Q&A with Heidi Eisenhour, candidate for Jefferson County Commissioner | 2020 Primary Election

Posted 7/27/20

Describe your leadership style.

Democratic and collaborative. I like to get the input of people and think we need to do a better job of getting out in our community both in person and virtually. I …

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Q&A with Heidi Eisenhour, candidate for Jefferson County Commissioner | 2020 Primary Election

Posted

Describe your leadership style.

Democratic and collaborative. I like to get the input of people and think we need to do a better job of getting out in our community both in person and virtually. I think commissioners need to be out in our communities more — post COVID of course. In terms of collaboration, I have a proven track record of leading teams working together to accomplish ambitious goals resourcefully, efficiently and with records of results.

Who inspires you?

My friend, Roxanne Hudson. Whenever I think I can’t possibly get something done, I find myself thinking of Roxanne. She is one of the most, if not the most, competent people I have ever met. She is a Professor of Special Education at the University of Washington while owning and running Spring Rain Farm in Chimacum with her husband John Bellow. It’s not just the quantity of things she accomplishes with grace and humor but the way she listens 100 percent when you are talking with her and always responds with insight and a smile even if she is pushing you to think harder. Yep, easy question for me to answer.

Who has been your greatest mentor in life? How so?

Maggie Coon, my boss when I worked in Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy of Washington, taught me the importance of both being able to listen, learn and then talk about issues or places with authority and developing positive and enduring relationships with people on both sides of issues. Those combined lessons have had more impact on outcomes in all of my professional roles than any others in the past 25 years.

We’re all human, and people make mistakes. Please describe a failure you have experienced in your life, and what you learned from that experience.

I had a specific example in mind of running a business I wasn’t prepared to run because I was too young and always wanted things to be done quickly and perfectly. I couldn’t make it work but that made me realize that it was just an example of something I have learned over and over again. There have been a lot of little things that haven’t gone well or failed over the years — often recipes    and what I have learned is to slow down. As the years have passed, I’ve learned the power of taking my time at things and getting them right the first time.

What has been the most difficult choice or decision you have made in the past four years?

Recently the Northwest Maritime Center went from a $3.9 million budget and staff of 29 full-time, 13 part-time, 39 seasonal in 2019 to a much reduced team and set of programs and projects today. This has required decisions that I never imagined having to make just six months ago in my role as Chief Operations Officer. When Governor Inslee issued the “Stay Home” order on March 23 we trimmed our team to a minimum, then Payroll Protection Program funding allowed us to bring people back to 2019 levels for eight weeks and now we’ve trimmed our team back to the minimum. We are focusing on what we can do in this new reality, with rules changing weekly requiring us to be responsive and nimble. It’s been a challenging time full of hard decisions affecting the lives of dozens of people in our community and I am incredibly proud of our team.

If you could instantly change one thing about the way the county operates, what would it be?

I have heard so many people, builders and homeowners alike, who have had issues with Jefferson County’s permit processes from submittal and review to approval. I have also heard numerous times that neighboring counties do a better job with their permit processes. And then I also hear about the parts of our permit process that are working well or have worked well in the past. We need effective processes and rationale, enforceable rules consistently applied. It’s not rocket science. Let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out a solution. What we are learning from this COVID-19 crisis is that we can look to a combination of online submittal with telephone appointments for consultation. 

What’s more important to you; a commissioner that serves her/his district, or one that represents the county as a whole?

It’s important to me that a commissioner represents the county as a whole, because that’s the job. That said, I’ve lived in the heart of District 2 for 40 years and am running at least partially because I want to give back to the community that raised me. It’s important that commissioners know who they represent, the issues in their respective districts and can represent those effectively on the Board of County Commissioners.

What specific ideas do you have that will help the Jefferson County economy rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am a huge advocate of the rubber actually meeting the road as opposed to the wheels just spinning. I think we need to focus on and support the specific ideas that come out of the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee currently building a COVID-19 Resiliency and Recovery Plan and the community task forces working in these areas: culture and events, business, children and family, human services, food system resiliency and broadband internet service. 

One specific idea I will focus on is advocating and seeking solutions for robust broadband. It is an underpinning to all of the areas the task forces are focused on and the key to allowing more people to work remotely, which keeps jobs here and in turns supports other parts of our local economy — keeping home builders, grocery checkers, bus drivers and other essential workers employed.

What long-term solutions should the county pursue to combat the issue of homelessness?

A recent five-year plan for homelessness in Jefferson County has good solutions for homelessness. Three areas for quick focus are advocating for additional funding for local organizations providing services to the homeless and people at risk of becoming homeless, prioritizing housing for people with the highest needs and addressing racial, ethnic and gender disparities among people experiencing homelessness. 

