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Candidates speak at forum

 

From left, Chris Branch, Sheila Kennedy, Ashley Thrasher and Andy Hover, listen to introductions and rules at the beginning of a forum at Lake Roosevelt Schools for the Okanogan County Commission candidates. - Scott Hunter photo

A forum for Okanogan County commissioner candidates was markedly civil Thursday night in Coulee Dam, despite a campaign season possibly among the most contentious in recent county history.

That may have been due to a decidedly local focus in the questions put to the four by moderator Bob Valen, the vice president of the Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.

Valen sprinkled in questions submitted from an audience of 18 among a dozen pre-written for the event.

Commissioner Sheila Kennedy, who represents District 1, including this end of the county, pointed several times to the need for inter-governmental collaboration, not duplication, to get services here. She praised several currently provided by the Colville Tribes and noted two bridges the county and tribes are working together to repair.

Her challenger, Chris Branch, a city planner who was born in Nespelem, said he has been in every city hall in the county in his work and believes the Okanogan County Council of Governments should be expanded beyond its current transportation focus to solve problems in all regions.

Running for the District 2 seat, Ashley Thrasher, a wildland fire fighter and construction worker, promised to visit each district each month to keep in touch with people's needs across the county. She said the county doing a better job of communicating its intentions and involving citizens would help avoid future lawsuits, several of which the county is involved in now.

Kennedy, the sole incumbent left facing an organized opposition group formed to elect all new commissioners, said the lawsuits were filed by people who had been "at the table" in discussions on the issues the sued over.

Branch said the lawsuits stem from an ideologically split county and that more communication is the only way to avoid them.

Andy Hover, manager of North Valley Lumber in Winthrop, is also seeking the District 2 seat. He said focusing county resources on specific areas to solve problems is the only way to tackle some that are nationwide, not just in the county. Services to address widespread drug addiction and mental health needs are best focused on helping kids at schools and keeping drugs out, he said.

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