Chief deputy treasurer, salesman face off in election

Chief Deputy Treasurer Tony Lam, a Democrat, is facing Richard MacQuarrie, a Republican.

The second-in-command in the Island County Treasurer’s Office is vying to take the helm of the office against a talented salesman and manager who wants to raise the profile of the office.

Chief Deputy Treasurer Tony Lam, a Whidbey resident and Democrat, is facing Richard MacQuarrie, a Republican and Camano Island resident.

The treasurer’s office is the quietly beating heart of the county, responsible for billing and collecting property taxes, administering the debt and making investments. Treasurer Wanda Grone is retiring at the end of the year. She’s heartily endorsed Lam even though she’s a Republican.

Lam said he’s thankful to Grone for teaching him about the range of duties in the office, which he said is efficiently and successfully run without any delays or other problems. He is involved in every aspect of the office. He said he will continue Grone’s example of being a hands-on boss who works alongside the others in the nine-person office.

“Wanda has taught me so much in the last eight years,” he said. “My goal is to make sure we have a smooth transition when she leaves office.”

MacQuarrie is a business development manager for a wholesale provider of frozen food and a state committeeman for the Republican Party. He manages five employees and is in charge of a multi-million dollar sales budget.

MacQuarrie said he wanted to serve the community by being a leader in local government. He originally planned to run for auditor because he thought Sheilah Crider wasn’t running again. When he found out she was, he turned his gaze to the treasurer’s office, which he said best fits his skills.

“I can help the Island County Treasurer’s Office be a little more transparent and open,” he said.

The two men running for the office have distinct backgrounds.

If he wins, Lam might be the first person of color to hold a county elected office. He was born in Vietnam and immigrated to America in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. He grew up in Hawaii and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Hawaii. He moved to Whidbey 14 years ago after being offered a job in the treasurer’s office.

MacQuarrie was born into a military family and is proud of his service in the Navy, earning a bachelor’s degree while serving. He worked as a Navy recruiter and helped 101 people join the Navy, becoming one of the most successful recruiters in Seattle that year.

MacQuarrie is also open about the reason he left the Navy. He said he was arguing with his ex-wife, who was in a different state, over text messages and he “took it way too far.” He ended up getting arrested and pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to stalking and fraternization in 2017. The military judge sentenced him to six months of confinement and he was administratively separated from the Navy.

MacQuarrie said his actions may not have been a crime in the civilian world.

“I was held to a higher standard and I failed to do that on that day and the Navy let me know,” he said, adding that he is now on good terms with his ex-wife.

Lam said he and his supporters definitely did not want to bring up MacQuarrie’s past in the campaign or comment on it.

If elected, MacQuarrie said he plans to improve communication with the public. He wants to make the treasurer’s office website more user friendly and to have a presence on social media.

“If I become treasurer, I want to make sure the public at least knows I exist,” he said.

In addition, MacQuarrie said he will strive to make complex budget and financial information more comprehensible to the public by adding layman’s term language to documents.

MacQuarrie said he is a good manager of people. He has a “family first” philosophy, he said, which means he’s flexible and understanding with employees who have to tend to their families.

If he’s elected, Lam said he will continue running the office as the well-oiled machine it currently is, largely thanks to him. He handles banking, investment and accounting responsibilities for the county and its taxing districts; supervises staff; performs all cash management functions daily; administers the investment pool; coordinates with the chief deputy auditor to provide property tax and investment information for a financial statement submitted to the state; and works with the assessor’s office on property-related matters.

Lam would like to have more staff in the future. Currently, when there are one or two staff members out, it puts a strain on the others. He said he’s worked very long hours over the last six months as staff retired or left the office because of a move.

“I have a huge sense of responsibility,” he said.