Rick Nelson: The format tonight will be a debate style program where I’ll ask a question and one candidate will have an opportunity to respond, the next candidate can respond, and then if they would like to do some rebuttal, there will be a short rebuttal.
Question: Tell us about your background, where you came from, your education, business and professional experience and what other community activities and organizations that you belong to.
Mike Balch: Thank you Rick and I would again like to extend a thank you to the Woman’s Club of Cathlamet for giving us this time and giving us this forum. I would like to thank my wife for her support. I am from Sekiu, Washington, which has a population of about 50 if you count the dogs and cats in the winter, and is about 55 miles west of Port Angeles. I graduated from Clallam Bay in 1976 and went immediately from there to Pacific Lutheran University, and from 1976 to 1980 pursued my degree in communication arts and broadcast journalism. I received my bachelors degree in 1980. I was a professional disc jockey for several years after that. And in 1982, Chief Bryson from the Forks Police Department invited me to be a member of the police department. He said I was so good on the radio, he thought I could be better on the radio in the police force, so I became dispatcher/jailer for the Forks Police Department. While there I attended the dispatch academy. I also attended the corrections academy, successfully completing both and also a six month reserve police officer academy because as I worked in the Forks Police Department as a dispatcher I found I wanted to be on the road as a patrol officer and not just in the office dispatching. In 1984 I met Gene Strong at a social event in Forks and he asked me if I would test for the position of deputy sheriff and in 1984 in July I went directly from the Forks police department to the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s office where I’ve been ever since. While at the sheriff’s office here in the Cathlamet, I’ve come to pick my wife here, come to raise my children and really just fell in love with this place and the people here. I have attended and successfully completed the criminal justice training commission in Burien and from there I have 29 more years of schooling and maintaining certification as a police officer in the state of Washington. Classes that are appropriate to mention, first level supervision comes to mind. I have been a board member of a local church for about 10 years, and quite active in that church. Cathlamet is my home.
Question: Why do you want to run for the position of sheriff? What kinds of things would you like to accomplish as sheriff?
Howie: That’s two questions there. The first question, I find this is where I belong and as sheriff, in the last year, I’ve felt comfortable taking over the role. We have accomplished quite a few things even during these devastating trials that we’ve all gone through, the community and the sheriff’s office, this year. I’ve got a long list of accomplishments; I’m not going to list them all here. We’ve had some trying times, it hasn’t always been smooth, but I feel like we’ve gotten through a lot of them. I do just want to mention a couple things we’ve done this year including having a deputy at Johnson Park storefront on Tuesday afternoons. We have created block watch neighborhood watch programs in Deep River and other areas. We have the drug take back on west and east sides of the county that we accomplished this year. We have moved the speed trailer around in areas of different neighborhoods, night out against crime and started a marine law enforcement cadet program. All the deputies and most of the staff from the sheriff’s office participated in kids and cops day. That was just a really successful day bringing the kids over from St. James Family Center. Just about every deputy participated. We also had a citizens’ police academy. We had a record number of applicants; 52 who signed up for the class, then we had to cut it off at 30. We recruited three new deputy reserves, two of the deputies were hired on with other agencies full time, so we’re back down to five at this point, and lots of different arrests throughout the year including capturing two burglars (inaudible) ring there. Arresting a teen who was a leader responsible for thousands dollars of vandalism in six different cases. Open door policy, I’ve had that throughout this whole year and have continued to do so. That is for staff and citizens alike. People can stop by and have stopped by on a dime’s notice to talk to me about any concerns. COPs, community oriented policing, that is my philosophy, always has been, improving relations with the community. At the school, security, fitness, westend coverage and chaplain program.
