Elections

4 vie in race for Thurston County treasurer

The Olympian

Four candidates are touting their experience as voters get set to narrow the field to two in the Aug. 17 primary, slowly closing a turbulent chapter in the Thurston County Treasurer's Office.

The Thurston County Commission appointed Shawn Myers as treasurer in May, after Robin Hunt announced her resignation in January. Commissioners had announced their intent to appoint then-Olympia City Councilman Joe Hyer to the seat, but plans changed after Hyer was arrested on drug-related charges days later.

The treasurer is responsible for receiving and disbursing more than $2 billion. The County Commission sets the county budget, but the treasurer manages its finances – as well as for 40 school and fire districts. In addition to spending money, the person elected to the job is responsible for investments.

Myers, a Democrat, said voters ought to elect her because she’s familiar with the work. She started in the Treasurer’s Office as a cashier in 1986, rising through the ranks until she became chief deputy treasurer in 2000. She resigned in 2005 to become controller of Aberdeen-based Bank of the Pacific. In 2008, she became the cash-flow manager in the state Treasurer’s Office.

“Because of my experience here for 19 years, I … have the most relevant experience,” Myers said. She managed the Thurston County investment pool of $420 million.

“That’s all taxpayer money,” she said. “It’s one of the biggest responsibilities in the Treasurer’s Office.”

Democratic Party nominee Noah Crocker stresses the breadth of his experience and his education – a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Washington. As a debt program manager at the state Treasurer’s Office, he has issued bonds for state and local governments for five years.

“I’ve had the benefit of being able to have this kind of high-level perspective,” he said.

Republican Tom Nelson said he’s best because he has the most private-sector finance experience – 14 years in the banking industry. He is vice president and commercial loan officer for Thurston First Bank.

“I’ve also been a banker and I’ve worked with businesses to help them with their cash-flow needs and to obtain loans, and they trust me with their money,” said Nelson, the son of Lacey Mayor Tom Nelson. “Other people can say this, but I can really come at it with a fresh set of eyes.”

Bill Pilkey, who identifies himself as an independent Democrat, said he has decades of financial and management experience. He owns Pilkey Financial Planning.

“What sets me apart from the rest of them,” he said, “I have government as well as business experience.”

Pilkey was the chief fiscal analyst for the house Republican caucus and said he is a certified financial planner.

ISSUES

Whoever is elected will have to manage the budget for the county, which has made millions of dollars in budget cuts and dozens of layoffs due to declining tax revenues. Myers said no layoffs are foreseen this budget year, but she thinks they’re probable in the future “because they’ve pretty much cut everything else.”

She said the challenge will be to do more with less. She wants the office to be open during lunch, and for all people to have the option of paying tax bills online.

Nelson echoed those thoughts, saying he was the first to propose that idea. He wants to automate certain processes, such as real estate excise tax payments.

“We also need to maintain the safety and security of the investments that we have,” he said.

Crocker said he wants to focus on helping fire districts and school districts manage their finances more effectively.

“They like to have a banker on their side of the table, helping them with this process,” he said.

He also wants to help schools take advantage of federal programs to upgrade energy efficiency.

Pilkey said if he were made treasurer, he would invest as much in local banks and credit unions as possible to create jobs. He wants the treasurer’s job to be an appointed, nonpartisan position.

“We need to look at every single bond the treasury has covered to see which ones can be refinanced,” he said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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