Newport resident Ken Lundie has filed as a democratic party challenger to incumbent Lincoln County Commissioner Bill Hall. Lundie is retired with several years as a harbor commissioner in Santa Clara, CA, near San Francisco. Lundie says he moved to Lincoln County two years ago. He’s married with a grown son at home who is attending Oregon Coast Community College.
Below are a series of position papers he wrote and is offering for review by the voters of Lincoln County.
By the time the elected terms of the three seated Lincoln County Commissioners expire, this group will have collectively been in Office for close to half a century (44 years). There is no question that a considerable amount of Governmental experience is necessary to be effective in the job, but four and a half decades seems rather excessive and tantamount to a quasi Dynasty. It has been my observation that Boards, Councils and Commissions tend to function more effectively when there is a periodic turnover, allowing for an infusion of new energy, perspectives and problem solving ideas. There is an old saying that goes, “There are only two things a Politician wants in life: one, to get elected, and two, to stay elected.” Due to the power of incumbency, “career” Politicians are routinely returned to Office even though the end result is often times mediocrity, complacency and stagnation. A former Lincoln County District Attorney most eloquently described what often occurs when Elected Officials are allowed to remain in Office too long as follows, quote:
“It has been my experience that some elected officials, when they go on for multiple terms, tend to lose grasp of the fact that the voters loaned them these positions, and they do not own them. Some seem to gain a proprietary interest in the job, and they begin worrying too much about keeping it and not enough about doing it well. For some, the idea of doing something innovative, creative or bold is totally out of the question, they don’t want to rock the boat or take chances. They stay in the middle so much you have to wonder if their spines have degenerated and they are incapable of walking one way of the other. For a few, after awhile, the idea of some sort of ‘legacy’ seems to entertain them as if voters cared about their ego trips. There are many notable exceptions, but long-term atrophy can be a problem.”(1)
Public Service is a high calling, to be sure, but in my view, Elected Officials should be willing to voluntarily step aside once each has contributed all he or she has to offer so that other qualified individuals are permitted an opportunity of participating in Citizen Government. United States Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life but Lincoln County Commissioners should not honestly expect to serve for perpetuity. The elected office of County Commissioner is a voter enabled privilege, not a proprietary right, and serving on the Commission should be a distinct honor, not a career vocation.
(1) quote attributed to former Lincoln County District Attorney, Dan Glode, in his December 16th, 2011 Letter to the Editor under Musings & Reflections. Note: it should be stated that the use of this quote is not to be construed in any way, shape or form as the author’s endorsement of my candidacy.
Labor Negotiations/Candidate Pledge
This is a difficult subject to accurately chronicle for contract negotiations between the Lincoln County Employee’s Association (LCEA) and non-represented workers are conducted behind closed doors in Executive Session. Since these discussions are not open to members of the general Public, this Candidate obviously was not present; I base the following assumptions on my own involvement in labor negotiations with the Teamsters and Operating Engineers conducted over the twelve year period that I served as an Elected County Official. The Commission on which I served, faced similar financial challenges and we used many of the same cost-cutting measures utilized by this Commission in an attempt to balance the annual budget as required by State law. These included, but were not limited to, a halt in new hiring, eliminating unfilled positions, allowing attrition (retirements) to reduce the workforce, salary freezes and wage and benefits concessions from union and non-union employees. Unlike the Lincoln County Commission, that unfortunately had to lay off scores of County employees over the last three years, we were able to preserve jobs through a combination of placing holds on capital improvement projects, deferring maintenance on vessels, vehicles and infrastructure along with renegotiating existing construction contracts and performing many of the jobs “in-house”. I am not maintaining that the Lincoln County Commission could have avoided laying off County employees and reducing funding for (or entirely eliminating) important social service programs, for they (the Commissioners and the County Management Team) may have had no other choice, given the state of the economy and I have every reason to believe that they gave it their best efforts.
In times such as these, shared sacrifice is essential to keeping County government functioning at current levels. From personal experience in contract negotiations, I have found that employees are generally more receptive to wage and benefits concessions if those requesting the “give backs” are willing to step up to the plate and put their own compensation packages on the table as well. The old saying “do as I say, not as I do” all too often is the posture taken by those atop the food chain. As stated earlier, this candidate was not in the room when negotiations took place so I do not know if the County’s Commissioners (who are well compensated) voluntarily offered to take pay cuts commensurate with those being requested of County workers but, being a student of Human nature, I would be surprised if this subject even came up in the discussions.
Were I to prevail in the May 15th Primary and go on to win in the November General Election, thereby becoming a Lincoln County Commissioner, I pledge to give back 5% of my gross salary as a Commissioner to the General Fund in the first year of Office as a good-faith gesture and to offer to match any future wage concession request of County Workers with an equivalent amount out of my own paycheck. I believe the Residents of Lincoln County are looking for Elected Officials who are willing to lead by example.