In the short term, and especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the county could re-open access to the fairgrounds for the homeless and designate areas for people to park vehicles where utilities are available. 

In the long term, we can work with the agencies and organizations in our community focused on homelessness to develop a plan for increasing our capacity to address housing insecurity and develop zoning, design and building regulations to allow for alternative housing solutions such as co-housing, tiny house communities, expanded allowances for ADUs and long term RV Park communities.

What should be the priority, and how much funding should be dedicated to that effort?

In 2019 the county spent almost $640,000 on homeless prevention. We need to maintain and expand funding that comes to Jefferson County in support of homelessness and addressing the need for affordable housing. The five-year plan described above includes a projection that we will need more than 300 additional rental units for low to moderate income residents by 2036.

I would make it a priority to secure funding for and designate a leadership and staff to coordinate the input of the numerous partners who work on pieces of the housing and food insecurity crisis. The people doing this work in the county should be empowered to develop a plan and budget for this coordination, engagement and fundraising to increase our capacity to provide beds and homes for our neighbors who need them. Better coordination of efforts could increase the impact of these partners exponentially. 

Clearly we need more resources focused on these issues. 

What has been the board of commissioners’ greatest strength over the past four years?

Transparency. It is much easier to witness the work of our elected officials and their staff and colleagues. I think this is a huge improvement over how I could access decisions and process in the past.

What has been its biggest weakness? What would you do to change that?

The processes used by our commissioners in making decisions on issues such as zoning for cannabis production, conditions for development of a resort in Brinnon and a new approach to a sewer in Hadlock have been confusing for residents and I am sure at times for our commissioners too. One source of confusion I have heard from my neighbors is confusing language in the Jefferson County Code which should more clearly outline public processes for decision-making. I will advocate for clearer processes for reviewing zoning, land-use issues and projects during regular updates to the appropriate portions of the County Code.

Residents deserve ample opportunities to be involved in making decisions that affect them and issues they care about. It’s a commissioner’s job to make sure public processes are legal and inclusive. By getting it right from the beginning, we’ll avoid long-term grievances, endless lawsuits and wasted county resources. 

What voices in the community do you feel have not been adequately heard by county officials?

Now more than ever we need to focus on ensuring representation of everyone’s voices. This has to be a new norm, engaging new voices and ideas. I’ve started by listening a lot and seeking advice. 

Fundamentally, we need to focus on sharing access and privileges we have with our underrepresented neighbors to level the playing field. I will ask our under-represented neighbors — Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender — to lead in crafting actions they feel would help to level the playing field for them. I will also work with county staff to review HR policies and hiring practices to make sure there aren’t any barriers to hiring diverse staff. 

Finally, we need to emphasize recruiting underrepresented people to leadership roles such as on boards and committees as Commissioner Dean did recently with the Intergovernmental Resilience and Recovery Tasks Forces. Also, I’d like to see participants in this work compensated in some way via internships or stipends. 

What’s the biggest issue that has not received enough attention by the board?

Homelessness and affordable housing has received a lot of attention but it’s clearly not enough. That said given the budget constraints of the county and response to the current COVID-19 crisis I am not sure what more could have been done. I will advocate for focusing on this as part of future efforts to improve zoning to allow for affordable housing solutions to be placed in our communities and Jefferson County’s permit processes from submittal and review to approval.

What board practices do you feel need to be changed and how would you implement such changes?

We need clearer processes, including guidelines for public input, in making decisions on issues such as zoning and land use. For example, the county has been working on a Port Hadlock sewer for over 20 years. Some see it as a pathway to badly needed affordable housing and others worry about costs and community and environmental impacts from resulting growth. 

The county is getting the Port Hadlock Sewer Phase 1 proposal shovel ready. At this critical stage, I would seek community input from homeowners and businesses within the boundary to ensure they understand the options in front of them as well as the decision points along the way. There are landowners in the current proposal that don’t know what is happening.

In brief, I would work with my fellow commissioners and staff to craft a plan for updating our county code to outline clearer decision making and public engagement processes.

Public attendance at board meetings is uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What should the board be doing to increase transparency and guarantee greater public input?

I’ve been participating in commissioner meetings while still working. I find their sharing practices very transparent and flexible. If I can’t make a meeting, I watch the video recording later. So the only real impediment I see to access is broadband internet if people can’t get to it.

I want to see more diversity in the residents participating and giving input. Comments are shared by mail, email or phone which are read at the Monday Board of County Commissioner meetings. It feels like the same set of people give input regularly, which is awesome, but leaves us with a limited set of perspectives. I would advocate for new ways to hear from more residents. 

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