Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela says she kept the three promises that she made when she was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2009 to complete the term vacated by Commissioner Bob Macleod.
With her help, she said, the commission has updated the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance, established development impact fees and made progress on the county’s Shoreline Management Program.
“Probably the biggest motivation I have (to run for re-election) is to keep doing what I have been doing over the past six years,” Valenzuela, 65, of Tumwater said.
Her opponent, Walter “Bud” Blake, is asking voters to scrutinize other areas of Valenzuela’s record while on the Board of County Commissioners, including the empty $45 million jail that it built four years ago, its budget cuts to law enforcement and a $12 million court finding against the commission for interfering with the sale of a Port of Tacoma-owned tract near Maytown for use as a gravel mine.
Blake, 50, an independent, lives in Tumwater. The Army veteran said he entered the race because he believes Valenzuela lacks leadership skills. Plus, challenging an incumbent is “good for democracy,” he said.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I need to step up because I could do better ...,’ ” Blake told The Olympian’s editorial board. “I bring a voice of reason and common sense.”
The elected position is part of a three-member commission that serves as the county’s legislative authority. Each position carries a four-year term and pays an annual salary of $105,276.
Valenzuela was a public health worker for than 20 years and has 14 years of political experience as a commissioner and former Tumwater City Council member. In her campaign materials, she states she has a strong ethic for environmental protection and has worked hard to strengthen the economy by preserving agricultural lands and natural resources.
Valenzuela told The Olympian’s editorial board that county officials were surprised by the jury’s verdict in the Maytown case, but she thinks they will win an appeal, which could take three to five years.
“We don’t think it will survive the scrutiny of appeal,” she said.
Last month, Valenzuela announced to The Olympian’s editorial board that county and union officials had made a tentative contract agreement that could pave the way for the new jail to open. It was a move that angered some. In fact, one corrections official said he thought the announcement was premature and could be interpreted as an unfair labor practice.
It turned out the tentative agreement might not matter. Last Monday, Sheriff John Snaza told commissioners he wasn’t going to open the Accountability and Restitution Center during 2015 unless his budget was restored. The sheriff said public safety would be at risk because deputies will be cut if the commissioners move forward with their proposed funding level for his department.
Blake said he doesn’t believe the county commissioners should cut funding from law and justice.
If elected, he said he would work to restore the Sheriff’s Office budget and open the jail — even if it means renting it out to JBLM or a different agency, Blake said during the Lacey Chamber of Commerce political forum.
Meantime, Valenzuela said the 2014 budget cuts and the proposed 2015 budget freeze were necessary to help the county work toward an appropriate level of reserves.
She said the Sheriff’s Office has been the most vocal about the budget, but the county’s smallest departments are feeling the most pain from the proposed spending plans.