'Save Our PUD' signs stir controversy

The "Save Our PUD" signs that began appearing when the Clallam County Public Utility District commissioner race began between incumbent Hugh Haffner and challenger Bob Jensen have interjected some lively discussion into what often is an unexciting contest.

Haffner and Jensen are running for the District 2 seat on Clallam PUD's three-person board of directors. The area stretches from Seventh Avenue in Sequim west around the city of Port Angeles to roughly the Elwha River.

The signs and their message, however one wishes to interpret it, were questioned at the Oct. 6 Clallam PUD board of directors meeting as well as at Thursday's candidate forum at Sequim High School hosted by the League of Women Voters.

The signs are designed with the same white background and red block lettering as Haffner's campaign signs, alongside which they appear in many areas throughout the county.

Haffner says the signs' message is not that the utility district currently needs to be saved but that it needs to be saved from the conflict of interest that election of his opponent would create.

Jensen dismisses the charge, noting that current Clallam PUD commissioner Ted Simpson owns Angeles Electric and has served the district well for years.

Haffner, a bankruptcy attorney, has served on the Clallam PUD board for 14 years.

In 2002, he defeated Capacity Provisioning Inc. president Bill Roberds for a second six-term on the three-person Clallam PUD board of directors.

Jensen filed to run against Haffner in mid-June. He is a partner in CPI along with Roberds and Craig Johnson, although his campaign literature describes him only as a partner in Angeles Communications.

Jensen said at Thursday's debate that it's not a conflict of interest for him to serve on the board because Clallam PUD is a wholesale provider of broadband services and CPI is a retail provider.

If he is elected, then his company will give up doing any work for Clallam PUD just as current Clallam PUD commissioner and Angeles Electric owner Ted Simpson did when he was elected, Jensen said.

"I have no problem doing that," Jensen said.

Checks and balances are in place to guard against any abuse of position or conflict of interest, he said.

Although the "Save Our PUD" signs appear next to Haffner's campaign signs, Haffner said at Thurday's debate that the signs are not his doing.

They are the product of a group of people led by Jay Ketchum that is "real concerned" about the conflict of interest issue, Haffner said.

They care about the district's customers and employees and don't want to see Clallam PUD become like the city of Port Angeles where

only favored people get permits, he said.

Jensen responded that "they" actually is Ketchum, who is the only contributor to the signs.

The "Save Our PUD" signs are placed either on or alongside Haffner's campaign signs, so it's hard to believe that Haffner is unaware of them or uninvolved with them, Jensen said. "The PUD isn't broken and it doesn't have to be saved."

Simpson has served Clallam PUD while working in the same field and state laws are in place to prevent conflicts of interest and abuses of power, he said.

"No, it's not going to happen," Jensen said.

Ketchum said Monday that "there's a message to tell" and the signs, which cost him an estimated $15,000, are intended to do that.

"I don't know how (someone in that position) can hold the office. Most people haven't been enlightened yet but they will be. Jensen's people know what it means. There's nothing wrong with the PUD now," he said.

According to the company's Web site, CPI was created in 2001 from a partnership between Bill Roberds (owner of Excel Utility Construction Inc.), Bob Jensen (owner/partner of Angeles Communications Inc.) and computer, network and telecommunications professional Craig Johnson.

Then in 2002, CPI entered another partnership with the city of Port Angeles and Northland Cable (now Wave Broadband) to create an interconnecting fiber optic ring that provided the city with high-speed fiber optic data access to the Internet.

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