Balch: Why I want to be your sheriff is because I want to establish a sense of community attentiveness. I want to reestablish what I see as more communication between the sheriff’s office and the community. I want to see that as something that’s not forbidden to do. I want to make it clear, This is tough for me, because this is a man I’m running against who is my boss, who I respect. So when I say these things, I don’t take this lightly, this is something I want to do. My vision for the sheriff’s office is to be communicative with the people of the county. I want them to know because I care about the county I have an investment in the county. I want them to know that someone is there that they have known. You’re not voting for a resume, you’re voting for a person. I am someone that has been here almost 29 and a half years. People that know me know what that means. I stand for integrity, I stand for honesty, not that Mark doesn’t. This is a positive campaign, I’m not going to bad mouth this man up here or anywhere else or in the back walls anywhere. I stand for integrity I stand for truth. If you come to me and ask me for something, I will give you my honest answer, which may be I don’t know.
Question: Mark, did you want to add anything in relation to your vision for the office.
Howie: Yes. I quickly named them, but beyond that, the bottom line for me that I just need to put out there and really, this is from my heart, is as sheriff I work for you, and I don’t work for me. The bottom line job that I have and this department has, the deputies and everybody else that is staffing it, is your safety and security. It’s number one. Sometimes I may be serious and I’m not joking around. Other times people have seen my sense of humor. But when it comes to this business, it’s business for me. I can hang with the best of them. My goal is to bring the best safety and security in this department and for the citizens.
Question: Mike, did you have anything that you wanted to add?
Balch: One of the things I want to accomplish is to bring back the sense of the working sheriff and the working undersheriff. More so than is now. Mark has gone out on call with me before and with the other deputies but I want to bring back a working sheriff, I want less administration and more people out on the street. I want more cops visible when people look out their windows, as much as we can. We are a small department, we are limited, I’m not a miracle worker. We have only so many resources, but I want all the resources we have to be out there for you, helping you.
Question: What staff is necessary to accomplish your goals? Is our budget appropriation sufficient for you to do that? If the budget precludes you from reaching that staffing level what would your priorities be for response and activities for the sheriff’s department?
Balch: The question of budget and what it is since I’ve been in the sheriff’s office, the budget has allowed for seven people. Five deputies, undersheriff and sheriff. Mark has implemented a sergeant position there and one of the deputies is not there but the budget is sufficient if we get everybody working together. I don’t know exactly what the budget numbers are and if I’m elected it will be a learning curve for me. But I know how to do a budget, I maintained a budget at home and I helped maintain a budget for the church and done it very successfully. I understand line items and barcodes. What the bottom line is, I can read a budget.I think it is sufficient. We’re always looking for more funding and any sheriff that I’ve ever worked for is always looking for more funding elsewhere. That’s why we have the council of governments to help us look for grants and things like that to make us more effective.
Howie: Again, kind of a two part question. The first one is about staffing levels and the other is about budget. Staffing levels, I can tell you, I can look you in the face, and tell you that myself and my undersheriff work an average of 45-50 hours a week. We take calls and listen to complaints. We take calls at home on the weekends. Being the sheriff is a 24 hour, seven day a week job, bottom line. I want to read to you a list of administrative duties, this is not even inclusive, for a sheriff. You cannot do this job sitting in the front seat of a patrol car all the time. If my guys need me out there, I’m there. If the public has an emergency and we don’t have a person staffing that hour, if they can’t get a hold of a deputy, they call me, they call my undersheriff. I’ve been out numerous times at four o’clock in the morning taking calls for an alarm or a suspicious person. Let me just tell you what being a sheriff entails. Responsibilities include establishing goals and objectives for the sheriff’s office, managing the writing of a 2.9 million dollar budget. Working with other department heads and board of commissioners, relations with neighboring sheriffs and chiefs. Overseeing 64 personnel, to include the jail, and inmate security, patrol, 911, search and rescue, reserve deputies. Recruitment, selection and supervision of employees, assessing training needs, establishing code of conduct, internal investigations, evidence and property control functions, Department of Emergency Management, grantwriting, serving and executing civil processes. Overseeing records management. Setting policies and procedures, manage chaplain program, maintain good labor relations with the union, and responding to calls or backing up officers. I have done all of those.
Question: Anything to add, Mike?
