work,” Pape said. “We need to make sure there’s a plan. It’s one thing to write them. It’s another to exercise them.”
Another audience concern was being required by the PUD to go online to request changes. Both candidates emphasized that the PUD should serve customer needs.
“There’s no reason why the utility can’t meet at the customer’s gates,” Pape said. “It’s not always intuitive to go online. Offices should help customers in multiple ways.”
Pape suggested creating a customer survey, which Oakes agreed was a good idea. Oakes also voiced interest creating a citizen advisory board and changing the time of PUD meetings to increase the public’s access to the PUD.
Candidates also addressed how they make decisions, which was another audience focus.
Oakes criticized the PUD for showcasing a lack of transparency, noting that the PUD’s budget will go public on Election Day and be approved two weeks later. She also urged event attendees to go to PUD meetings.
“There should be a lot of public discussion at meetings,” Oakes said. “They have an agenda, but it looks like things were already discussed and then it’s all approved.”
Pape agreed that the PUD needs more public input, noting other utility districts publish their agendas and checkbooks for the public to view. He also said he would table decisions about rate increases if there wasn’t enough information presented.
The final question for the PUD candidates addressed what each candidate would include in a strategic plan.
Pape said a strategic plan should include information on the PUD’s strengths, weaknesses, external threads, goals and capital projects for the following five years. He also said that all stakeholders should participate in creating the plan.
Oakes agreed with Pape. She also said she and Pape are different because she knows the community, and he has experience for working with large companies bigger than the county’s PUD.