The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Forum: Candidates for prosecutor speak

 

August 2, 2018



By Diana Zimmerman

On June 27, a candidate forum was held before a full house at the Skamokawa Grange. Each candidate was given an opportunity to introduce themselves before answering questions from the audience.

The two candidates for prosecuting attorney were incumbent Dan Bigelow (D) and challenger Stewart Feil (I)Here is what they had to say:

Bigelow:I have been the county prosecuting attorney for 12 years. I’ve been an attorney for 25 years and lived here for about 24 years. Before I became the prosecuting attorney, I had already developed expertise in this job. I had prosecuted and defended felony and misdemeanor cases in Wahkiakum County and outside of it for years. I’d also been a government advisor, giving legal advise to county and city governments which is kind of the job here. My experience as a volunteer EMT for the Cathlamet Fire Department turned out to be quite handy, because being the prosecuting attorney of a small county also means being coroner. The medical experience that I got turned out to be key in hitting the ground running as the coroner. I’m kind of an outlier in prosecutor/coroner terms because most of us come almost exclusively through the legal side. I’ve also, of course, in the last 12 years continued as an advisor of county government, advising all aspects of county government including the elected officials. I’ve developed a trust and rapport with all of them over the years, as a result everyone of them, regardless of their politics, has endorsed my election campaign. I’ve also in the last 12 years honed my criminal law skills from misdemeanors up to the more complicated felonies. Every Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s deputy endorses me regardless of their politics.

Feil: I want to be your county prosecuting attorney. Didn’t always want to be a prosecuting attorney, didn’t always want to be an attorney. I spent my youth wanting to be an astronaut. As you can see, I met those aspirations by charging into this new frontier. That’s one of those things that drives me in my desire to do everything. I want to learn, I want to expand, I want to grow. I’ve spent the last decade of my life dedicated to law. I’ve served as a defense attorney in Grant County, Kittitas County, and in Clark County. I currently serve as the Kelso City Prosecuting Attorney where last year I handled 755 cases compared to Wahkiakum County’s 200 some odd cases between district and felony. So I have the experience and I have the desire to seek justice. I believe in innovation in public office. We need to be doing stuff that benefits the community more. There are great needs in our community that need to be met. The county prosecutor has a unique position juxtaposed between law enforcement, the courts, and advising all of these department heads of the county. I’ve spent the last couple years working specifically with local municipal corporations and advising them. I’ve also spent a good portion of my time advising businesses. Businesses run a lot like government does. You need to know a little bit about efficiencies in systems, you need to know how to broker deals, you need to know how to manage people, you need to know how to negotiate deals, you need know what is possible and you need to aspire to do things that seem impossible and pursue those things. That’s what I want to do, I want to pursue the impossible for this county.

How do you feel you could improve the current morale of your office?

Bigelow: Margarita day is out, but that still leaves a lot of things to do. The best thing you can do to make people want to come in to the office every day is make it the kind of office people want to go into. Civility, friendliness in between the people that are there. Keeping the atmosphere light. Caring about each other when things go wrong. Management isn’t about making people do things, it’s about getting people to want to do things.

Feil: People are people. They are going to have conflicts with each other. They are going to have conflicts about their own ideas about things. People are going to have bad days. I pride myself on actually being able to connect with human beings and help them understand their own dilemmas, work through their own challenges, and their own problems. I believe that the work place is stressful. There are always going to be high stress days and high stress jobs that need to be done. We need to be prepared for that. We need to practice. I want anyone that I manage to know that my door is always open. I’m there to listen, understand, and help them do their job right.

How would you partner with HHS for mental health crisis calls?

Feil: There is a massive problem of jails being populated with the mentally ill. We should not be warehousing people in jails because they are mentally ill. We need to find another way to help them. I don’t have a miracle solution in my back pocket, but I have extensive experience working in mental health where I was able to bridge some communication gaps which occurred between the mentally ill and the professional treating them. I believe that it is possible in partnering with the sheriff’s office and the court to formulate a better way to address the issue to incentivize them to get onto the services that they need to keep them and the community safe. It can be done. King County does it. We are a tiny county, we could do something better, that is more agile and responsive here.

Bigelow: The mentally ill have been an underserved population for an awfully long time. As a result the police and prosecutors office and the jails have been a catchall. Its not right for them, it’s not safe for the public, as a result has been the subject of a lawsuit or two at a federal level by the people who have been warehoused instead of being treated. One of the benefits is that some money has been shaken loose and new programs are being started. Wahkiakum County has been the beneficiary of one of the first of these pilot programs with a new set of funding that is supposed to create a set of mental health professionals and peer groups that bridge the gap between folks who are just about to get into the criminal justice program when that is really not what they need. It’s showing promise and I’m excited to continue this program and see how well it works in the future. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else and we’ll keep trying until something works. These people have been given the wrong end of the stick for far too long.

 

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