Balch: That’s a pretty big list. I’ve worked in the union on the labor side not in management side, but I’verepresented union labor for at least four of the union contracts, and I have assisted in managing search and rescue, when we’ve had search and rescue, at the sheriff’s request and I’ve assisted in DEM when there are DEM problems going on. That is the list that the sheriff has responsibility for and it’s a pretty big responsibility and I understood that.
Howie: This is an answer to the budget question. Mike is right, we have a limited budget, I’m operating our current expense budget on 2009 numbers, so I’m working on a budget from four years ago as far as our expenses are concerned. I have managed many budgets, including my own business with my wife, three different businesses, was on a board of directors in charge of $400,000 for a recreation group. I’ve managed a budget for our own household, as well as a rental property that we’ve owned. I know all about numbers, I know how to run a tight budget. But I also know how to get the things we need for our guys and our ladies. It’s not always easy, but there is creative ways of doing that, there’s grants, there is working with the board of commissioners and finding some creative funding and there is a whole host of things you can do to find the things you need. If it meant cutting staffing, I’d say no we couldn’t do that any further with the budget, in fact I’d like to see some creative ways of funding another deputy or two.
Balch: You do more with less by having all your resources active and using them to their fullest capacity. That is the only way I see of doing more with less, but you always look for constant funding. We had a deputy that until recently was fully funded by the meth initiative. They took the meth initiative away from us, or most of it and there are things like that that come along all the time. We’re currently looking for a school resource officer funding. I think the undersheriff is trying to write the grant for that right now. But to do more with less you have to look for what’s out there and be creative.
Howie: Grants are the major thing. When I was undersheriff, I wrote two grants that brought a DEM, a part time position as well as some other funding through the drug initiative. And as sheriff, I had my undersheriff submit an application for a school resource officer and that is still pending at this point.
Question: You two are steeped in law enforcement culture and everything that it involves, the sheriff’s department and law enforcement. What do we citizens need to know to understand what you are up against operating in our area?
Balch: Thank you for letting me answer that first. Because we need everybody that’s out here, I’m just absolutely thrilled that as many people are out here as are here. Because we need your help. If the Island ever floods, like apparently a dike broke in 1948, and started flooding here. We need all you people. Reverse 911 sounds really good and it works really effectively but still there’s nothing like having people filling the sand bags when we need filling the sand bags or people helping out with the flood routes. It’s a matter of having the rapport and relationship with the community that you serve so that when you need help, the five or six people or seven people in the sheriff’s office that work on the deputy side aren’t going to be enough to help, it’s the people that live here that are going to make the difference. The volunteers that we have in the sheriff’s office that make the difference and the volunteers in the search and rescue, they make the difference. Every sheriff I’ve worked for has told me that, it’s our volunteers, you have a core of sheriff’s office personnel that are dedicated, but having the relationship with the community, that will get us through tough times.
Howie: I agree with Mike on that, and also add it includes the community and people being involved whether that’s going to citizens academy or becoming VIPS or just stopping in and chatting with the sheriff or the deputies there at the office and that goes in line with my philosophy of community oriented policing and I know that’s kind of been a catch phrase for a couple decades now, but it’s really important to me that people know their sheriff’s office, they know their deputies. Whether that is going on the website and seeing all their faces and knowing what their names are and being able to identify who is your deputies. It’s a small enough county, community that everybody should be able to name all the deputies, sheriff and undersheriff and it’s amazing how many don’t. That’s a huge goal for me, to move our department forward so people have ownership in their sheriff’s office.
Question: Please describe for us the biggest problem or challenge you’ve encountered while working in law enforcement, what action you took to resolve it and what did you learn from that experience?
Balch: I could answer that a couple of different ways. One of the biggest challenges to me in law enforcement since I grew up and we used a royal typewriter and 3x5 index cards when I started in law enforcement. I’ll tell you right now, and I won’t even stutter. It is social media. Cell phone crimes, computer crimes, high tech computer crimes. I think my son can talk faster with his thumb typing out a digital text message than I can talk in person and I was a professional disc jockey for four years. The crimes involved in victimizing our elderly, victimizing every one of us through the computer systems is just a huge challenge to us. I had a gentleman call the other day about being hacked and I had to tell him, unless I take this up to the state patrol high tech crime lab, I’m just looking at a box of bolts and I don’t have a clue. It has been a growing challenge for me as a law enforcement officer ever since Bill Gates developed Microsoft and windows. That’s one that is my biggest challenge.
