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

Candidates for sheriff, assessor face off at forum


October 11, 2018

Diana Zimmerman

Candidates for local and regional elected offices gathered in Grays River Tuesday for a forum sponsored by the Grays River Grange.

The Grays River Grange hosted a candidate forum moderated by Grangemaster Krist Novoselic. Candidates from state races to local races were invited to speak and answer questions. The Eagle will focus on two local races: Assessor and Sheriff.

Candidates for sheriff introduced themselves and then answered questions from the audience. Here are some of their thoughts.

Graham Phalen: "I'm a Republican candidate for sheriff. I've lived here for about three years. We moved here so we could combine our love of boats and horses on the same property. I've been in law enforcement for 23 and a half years. I work for the Clackamas County Sheriff's office with 550 other people to serve about 440,000 people. I'm not running against Howie because he is a bad man and we disagree. We are both cops and we both bleed blue, but we have different philosophies on how we spend money and how we would organize our resources for our department. I am fiscally conservative, I would not say I'm socially in any one particular box. I go with what works. We are not going to arrest our way out of the opioid crisis and poverty. This is not about bringing a big city approach to the problems in our modestly sized community. What I bring to the table is a lot of creativity and experience bringing communities together to solve crime problems, not a one size fits all approach. I have a law degree, but I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a politician, just a cop's cop, working patrol, working the rivers. I have experience as a detective and a sergeant but I work patrol right now, that is where my passion is.

"We can do some things to get more bodies on the street, increase more visibility, address some of the crime problems that you are experiencing in your neighborhoods."

Sheriff Mark Howie: "The first thing I saved my money for was a sheriff's kit for kids. It included a cowboy hat and two six shooters, cap guns, and a badge. I wore that thing out. It was a calling I had when I was eight years old. I always knew I'd be helping, saving, rescuing people. My calling was to help people as a police officer.

"I spent 20 years in Tukwila, and found myself in leadership positions, put there by peers and supervisors. I went into a lot of different specialities. Bicycle patrol, crime prevention, I spent time in a narcotics unit, as a detective, sergeant patrol, a detective sergeant. I received mid management certification.

"Jon Dearmore asked me to come down here to be undersheriff. I thought I would retire as undersheriff. Due to circumstances I was appointed sheriff. Since then I've been sheriff for six years.

"My heart is always to serve. For a department our size, with the limited funds, we've been able to balance the budget for six years in a row. I too am fiscally conservative."

One audience member questioned Phalen's intention to do away with the undersheriff position and stated his intention to vote for Howie.

A resident shared a story about a break in at her Cathlamet home and asked about policies and procedures for similar incidents.

"I run stats every week when I come into the office," Howie said. "I keep track of where there might be patterns of thefts. We get more thefts than we do burglaries. Most of them are from garages and shops. You were kind of an anomaly as far as someone breaking into a house and taking stuff. When we see patterns of that happening, we try to form some soft of emphasis in that area. We tend to get tips from people because we are so small. More often than not, we catch them at some point."

"Crime analysis is a science," Phalen said. "It's pretty hard to do when you have a real small sample."

He suggested increasing visibility of cops in the area or forming a neighborhood watch, and putting up cameras or lights with motion sensors.

Someone asked Sheriff Howie how many drug houses were in the community when he started, and how many there were now?

"They don't sit in a house; they are usually a lower level dealer," Howie said. "They move from house to house, or are transient from here to Longview. So we really have small time users and dealers out here."

One man asked why a jail roster was not posted on the internet?

"At any given time, we have 4-7 people in the jail, you can always call the office," Howie said. "But we're open to improving. We have a victim's advocate in the prosecutor's office. If someone called our office and asked to be told we would absolutely do that."

"I think it's a great idea, I don't see any impediment to it," Phalen said. "You guys have a lot of great ideas and there has to be communication and openness to those ideas. There is no reason we shouldn't call you if you are a vulnerable victim."

Phalen said he had been thinking about ways to provide a quicker response to situations on the westend, including the purchase of a residence to house an incoming deputy.

Candidates for Assessor followed with introductions and a question and answer session.

Bill Coons: "I expect you know that I am the only candidate with any real estate experience. I've been accredited by the Department of Revenue.

"Yet over 200 more of you voted for my opponent in the primary. Being an engineer I wanted to figure this out and fix it, that's what we do. It took a chance conversation with another engineer for the light bulb to come on. My opponent is selling the idea that being an assessor is rocket science, and that being in the military he could easily pick up the skills and that I've treated people badly. He's a nice guy. You should trust him to do what he says he will. He assures that he will acquire the entire skill set needed after 30 days training and working with local real estate agents. I'm here to tell you that it's not that easy. This position requires extensive background and training and that's why counties around us in southwest Washington have assessors with years of experience. Voters know how important experience is.

"When first elected, I said I would lower values and I have. In fact, the value of the county is $40 million dollars lower than when I took office. It takes knowledge of the market, the law, and the Department of Revenue regulations to do that. I promised to implement annual revaluation where every property gets a new value every year and I did. If I could have lower taxes, I would have. The assessor doesn't determine the tax burden. The assessor spreads the burden around by valuing the property fairly."

Brian McClain: I'm not a politician. What you get is what you see, for better or worse. I see a community that wants the taxes they pay to be fair and equitable and equal to people with similar properties. To have our appraisals return to fair market value. Experience in the real estate industry is not required, what is required is to be accredited by the Department of Revenue, which I am getting. What we are looking at is you want somebody in there who does their best and listens to people and their questions. If you have a question, I think you deserve to be listened to. We can come to an agreement; not everything has to go to the Board of Equalization. I believe there are a lot of retired people that are not getting the exemptions they deserve."

"I'm extremely concerned about the protest vote against you," one man said to Coons. "I know you may not have the best bedside manner but I've spoken with people who are concerned. Our homes are our biggest investment for some of us. How long do you think it would take Brian to get up to speed to do the job properly?"

Coons said it took him about three years to get up to speed.

McClain responded, saying that there were formulas and worksheets and things you need to do to be competent at the job.

"I'm not there to try to sell someone's property for as much as I can get," McClain said. "I am there to evaluate the value of the property and make sure the appraisal matches fair market value."

A question came up about Coons' accreditation, which he recently renewed.

"Other people on the staff were accredited," Coons said, noting that operations were not affected by his delay in renewal.

Candidates for assesssor--incumbent Bill Coons

McClain said that it was a criminal offense to assess property without being accredited by the Department of Revenue.

Coons was asked how many parcels he had personally assessed.

"We are required to inspect one quarter of the county once every four years, with annual revaluation that changed to every six years," Coons said. "I've been around the whole county at least once."

"Inspection is different from assessment," he added. "With annual revaluation, everybody gets valued every year, whether they get inspected or not. I participate in that process with my staff, evaluating 4,000 parcels. I've inspected maybe 100 new constructions."

"We need to make sure property descriptions are accurate," McClain said, "so that property taxes can be done properly."


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