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

Forum: Candidates for sheriff speak


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 third group to take the stage were candidates for prosecuting attorney and sheriff.

The two candidates for sheriff were incumbent Mark Howie (I) and challenger, Graham Phalen (R).

Here is what they had to say:

Phalen: Howdy neighbors. My name is Graham Phalen. I’m a resident of the island for the past two and a half years, where I’ve lived with my wife of 30 years. We’ve also moved my daughter and three grandchildren to Cathlamet. You might have known me from sometimes seeing me on the ambulance and the fire truck. When I’m here, I’m dedicated to serving you and I want to serve you more as your sheriff. I started out in law enforcement, been in it for 23 years. Currently employed in Clackamas County where I commute 90 miles to do that but I’d rather be here doing it for you. I’ve been everywhere from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the river and just about every job assignment you can imagine from detective to sergeant, working in marine, working in case management, working in internal affairs, working investigations, working major crimes, working as a lieutenant for the last 11 years. I think we need to get back to the basics. I want to get us back to being out in the community, being more visible in the community, kind of a no call too small philosophy. That’s kind of what we depend on. It’s the old frontier ethic, when we all depend on each other, each other’s talents, each other’s perspectives no matter how diverse, to solve community problems. In law enforcement we need to have a cultural change. That’s a big ask. Getting more professional, making sure we’re properly trained, making sure that you’re being served and we’re checking with you to define the problems rather than having us define the problems and having us thinking we’ve got the best solutions. It’s involvement in the community and bringing you back with us and then checking back with you to see how we’re doing.

Howie: It’s been an honor and privilege to be your elected sheriff for the past six years. The priority for me is and always has been to partner with the community, with our citizens, our community groups, our schools and our government officials, who I have fostered very good relationships with over the last six years. My wife and I have been in this county for 13 years. We have a lot of family in the county. Kids, grandkids, my mom. I was born in Boise, ID. I was raised in Idaho and eastern Washington. I graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree. I spent 20 years in Tukwila and retired there as a major crimes sergeant where I served a city that had the highest felonies per capita in the whole United States.

What are your plans to have a larger presence at the school?

Phalen: I think we have the ability to get grant money to get an SRO in the schools. but we not only need to be looking at our Cathlamet high school, but the westside and Naselle. We have a lot of students there as well. My plan is to not hire an undersheriff within the first year and use those savings to accomplish training goals and get staffing up to speed. We need to put staffing first and put our kids first. I think within the first two or three years with the cooperation of the schools and creative funding we can have an SRO in the schools.

Howie: I can answer to getting a School Resource Officer. We’ve tried on several occasions to get another grant. The funds are just not there. So we have a liaison officer on the day shifts that are assigned to go to the school and be the point of contact for them. I just want to go back and address something my opponent said about increasing the professionalism in our office. I believe for the last six years, we have awesome staff, very professional deputies, for the most part they have a good trust with the community and they are in touch with our community. I want to praise our office for the job that they do. There is not one sheriff in this state who would eliminate his undersheriff and leave his second in command to a sergeant.

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

Phalen: We can’t just be bosses. Leaders need to be open and know that their employees understand their trials and tribulations. You have to treat them like family. You need to listen. You need to be clear and concise with your directions. You need to let them know that the hard work that they do is appreciated and that the sacrifices that their families make is not only appreciated and a vital part of what we do every day. Law enforcement and first response is a family.

Howie: I absolutely agree with that. But I think that the best way for most offices when there is an opponent running is for the election to be over. It’s just natural in an office, especially in my office. I’ve got 20 employees, dozens of volunteers, different groups of people and in a county this small you’re not going to get 100 percent support from your people. But I guarantee I praise my people all the time.

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

Howie: We have a good relationship with HHS. It’s difficult when there are new employees, but we always have to bring them up to speed with what we’re doing. But over the years, there has been a definite improvement in the way they respond and the way we respond together to crisis in the community. They have a crisis team that was developed last year. It has helped a lot. We have a lot of mental health issues in the community. We see it in the jails all the time. We want to get people help, but we have such limited resources both by the state and funding and just people to provide that help. We have an advisory board and we partake in all those meetings and try to come up with solutions constantly. They are good partners.

Phalen: In my current job, I have four mental health crisis workers who are all Ph.D.s or Masters degrees who go out with us every single day and help us deal with mental health crises in the field. We can do more to increase our ability to be responsive and to be flexible in those responses by involving mental health, not just when we have a crisis but when we see the bus a’coming.


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