Monday evening's "candidates' night forum in Lyle offered a lesson in the way candidates' nights forums should always be: interesting presentations, good verbal sparring, and a program that did not drag on too long.
With the Sept. 19 primary election approaching rapidly, the Lyle Community Council hosted an informational meeting at the town's Community Center. All six of the Klickitat County candidates who will appear on the primary ballot were on hand to address local citizens: Tim O'Neill (the incumbent) and Julie Vance, the two Republicans competing to serve as Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney; Chris Mace (incumbent) and Rick McComas, Republicans running to serve as Klickitat County Sheriff; and the two Democrats vying to be the party's nominee for Klickitat County Commissioner in District 2, Marc Harvey and Chris Connolly.
Barbara Sexton, president of the Lyle Community Council, said having a forum to hear from the candidates before the primary was vital to the voters.
"We originally planned a candidates' night for next month, after the primary," Sexton said. "But we realized there are three important races that will be decided in the primary."
Sexton added that she was happy with the turnout.
"We put this event together pretty rapidly, and it looks like the word got out," she said.
First to go before the voters were the two candidates for Prosecuting Attorney, Vance and O'Neill.
"This election should be determined by the person with the most abilities to be your prosecutor," said White Salmon resident O'Neill in his opening statement. "It should not be based on outrageous claims, or who can provide the nicest sound bite."
O'Neill pointed out that about 60 percent of the delegates at the Republican Convention in Klickitat County supported his re-election, and that he won about 60 percent of the vote when he was elected in 2002.
"I've been endorsed by the Board of County Commissioners, the Civil Service Commission, and David Sauter (County Commission candidate)," O'Neill said. "But the biggest endorsement I like is by everyone on my staff."
Vance, who lives in Goldendale, said she has been working in the legal arena for the past 20 years. Currently she serves as Prosecuting Attorney for the city of Goldendale, a position she has held since 1998.
"The reason I am running is for the best interest of Klickitat County. I have 20 years of experience," Vance said.
She noted that when she was 10, she started working as a clerk and helping with research in the law office of Goldendale attorney Ross Rakow.
"Unlike my opponent, I have a good working relationship with defense attorneys, which the current prosecutor refers to as `the dark side,'" Vance added. "When I'm elected, I will hold criminals accountable. As Prosecuting Attorney, I will not waste the resources of Klickitat County, and I will restore professionalism to the Prosecutor's Office. I can work with Chris Mace and Rick McComas, and have good relationships with both of them."
O'Neill was asked why the county has spent "$1 million or $2 million hiring outside attorneys."
"You have to get outside professional firms to work with you," O'Neill explained. "If you go up against a major corporation or the state or federal government, you're going to get steamrolled. We need outside legal help and specialized expertise."
One woman asked Vance why she did not support conducting an autopsy on every unattended death in the county.
"There isn't always a need for an autopsy," Vance explained. "A family doesn't always want that, and Klickitat County is one of the few counties in the state that has that policy."
"My opponent has no knowledge of being a coroner," O'Neill shot back. "The state won't take `old age' or `natural causes.' If a doctor gives a reason for the death, fine, there's no reason for an autopsy."
The two Republican sheriff candidates primarily focused on their experience in law enforcement in their opening statements.
Mace told the audience he has served as Klickitat County Sheriff for about five years, and is proud of the improvements he's seen in the department.
"We've come a long way in terms of training our people, and we've been able to add personnel," Mace said.
McComas, who has served in a variety of law enforcement positions over 27 years, including eight years as a lieutenant with Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, said he believes the Sheriff's Office could perform much better.
"After giving the current sheriff time, I don't think expectations have been met, so I'm giving you a choice," McComas said. "I don't think the service provided is the best we can do for the dollars spent."
McComas added that if he is elected, he will sharply boost patrolling.
"If elected I want to return permanent 24-hour coverage to the communities," McComas said.
Mace responded that providing around the clock coverage for all of the county's communities would require a huge boost in personnel.
"The fact of the matter is, to have 24-hour coverage, you'd need six deputies in each community. That's 84 deputies. I have 16 deputies. Where is that extra money going to come from?" Mace questioned. "Twenty-four hour coverage in each community is not realistic."
"We can find a way. Whatever it takes," McComas said, adding that the Sheriff's Office had 25 reserve deputies in 1995 and has only three now.
"The reserves can be called out at any minute to help you," McComas explained. "They can provide you with the service you want and need."
The Democratic Party nominees for County Commissioner finished off the evening's forum.
Connolly, who ran for the same seat in 2002 and lost to the incumbent, Joan Frey, said she believes job training programs are an essential element lacking in the county.
"Our kids deserve every chance to excel. More education equals more pay," said Connolly, who chairs the county's Meth Action Team and is vice chair of the Snowden Community Council.
Connolly, a Snowden resident, also said she thinks the county needs to do more to support small businesses, and to spend more on methamphetamine prevention programs.
Harvey, who works as a regulation compliance manager at Full Sail Brewery in Hood River and lives in Lyle, said he is focusing on three key points to sum up what he hopes to achieve as commissioner: "Working, working together, and working for the future," he said.
"We need to restore the jobs lost when the aluminum plant shut down, especially in Goldendale and the eastern part of the county," Harvey said. "We can take the landfill dollars -- which to date has brought $86 million to the county -- and earmark more to bring in business to create jobs and encourage the start of new businesses."
Harvey, who served for six years as a member of the Port of Klickitat's Board of Commissioners, said the Port's success could be a model for the entire county.
"With a budget of just $120,000, we were able to bring in over 200 jobs that now exist there," he said.
Connolly was asked how she would provide expensive equipment to the local fire departments around the county if she supports taking away the annual Economic Development Authority grant money that comes from the landfill fund.
Connolly said she has no intention of pulling the grant money back.
"In fact, I'd be in favor of putting it back to the $500,000 level, where it started, instead of the $350,000 the county has been providing," Connolly explained. "I'm talking about adding more money."
Harvey said he agreed with that approach.
"If anything, we need more funds to put up for our fire departments, which are sometimes asked to go out without proper safety equipment," Harvey said. "They are volunteers and they risk their lives for us."
Connolly pointed out that the county could benefit from a fresh perspective at the top.
"We have three Republican members who have been in such lockstep for the past 10 years or so, they are getting into `group-think,'" she explained. "They are like-thinkers and don't look outside their own realm. I could bring different ideas."
Harvey was asked his view on whether the county should spend money for attorneys to fight the decommissioning of Condit Dam.
"I think it's perfectly OK for the county to advocate for recreationalists, but they went way too far and very excessive on spending half a million dollars on legal fees," Harvey said. "There are many priorities where that money could have been used a whole lot better."
Connolly took it a step further.
"I have a hard time with the County Commissioners pressing for eminent domain to take over this nearly 100-year old dam," she said. "That is a power that needs to be used with huge restraint. It's a taking of private property."