Howie: I was thinking on a grand scale, so I don’t know if this going to answer the same question. There would be two things that have been the biggest challenge to me and my career and I won’t go into detail on the first one. The first one would be the mall shooting that I was involved in at Southcenter mall in Tukwila and there were 10’s of thousands of people when a shooter came in and took out one 17 year old, killed him and shot another one. I had me and five officers on duty and that was it. We got him later in Portland and arrested him and he’s doing time. The biggest thing I learned from that is working with outside agencies when the time arose. And when you’re in need and calling in and coordinating other units from other agencies and communicating with them and setting up a command post and going from there. That was the biggest lesson I learned the biggest thing I got out of that. And I would have to say beyond that though, emotionally, psychologically, would be the death of Jon Dearmore. Two days after that I was appointed sheriff, and managing the operations of the department and the people in grief and sorrow and the community in sorrow and still managing that and coordinating outside agencies to coordinate that memorial for him all without an undersheriff, we got through that though. What I learned from that I guess, the thing that just stuck in my head was just how strong and resilient our sheriff’s office employees were. It was amazing and amazing to see the support from the community. You were all there for us, as we tried to be there for you even in safety and security issues and through God’s grace we were able to do it.
Balch: The death of Mr. Dearmore took a large toll on me also as I was there to view it in person and he was a friend for a decade before that and his family remains friends. What can you add to that. It was a tragedy.
Question: If you win the election, will your opponent still have job in the sheriff’s office?
Balch: I only have one way to answer that question. He won’t have the job of sheriff or undersheriff. There will be an opening in the sheriff’s office with me moving up to sheriff and he has the ability to apply for that and will get equal consideration with everybody else.
Howie: When I’m elected sheriff, absolutely he will be a part of the sheriff’s office and continue to be a valuable asset to the community and office.
Question: Tell us why you are the best candidate for the position of Wahkiakum County Sheriff.
Howie: I think Mike and I both feel the same way about the community and the sheriff’s office. I don’t think either one of us care more than the other. With that said, I’ve got a wealth of experience both in supervision and management and throughout my whole life I’ve been given roles in leadership and management with increasing responsibility. I’ve been your sheriff for a year now. I love this job. I feel it in my heart every time I talk with somebody who comes in my office. We have unique things happening in our country and everywhere today. Law enforcement isn’t the same. We have unique crimes and safety concerns that we didn’t have in the past. I’m here to lead this department and this community into the future. If you vote for me, that’s what you’ll get. A sheriff that’s there 50 hours a week, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I am here to hear concerns at all times. People come up to my house on the weekends and they want to talk to me about an incident that just occurred 10 minutes ago. I don’t call the deputy, I deal with it. A deputy calls me anytime, 24 hours a day, I answer the phone even when I’m on vacation. That’s the kind of person I am. I will work tirelessly and sacrifice everything.
Balch: I think I mentioned this a little bit at the start, but when you elect a sheriff, you’re electing a person. I am the best for the job, I believe because being a sheriff is about relationships. I relate well with the current county commissioners though I’ve never been up there in the position to ask them for money. I relate well with the staff on the courthouse level, Kay Holland, Bill Faubion. I believe I’m the best one for the job, because I have the most rounded background as far as experience in corrections, experience in dispatch, experience as a deputy sheriff and detective. That’s why I believe I would be the best sheriff. If I didn’t believe that I don’t think I would want to waste my time. This is not an easy thing I’ve found in this campaign. A lot of different questions a lot of things you never knew would come up and some things I was not prepared to be asked, and I’ll admit that, but I think that that is why I would be best for the job.
Coast Community Radio, KMUN 91.9 FM, will broadcast a recording of the debate this Sunday at 7 p.m., and Producer Kathleen Morgain will broadcast a half hour of highlights at 9:30 a.m. next Monday.