News

Fire district race cut to two

North Whidbey residents who live outside of the Oak Harbor city limits won’t be receiving an absentee ballot for the Sept. 16 primary election.

North Whidbey resident Jay Brand, a retired Seattle and Skagit County firefighter, pulled out of the race for fire commissioner, leaving just two candidates to battle it out in the November general election. If he would have stayed in, a primary election would have been required.

As it stands, the only primary contest on Whidbey will be for the mayor of Oak Harbor.

In Fire District 2, Larry Morse is running against incumbent Bruce Carman. Both men have extensive histories as volunteer firefighters within the district, though they have slightly different ideas about how the district should be run.

Brand said he was originally asked to run by folks from the district who were concerned about how things were being handled by the three current commissioners. His goal, he said, was to “get the incumbents out of there.”

But Brand backed out of the race after Morse signed up and is now throwing his support behind him. Brand plans to run again once the next incumbent comes up for re-election.

“Morse and I have similar views,” he said. “If I stayed in, it would have cost the district up to $5,000 for the (primary) election. I’m not worth that.”

While he concedes that he doesn’t have a lot of first-hand knowledge about the district, Brand claimed that the commissioners don’t follow the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act, plus he’s suspicious about how the purchase of fire trucks was handled.

Morse, who’s been a volunteer firefighters in the district for 25 years, said he’s also concerned about the lack of public input at commissioners’ meetings. Moreover, he feels that there should be more long-term planning in the district.

“There needs to be a good plan for future growth,” he said. He added that the district has to plan for losing some tax base as the city of Oak Harbor annexes county land.

Carman, however, said the commissioners have made “great progress” in the 13 years he’s been on the board, particularly since the district went from two part-time chiefs to one full-time chief. He also has 25 years experience as a volunteer firefighter.

Carman and the other commissioners took some fire from firefighters and others who were concerned about the way they went about hiring Marv Koorn as the full-time chief. But Carman said having a single administrator has worked out well. Koorn handles administration in the district, a function that often used to fall to the commissioners themselves.

Because of this, Carman said the district has been able to do some extensive long-range planning and keep in touch with the troops more effectively. Koorn holds monthly meetings with officers in the district reports to the commissioners about their comments and concerns.

Carman also points out that the commissioners “usually allow” public input during meetings and have set up committees of volunteers to held them with certain decisions, like the requirements of firetrucks.

“The lines of communication,” he said, “have opened up immensely from what they were.”

Carman said one of his goals as a commissioner has been “to keep the costs down for taxpayers.” The large district, which runs from Deception Pass to Libbey Road, is unique in that it is still largely staffed by volunteers, which is the key to keeping the costs down. Only the chief, office personnel and two part-time maintenance people are paid, though firefighters receive a small amount for each call they respond to.

“It’s amazing the kind of hours our volunteers put into the district,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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