County council hopefuls meet in online forums

Eight people are vying for two positions on the San Juan County Council this summer.

Along with incumbent Rick Hughes, Orcas Islanders Michael Durland and Cindy Wolf are also running for San Juans County Council District 2 which represents Barnes; Bell; Blakely; Clark; Cliff; Crane; Doe; Double; Ewing; Fawn; Freeman; Jones; Matia; McConnell; Obstruction; Orcas; Patos; Puffin; Skull; Sucia; Victim; Waldron; Yellow islands. Candidates for San Juans County Council District 1 are Sharon Kivisto; Daniel Miller; Christine Minney; Ryan Palmateer; and Steve Wehrly. District 1 consists of Brown; Dinner; Goose; Henry; Johns; O’Neal; Pearl; San Juan; Sentinel; Speiden; Stuart; and Turn.

The League of Women Voters of the San Juans hosted two virtual forums — one on July 7 for District 2 and July 8 for District 1 — both moderated by Steve Bowman. Bowman asked the candidates a series of questions that had been submitted to the league.

Both forums can be viewed by following links found on the league’s Facebook page,

San Juans County Council District 2

Durland is a contractor who has lived on Orcas Island for more than 40 years and in that time has served as a member of the county’s Marine Resource Committee and the Islands Oil Spill Association.

“We are talking about the same issues now as we were four years ago,” Durland said in his opening statement.

According to Durland, the county needs to work on protecting the Salish Sea, specifically, he supports efforts to help the Southern resident orcas. He also believes that the county should protect inns and lodges from the influx of vacation rentals.

“There are too many unnecessary lawsuits against the county that cost us all,” Durland said, noting a situation of his own wherein he protested land use designations made by the county. According to Durland, he turned to the county council who he said refused to listen.

“This is not the way to treat your constituents,” Durland said. He proposed a citizen grievance committee.

Durland also noted the importance of working toward a more diverse and self-sustaining economy, adding the community cannot rely on tourist dollars alone.

“I will not feel afraid to step in if you feel you’re being disenfranchised,” Durland concluded.

Wolf said she is a mother, customer service manager and a community mediator. She and her husband, who she said is a physicist by training and an engineer by profession, moved to the island in 2010.

“We can learn a lot from the people who have lived here before,” Wolf said in her introduction.

Wolf wants her children and grandchildren to inherit a functioning society, adding that the community can and must “do better.” She agreed with Durland that the islands’ economy is steeply affected by tourism.

“Our current economy depends too heavily on tourism,” Wolf said.

Wolf also said he thinks the belief that islanders must choose between public health and economic survival amid the COVID pandemic is “short-sighted.” She added that industries in the islands such as health care, agriculture and small trades should be nurtured. She acknowledged the affordable housing crisis plaguing the islands.

“Fortunately there are some very creative and skilled people in our community with good ideas on how to provide affordable housing,” She said.

Hughes has served on the council for seven years and is looking forward to this being his last run for a position on the council.

“We’ve gone through a really interesting and difficult time over the past three months,” Hughes said.

According to Hughes, every day is a new adventure and he added the county has worked to maintain the delicate balance between maintaining the community’s economy and health. He noted over the past seven years, the county has prepared for another recession procuring less than $8 million in debt and having approximately $2 million in reserve.

Hughes said he sees an economy that is supported by the internet infrastructure Rock Island and Orcas Power and Light Cooperative has built. Meanwhile, he added, he hopes to build upon

Over the hour and a half forum, the candidates discussed their positions on vacation rentals, affordable housing, tourists, COVID and more.

In closing, Hughes explained there is nothing more important to him than San Juan County — outside of his family, of course.

“It has been a real honor to serve as a San Juan County Council member for the last seven years,” Hughes said. “I am so proud of everyone for the last couple months and always for all the hard work. … We have a really great community.”

Hughes said he hopes everyone stays well, wears a mask, washes their hands and, above all, is kind to one another.

“We will get through this together,” Hughes said. “[In the county government,] we have a really amazing team that I’m super proud of that has done a super outstanding job. “

Durland reminded the audience of his belief that the concerns of the community are the same as they were four years ago.

“We all came here for a reason, we love the islands,” Durland said.

Tourism makes the islands more vibrant, Durland noted. He noted the importance of ensuring the community and its citizens survive. He said, if elected, he would listen and act upon the concerns and comments he hears from the community.

Durland added he would campaign for a moratorium on vacation rentals, work with enhancing the islands’ oil spill response and strive for a more diverse economy.

Wolf highlighted the importance of having a county council with diverse backgrounds. She said her family raised her to believe that leadership is about service and duty and that courage and honesty is crucial

“We face challenges right now but we face them together,” Wolf said. “I am ready to lead, but I need you with me. I cannot serve unless I can see you and I cannot lead you unless I know where you want to go.”

