There’s a battle brewing over which Clallam County commissioner candidate is a true fiscal conservative and Linda Barnfather is coming out swinging.
Barnfather criticized the spending habits of her opponent Jim McEntire, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner, during her opening comments at an Oct. 3 debate before the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I will treat your money as if it were my own,” she said, promising she wouldn’t spend $78 on state dinners or $1.49 on bottled water at Safeway.
Barnfather’s remarks referenced expense claims filed by McEntire with the Port of Port Angeles, totaling about $35,000 since he assumed his position as port commissioner in January 2008.
The expenses include five trips to Washington, D.C., trips to San Diego, Calif., and Alaska, hotel stays in Tacoma, Olympia, Seattle and other Washington cities, sometimes at more than $200 a night with additional charges such as $15 a day for high speed Internet and $13 for cashews. Receipts show “promotional” dinners with government employees at $78 and one voucher filed by former port director Bob McChesney showed a $271 tab for a dinner with McEntire and former deputy director, rehired as trade and economic development director, David Hagiwara in April 2009.
McEntire moved to fire Hagiwara in September 2008, citing budget issues.
“I have to be mindful of the port’s cost of doing business and I’m just looking at how we can get the least cost of doing business,” McEntire said in a Sept. 24, 2008, Sequim Gazette article. Hagiwara was rehired as trade and economic development director for the port in December 2008.
Barnfather took issue specifically with McEntire buying bottled water, which according to receipts filed with expense claims is a common purchase of the port commissioner.
McEntire also frequently purchases seafood items, including crab soup, crab cakes, crab sandwiches and crab benedict breakfast dishes.
The Port of Port Angeles has an annual travel budget upward of $100,000, none of which is funded by tax money. Tax levy funding is spent on capital projects and debt service on prior years’ capital projects, according to the port budget.
“Whether it’s legal or not, it is not fiscally responsible,” Barnfather said at the debate. “We can’t let elected officials party on our dime.”
McEntire responded in his closing arguments, stating the expenses reflect an active, engaged port commissioner, not personal junkets.
“That inference is not worthy of a serious campaign for county commissioner,” he said.
Barnfather and McEntire both touted their qualifications, which come from different arenas.
McEntire, a seasoned government employee, entered the U.S. Coast Guard at 18, eventually serving as a commanding officer for 16 years, a civil servant in Washington, D.C., for six years and is entering his fourth year as a Port of Port Angeles commissioner.
“I have the experiential requisites necessary,” he said.
One of his concerns is the declining median household income within Clallam County, he said. As commissioner, he staunchly would be against raising any taxes and he would recommend the county do all it can to push the economy forward.
Barnfather said her background as both a small business owner and a legislative assistant to state Reps. Lynn Kessler and Kevin Van De Wege gives her a balanced approach to both the budget process of government and managing a payroll.
She supports family wage jobs and knows how cumbersome government regulations can be on small business owners, she said.
At the debate, Dan Gase asked the candidates how they would spend an extra $1 million in the county budget if, hypothetically, they could do whatever they want with it.
Barnfather said she would invest it in infrastructure to attract and retain businesses in the county. Good infrastructure is needed to accommodate growth, she said.
McEntire said he would give it back to taxpayers as a first choice and as a second choice also would invest in infrastructure.
When asked what they would cut if they had to, Barnfather said commissioners have to look at the core functions of government and cut what isn’t essential.
Though parks and the county’s fair facilities help the quality of life, they are not essential functions of government, she said.
“Though it breaks my heart,” she said. “They are jewels.”
McEntire said he wasn’t sure what he would cut. All elected officials within the county government would need to decide together, he said.
Barnfather and McEntire will meet for another debate at 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6, at The Cedars at Dungeness, 1965 Woodcock Road, Sequim.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.