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Republican challenges Thorn for county commissioner

A Navy veteran and 5-year resident of North Whidbey is challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Thorn for the District 3 seat on the Island County Board of Commissioners in November’s general election.

District 3 includes Whidbey Island north of Oak Harbor and all of Camano Island. Traditionally, its commissioner lives on Camano as does Thorn, but Byrd is hoping to end that tradition.

Bill Byrd, a Republican, said on Tuesday he decided to throw his hat in the ring primarily out of concerns over the county’s current budget crisis, a situation he feels might not improve soon and which will call for some tough decisions on the part of the board of commissioners.

“The budget is going to remain a big issue,” Byrd said, adding that in a period of decreasing state and county revenues, it’s crucial that commissioners work to maintain core public services while also acting to stimulate economic revitalization.

Byrd, who currently serves as president of the Sunrise Hills Community Association and is a trustee of the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, said that the current board of commissioners has done a “relatively good job” in dealing with budget cuts. What he can bring to the table, he says, is a lifetime’s worth of experience in “executive level” problem-solving, a strong sense of fiscal responsibility and good old administrative know-how.

Byrd served 30 years in the U.S. Navy, first in the submarine forces as a chief petty officer and later as a commissioned officer, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree from Naval Postgraduate School. After retirement, he worked at Raytheon Company where he managed missile and electronic warfare systems. He later was involved repairing ships in the Gulf War.

Byrd said such combined experience with the Navy and in the private sector, coupled with a lifelong involvement in “grass roots” politics, grants him a solid foundation to work for the common interest of the citizens of Island County.

“It goes back to work ethic and civic responsibilities,” he said. “You’ve got to be responsible to your constituents, and if you’re not, you’re not going to last long.”

Also having played quarterback on various football teams in the Navy, Byrd added that he knows the value of cooperation as well. “You have to be a team player,” he added. “You learn real fast that you’re not the only person out there.”

Regarding the issue of economic revitalization, Byrd said as a commissioner he would work to encourage the movement of new businesses into the area, especially “clean” or non-polluting industries such as software development and service-oriented companies.

“We really need to do something here to develop some sort of tax base,” he said, adding that he believes the Island County Economic Development Council should be fully utilized in its capacity to bring new businesses into the area.

As a related matter, Byrd said seeking ways to improve transportation would place high on his list of priorities, both in terms of facilitating commuter traffic flows as well as bringing back reliable commercial air travel to the region. “That’s something we really need to do,” he said. “The loss of the Oak Harbor airport is hurting the local business environment.”

Byrd said that in dealing with future budget shortfalls, commissioners need to take a larger role in working with the state to determine how mandated programs can be preserved. He said if elected he will lobby at the state and federal level in order that core public services receive adequate funding.

Although he recognizes that it will be necessary to cut back in certain departments, Byrd said he would be loathe right now to make any dents in the realm of law and justice.

“One thing I feel strongly about is the sheriff’s situation,” he said. “It’s probably the wrong time to be cutting back in that area.”

According to Byrd, “property ownership and the family unit are the foundations of our free society,” and he said one of the biggest issues now facing the county is maintaining public safety and emergency management in a time of economic downturn for county government.

Byrd characterizes himself as a straight-shooter with a strong sense of civic responsibility. “I want to be factual,” he said about his campaign. “I don’t want to mislead people or blow things out of proportion. I’m not going to try to get in the mud and be destructive.

“I want to make a difference,” he said.

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