Byrd or Thorn for commissioner?

Republican hopeful Bill Byrd is running his campaign for Island County Commissioner on the conviction that some hard work needs to be accomplished to prepare this budget-strapped county for future growth, and he’s ready to make the necessary tough decisions to right the ship.

Byrd, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Thorn for the District 3 position — which encompasses Whidbey north of Oak Harbor as well as Camano Island — said last week he feels prepared to hit the ground running if elected, despite a previous lack of experience with elected public office. He did well in the primary, out-polling the incumbent. Thorn explained his showing by saying the primary election attracted mostly Republican voters.

With his military background as an officer in the Navy, coupled with his management experience in the private sector and his recent time spent observing county government, Byrd argued that his past administrative experience will translate quickly into being an effective member of the board.

“I have really been on a steep learning curve,” Byrd said, adding that he’s sat in on plenty of board and budget-related meetings.

“I’ll give myself some credit, I have a pretty good feel for the issues,” he added. “All you have to do is open your eyes and look around, there’s so much right in your face.”

Having served numerous overseas commissions in the both the Navy and as a business man, including a stint overseeing hardware repairs for U.S. ships during the Gulf War, Byrd said he is well-matched with Thorn (an ex-Navy man himself) in the experience department. “I think my experience stands up to his any day,” Byrd said.

For Byrd, strong administrative and managerial experience is exactly what’s needed right now, as the county faces a serious money shortage due to poor sales tax revenues and the effects of tax-limiting initiatives, with little relief expected in the near future.

With an aim to helping solve such a financial crisis, Byrd has developed a set of four interrelated issues that are propelling his campaign: law and justice, improving transportation, economic revitalization, and the budget. Underlying these, he said, is a strong belief in the traditional values of hard work, integrity and individual accountability.

Byrd said he was “shocked” to learn recently that the rising incidence of crime in the county was youth-related, which he attributes largely to a “breakdown in our society.” Characterizing his approach to crime as a “carrot-and-stick” scenario, Byrd said he believes in offering strong incentives for youth to behave — including support for such “preventative” programs as 4-H and Boy Scouts — followed by swift and sure punishment for recidivism.

“It’s no secret that crime is on the increase,” Byrd said, adding that folks need to recognize that a breakdown in traditional values has occurred.

Byrd, a supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, said that he would work to instill a strong work ethic in kids by supporting local youth programs. Prevention is key. “You pay for it one way or the other,” he said, adding that it’s better to catch potential offenders on the front end of crime by offering incentives for good behavior.

However, Byrd also said he feels the “revolving door” in prisons needs to be stopped, and emphasized the need for a juvenile justice facility. “I’m not saying we need to be harsh or cruel to the kids, but they need to learn right from wrong,” he said. “The real issue here is that if you bring them up on charges, they’re back out on the street. They need to understand the consequences” of crime, he added. On this front, he said he’d lobby to avoid making further cuts to the budgets of the sheriff and the county prosecutor.

“To remove deputies is not the right thing to do,” Byrd said, adding that support of the Sheriff’s Office “would be one of my top priorities.”

However, Byrd said he’s ready to make the tough decisions when it comes to enacting budget cuts in other areas. With the county reserves significantly tapped, he said a further slimming of government services and personnel is practically unavoidable, though where exactly to start cutting will take some investigation.

“We’re going to have to sit down and figure out what’s important, and set some priorities,” he said.

As to issues of a more directly economic nature, Byrd emphasized the connectedness of his other major concerns, which include improving transportation, trimming the county’s budget and spurring economic growth. Each of these key issues impact one another, he said, with improvements in transportation, for instance, likely making the county a more attractive place for new businesses.

For Byrd, improving and expanding the county’s transportation system — not to mention making the highways safer for travel — is crucial to accommodating growth, while also being a major selling point to expanding the the local sales tax base through economic revitalization. Byrd said the lack of commuter air travel facilities is hurting the county, and he would work to develop air travel.

“I’m really talking about alternatives,” he said, adding that he’s consider advocating for locating a new connecting facility for commuter planes at the Navy’s Outlying Field near Coupeville.

This, Byrd argued, would help retain local businesses dependent on travel while also perhaps bringing new business to the region. The kinds of businesses he would encourage are traditional “mom & pop” retail organizations as well as such environmentally low-impact companies as software developers. In this regard, he said supporting development and protecting the environment go hand in hand.

Also in the realm of transportation is Byrd’s conviction that a closed-circuit cable connection should be developed between Whidbey Island, Camano Island and other counties. Specifically, he said as a commissioner he’d move toward establishing TV contact between the county seat in Coupeville and Camano, to cut down on the time and expense necessary to execute legal proceedings throughout the county. This way, Byrd said, folks charged in Camano could simply show up in court via television.

Closed-circuit access to board meetings would also give Camano resident a chance to partake more directly in county government proceedings. “There is a serious problem there,” Byrd said in reference to the disconnect between Whidbey and folks on Camano. “They want proper representation and they feel like they’re being left out and ignored.”

A North Whidbey resident himself, Byrd said he’d do all he can to overcome the classic Whidbey/Camano divide, which would include keeping twice-weekly office days on Camano. However, he has downplayed the issue of separation, saying that his main responsibility as an elected official is inclusive.

“If you are elected, you are a commissioner for all of Island County,” Byrd said.

Although at first glance Byrd and Thorn appear to share concerns over many of the same issues, Byrd nonetheless said a change at the level of county commissioner is due. In a sense, the choice between Byrd and Thorn breaks down to whether voters want a third Republicans on the board. Byrd presents a more conservative stance than Thorn. In his campaign literature, Byrd emphasizes his belief that “marriage should be defined as the legal union of one woman and one man,” as well as strong advocacy for the rights of victims and property owners.

Still, Byrd said he believes he would bring a sense of diversity to the board. “I feel like there is a need for different views,” he said. “People need to know that there are problems here, and I don’t see a lot of that happening.”

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