Should the Elected Office of Commissioner be Partisan or Non-Partisan?
Currently, the position of Lincoln County Commissioner is a Partisan Office contested by Democratic, Republican, and 3rd Party Candidates in Pre-General Election Primaries. I happen to be a registered Democrat, as are all three of the Seated Commissioners, and due to the fact that Lincoln County is predominantly Democratic, Republicans and other minority political party Office seekers as well as non-affiliated Candidates find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in Commission Elections. Even though this Candidate is aligned with the majority political Party, and would therefore likely benefit from a voter registration imbalance in the November General Election, (assuming I were to defeat the Democratic incumbent in the Primary), in all fairness, it is my belief that the Office of Lincoln County Commissioner should be a Non-Partisan position.
Commissioners are elected to represent all residents of Lincoln County regardless of Party affiliation (or non-affiliation) and every person’s voice is entitled to be heard. Partisan politics tend to divide, not unite, and now, more than any time in recent memory, we need to set aside ideological differences and work together constructively, in a spirit of cooperation, to solve the myriad of economic and social problems facing the County.
Political Endorsements/Monetary Donations/Campaign Ethics
Endorsements: I am not seeking political endorsements for an endorsement, however well meaning, by an individual and/or organization, does not tell one much about the Candidate’s character and what kind of a job he/she would do if elected. I believe Office seekers should rise or fall on their own merits unaided by the accolades of third party politicos.
Donations: As to monetary campaign contributions, very simple, I do not accept them; my campaign is self-financed. Volunteers willing to give of their time are always welcome and very much appreciated.
Campaign Ethics: I pledge to conduct my political campaign in a respectful and ethical manner at all times. As a person with a positive outlook on life, I prefer to view my own entry into the race for Lincoln County Commissioner in the context of running for the position, and not against anyone.
Questionable LC Commission Decision
In 2011, a series of winter storms resulted in damage to several Lincoln County roadways. A State of Emergency was declared by the Commission and, at the recommendation of the Manager of the Public Works Department, contracts were hastily entered into by this Elective Body utilizing the services of out of County General Contractors. Apparently no attempts were made to contact local Firms that specialized in road building, maintenance and repair, and by the time they learned of these job opportunities, it was too late, for the contracts had already been signed and the work begun. At the two subsequent Public Meetings, heavily attended by resident construction contractors visibly angry that they had been overlooked and had lost out on these lucrative construction projects, the aforementioned Department Head attempted to justify his recommendation to the Commission by claiming that he was personally unaware of a single Lincoln County based construction company with the expertise and prior experience in dealing with similar road repair projects, capable of handling jobs of this magnitude. In my own experience as a County Commissioner (albeit in another jurisdiction), in dealing with a similar emergency road collapse scenario, we (the Commission) found that a locally based, licensed and bonded contractor, who individually did not possess all of the earth-moving machinery and past experience in dealing with this type of major road repair project, nevertheless was able to partner with another resident contractor and this “consortium”, working synergistically as one, successfully completed the task safely, efficiently, on time and within budget. My view is that the Commission must always reserve the right to be flexible with regards to bringing in outside firms in cases of emergency for the protection of the Public, but that every effort should be made to address problems of this nature by utilizing local entrepreneurs and only if, and when, these attempts have been fully exhausted and no viable alternatives found, should outsourcing of County work projects become a consideration. Lincoln County payrolls should remain within Lincoln County, whenever possible, to bolster the sagging economy.
If elected to the Commission, I would work toward reaching consensus with my colleagues on setting up a comprehensive County-wide database containing lists of qualified local resource people and companies that could readily be accessed in times of emergencies. This goal should be attainable, for rapid communication techniques such as texting, e-mails, pagers and cell and satellite phones is a “given” in the information age. The Commission should listen intently to the recommendations of Department Heads, for they are the recognized experts in their respective fields, but Commissioners should resist taking such professional advise solely at “face value”; Commissioners must be willing to put personalities and friendships aside and ask the hard questions and act in accordance with the best interests of the residents of Lincoln County. In hindsight, this situation could have (and should have, in my opinion) been handled differently; timely notification of, and consultation with, local contractors would have been the correct course of action and a pledge to keep them (in the loop) in future emergency situations, was the appropriate thing to do. One Newport based General Contractor, speaking before the Commission, eloquently summed up their decision to bypass the local business community in favor of out of County firms thusly, “Your actions were simultaneously insensitive, insulting and tantamount to a slap in the face!” In all fairness, it should be pointed out that subsequent to these concerns being brought to the attention of the Commission, it has been my observation that the Commissioners, to their collective credit, have exhibited an increased sensitivity and awareness and have awarded emergency (and non-emergency) contracts, whenever legally permissible, to local construction firms such as the Newport based Road & Driveway Co.