San Juans County Council District 1

Wehrly spent his 40-year career as a lobbyist and a lawyer, he began.

“Whether you vote for me or not, I will always be ready to talk with you about our county and to discuss issues that are important to you,” Werley said. “I’m not a partisan for any political party or viewpoint. All I want to do, all I ever wanted to do as a lobbyist and lawyers is get things done.”

Wehrly, who previously wrote for The Journal of the San Juan Islands, said his goal as a county council member would be to bring back the local economy and keep people safe. He said that the county budget will need to be worked on substantially in light of COVID and noted having worked on many budgets and reported on the county’s budget in the past.

“I know the complexities of preparing a budget,” Wehrly said.

Miller attended both Evergreen State College and the University of Washington has run for public office before, winning primaries twice. He once owned a small business in Friday Harbor.

“Boy it was a lot of fun and it was a very popular antique store in San Juan County,” Miller said. He also worked on public policy in both Washington and California, he explained. He added he takes politics seriously.

“I think I’m a good candidate, I think I’ll do a good job down there,” Miller said, adding he would come up with strategies to help small businesses.

Miller stated his frustration with the county for requiring property taxes amid the COVID pandemic and said he believes the county should have had a property tax holiday.

Minney has lived on San Juan Island for 24 years and she and her husband Patrick raised two sons who still live on the island, she explained. For the last decade, she and her husband have owned and operated a business in the community and they currently run Ernie’s Caffe. She has also served as treasurer in a variety of volunteer positions including for the historical society, her homeowner’s association and the Roche Harbor Disc Golf Course.

Minney said she knows and loves many of her fellow islanders.

“I want to continue sharing my love of the community as an advocate and an ally,” Minney said. “I believe I am wholly representative of the majority as someone who has raised a family, built a home and created a very successful small business. … In these uncertain times, we as individuals have the option to step away or step up, I choose to step up.”

Kivisto has lived on San Juan Island for 29 years, 20 of those years she has owned and operated the news blog San Juan Islander.

“It takes seeing it through someone else’s eyes to make you realize what we have here and how important it is to protect it,” Kivisto said.

Kivisto noted her concerns for the community include addressing the county’s affordable housing problem, protecting the environment and acknowledging local domestic violence.

“The amount of domestic violence in the islands is shockingly high,” Kivisto said, adding that SAFE San Juans could use more county support and funding.

“I’m really worried that if we continue the way we’re going, we’re going to end up with a community that’s just a retirement slash tourism community with workers shuttled in from the mainland,” Kivisto said. “I don’t think any of us think that’s a good solution.”

Palmateer moved to the Islands in 2015 with a goal of finding a community that embraces environmentalism. He is currently the energy program manager for the San Juan Island Conservation District and participated in creating the islands’ electric vehicle administration. He volunteered with gathering support for the 2018 affordable housing real estate excise tax and the special license plate resolution, he added.

In closing, Kivisto told the audience, “I am the only candidate that has held elected office.” She said she served on the San Juan Island School District School Board from 1995-1999.

“I know what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table,” Kivisto said.

According to Kivisto she knows what it is like to make tough decisions, she has thick skin and is willing to listen. She said she believes you should listen to the whole story before you come to a conclusion and realize you’re not the only person making the decisions.

“If the board makes a decision you don’t like, you still have to support it,” Kivisto said.

Miller reiterated his experience running for office, noted he believes public comment at the beginning of council meetings should be extended and his support of small businesses and keeping taxes low.

“I would be a good choice for county council,” Miller said.

Wehrly said he hopes that as a county council member he would work for the people to make the community an even better place than it already is.

“I think I’ve enjoyed every day that I have been here,” Wehrly said. “I think these islands are a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to visit.”

Wehrly reminded the audience he spent his entire professional career in politics, including behind a lobbyist for 30 years for companies like Miller Beer and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club.

“I learned how to make government work,” Wehrly said.

Palmateer vowed to work toward finding innovative solutions to the affordable housing crisis and discovering a fair and balanced way of permitting vacation rental permits.

“I will work tirelessly to restore our local economy, helping to create jobs that help islanders get back on their feet in the wake of a global pandemic,” Palmateer said.

Palmateer said he believes he would provide fair and just governance and wants to amplify the voices of island residents.

“I believe these goals can and must be achieved in an ecologically sustainable manner that enhances the rural character of our islands,” Palmateer said. “I believe that together we can build a better tomorrow for the next generation of islanders.”

According to Minney, the island community is a special place filled with people who dig into issues deeply before placing their final vote. She said as a single mother in 2008, she helped to build her island home with help from the Homes for Islanders program, which she said was transformative. She noted she has a great capacity to learn, adapt and grow and she believes she would be an honorable and attentive county council member.

“I have the vision and the audacity to make it happen,” Minney said. “At the end of the day, the best reason to vote for me is because I am you.”