Safeguarding the Public’s Rights to Access
Periodically, items appear on the Commissioner agenda having to do with formal petitions by private land owners seeking vacation of County easements, “paper roads” and the granting of land swaps that would allow property owners to maximize the development potential of their individual land parcels. Usually either the land owners themselves, or attorneys retained to represent their interests, verbally make statements relative to their petitions and provide the Commission with the reasons behind such requests. Traditionally, the Department Heads or County Council responsible for recommending approval or denial of such resident requests use area and plot maps along with power point presentations to explain the merits (or deficiencies) of such proposals and the Commissioners listen and occasionally ask questions pertaining to such requests.
From personal observations at Commissioner meetings (over a two year period) and the questions being asked by Commissioners, it is quite evident that some, if not all, of the County Commissioners appear to be viewing the various maps and data for the very first time, basically relying solely on Staff to “fill in the blanks” as to whether or not the Public’s interest would best be served by approval or denial of the property owner’s requests. Though the importance of Staff assessment cannot be underestimated, for they are the recognized authorities in such matters, this Candidate is not prone to accepting such individual opinions at face value; I prefer to rely on my own investigations. Decisions as important as these, which can have long lasting effects on the Community as a whole, should be based on the best available facts and “onsite” inspections provide assurances that mistakes will not be made that would adversely effect the Public’s right to access.
In my opinion, matters of this nature, that have the potential of negatively impacting the general public for perpetuity, should be carefully weighed and decisions not hastily entered into. There should be sufficient time allocated for the Commissioners to conduct physical inspections of the sites (field trips) so that they can see for themselves first hand, what is being proposed. There is a big difference between looking at a plot map projected on a screen and actually walking the bluff top trails. I would recommend to my Commissioner colleagues that no final decisions or final action be taken on requests such as these for a minimum of 30 days to allow the Public the opportunity of voicing their support or objections to such private land owner proposals over a span of four meetings and if such petitions involve private landholdings located West of Highway 101 (beach access), even further time and deliberation would be appropriate. As a Commissioner, one should not be surprised to see me away from the office and out in the field checking out the pros and cons of such land owner requests well in advance of the Public meetings.
Business As Usual?
Lincoln County Commission meetings, which are open to the Public, are held weekly in the Board of Commissioner’s Chambers located in the basement of the Lincoln County Court House. These meetings are Publicly noticed and agendas posted online with printed copies made available for those who physically attend the meetings. Typically the principles include the three LC Commissioners, the Recorder and legal counsel to the Commission. Normally also present is an audio and video technician who records the sessions and a reporter, usually from the Newport News Times.
The timing of these regular weekly meetings, 9:30 Wednesday mornings, is questionable in my view. Having consistently attended Commission meetings for two years, I have observed that the Public is largely absent, with the exception of an occasional session containing controversial or “hot button topics”. The Board of Commissioners, on which I served for 12 years, also held its meetings on Wednesdays but we met at 7pm and our meetings were generally better attended. We realized early on that most people, who might have had an interest in going to Commission meetings, held daytime jobs and homemakers were oftentimes busy shopping, ferrying their children to and from school, getting them to music lessons, little league games, etc. By scheduling Commission meetings at seven in the evening, people had a chance to come home, eat dinner, relax and unwind. It was largely because the 7pm start time was convenient for them that they took time out of their otherwise complicated lives to attend Commission meetings.
The Lincoln County Commission should be actively reaching out to residents in a concerted effort to increase participatory involvement at their meetings; individual Commissioners maintain they are genuinely interested in hearing from constituents (and this may, in fact, be the case), but holding their meetings on Wednesday mornings, when most people are unable to attend, sends a very different (and contradictory) message. There appears to be a disconnect in what the Commissioners say they want, more constituent input, and their seeming reluctance to adjust the meetings start times to make them more convenient and accessible to the Public. Commissioners are Dually Elected to conduct the People’s Business and accommodating the scheduling requirements of Lincoln County Residents should be a priority for those involved in Public service. Suggestions concerning the need for a possible change in meeting start times have previously been brought to the attention of the full Commission but there appears to be little, if any, inclination on the part of Commissioners to move in that direction.
If elected to the Commission, I would be generally supportive of experimenting with holding those meetings that contain, what are perceived to be, very important and/or controversial Agenda items on Wednesday evenings to gauge whether or not Public participation could be increased, provided the weekly schedules of Commissioners and attending Staff could be adjusted so that the County would not incur additional expenses for overtime.