Q&A with Lorna Smith, candidate for Jefferson County Commissioner | 2020 Primary Election

Posted 7/27/20

Describe your leadership style. 

I believe in the power of community and collaboration. Community outreach and consensus building are core to my leadership style. Further, as an elected …

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Q&A with Lorna Smith, candidate for Jefferson County Commissioner | 2020 Primary Election

Posted

Describe your leadership style. 

I believe in the power of community and collaboration. Community outreach and consensus building are core to my leadership style. Further, as an elected official I will take full responsibility for the decisions I make.  

Who inspires you? 

I take inspiration from my family, my children and grandchildren and from the generation of young leaders who are stepping forward today: people like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg. Both of these extremely courageous young women are speaking out publicly for the rights of all humans to an education and for a planet where the entire human community rises to the challenge of the climate crisis. 

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

Hazel Wolf was a dear friend and colleague of mine and has been my greatest mentor. She was a giant in the conservation movement, as well as a life-long activist for human rights. Hazel lived a full, active and independent life right up until her death at the age of 103. I learned from her the value and importance of coalition building. Hazel and I worked on campaigns that brought together labor unions, faith groups, educators, human rights advocates and conservationists. We were able to realize a number of political successes over the years using this approach of reaching across boundaries.

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.  

While working at Snohomish County, it was my responsibility to recruit and hire experienced biologists in response to the listing of a number of our native salmon species under the Endangered Species Act and the need to fully consider impacts to those species. It became difficult to find and hire truly qualified biologists. I made the mistake of hiring someone from outside the area based solely on their application, resume and telephone interview. While appearing on paper to be qualified, the candidate did not make it through their probation period. That was the last time I made a hiring decision without a face-to-face interview.

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

The most difficult choice (and yet with no other option) has been to stay away from my dear family and friends at this time in order to keep us all safe. It is so important to follow the science and medical guidelines in the face of the ongoing Covid crisis. Like many of you, we have missed our extended family and our large circle of friends for months. It hurts. And yet it is necessary. I am very fortunate to have Darrell, the love of my life, my husband of 30 years, with me. We have made a few exceptions meeting in very small groups, but wearing masks and scrupulously practicing social distancing. We have also been supporting our local eateries weekly by ordering take-out meals. I encourage everyone to support local businesses and continue following the guidelines so we can eventually put this challenge behind us.

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

I want to see us do an even better job of open, accessible and inclusive government. I believe that the use of “executive session” by the BOCC needs to be reviewed and carefully considered only in a very narrow set of circumstances.

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

Ultimately, as a county commissioner, I will represent the entire county, a responsibility I take very seriously. Every decision a county commissioner makes needs to be viewed through that lens. We all bring values we personally cherish to our endeavors, and I love this entire county, including District 2 where I live overlooking
Protection Island and Discovery Bay!

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

As county commissioner, I will work with county department heads, County Administrator Philip Morley (we worked together for years at Snohomish County), County Financial Head of Pandemic Response Patty Charnas, our local nonprofits including the Jefferson Community Foundation, the Jefferson County Economic Development Council and our state and elected officials to ensure that we leave no stone unturned to bring financial aid and assistance to our county to help local businesses ride out the pandemic. Furthermore, I believe that we need to take this opportunity to regroup and implement the forward-looking policies in the Comprehensive Plan proposed by the Planning Commission and adopted by the BOCC. This Plan includes more flexibility in working conditions like telecommuting, prioritizing high-speed internet throughout the county, and policies to benefit affordable housing, including alternatives to on-site septic systems. 

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

We cannot continue to turn our backs on the homeless in our community. I was shocked and appalled by the recent decision to evict homeless campers, with no other safe living alternatives, from our county fairgrounds. We have to step up and fund additional units of safe shelter and transitional housing for the homeless in our community. We need to do a survey of available locations and determine the best site to construct homeless housing based on need, safety, and accessibility to necessary services including food, water and medical services. 

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

Housing for the homeless is a high priority for the county to facilitate, but the funding sources should not be limited to county-only dollars. We need to form public-private partnerships charged specifically with securing funding for a “stage one” project. I have spoken with Gary Keister of Bayside Housing regarding this issue. For example, Bayside was able to obtain a commitment for funding to construct some tiny homes, but a location was never secured by the county. We can’t let opportunities.like this slip through our hands.

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

The current composition of the commission includes two fairly new commissioners and one seasoned veteran. This balanced mix will be lost with the retirement of veteran Commissioner Sullivan. The District 2 commissioner position should be filled by a candidate with county government experience. As a Snohomish County lands-use manager for over 25 years, managing large projects, teams and budgets worth millions, I am the only candidate with county government experience.  In addition I have been a conservation activist my entire life, positively navigating and influencing regulations and policies at every level of government; county, state and federal. Experience matters!

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

I see the inherent drawback in a three-commissioner style of government where the commissioners cannot meet, discuss business, or engage in email exchanges regarding official county business outside the normal, advertised commission sessions without risking violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. In order to work within that framework, I would research all the areas where flexibility exists and ensure that clear, written guidelines are provided to the public as well as the commissioners, so that more than once-weekly opportunities are provided to engage with each other and the public.  

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

I have attended weekly BOCC meetings extensively over the past eight years. There are many “silent” communities that are seldom heard. For instance, we have  a significant population of elderly and disabled people in our community who find it difficult to interact with the BOCC. Our buildings, and therefore many of our meetings are not easily accessible for individuals with mobility challenges. Another “silent” portion of our community are those who speak English as a second language and perhaps lack the ability to comfortably communicate in English. I believe we have to do more to reach out to these “hidden among us” communities, seek their input and assess their needs so they can be more accommodated.

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

We need to provide safe shelter and sanitation for our homeless population, especially during this time of Covid, and in its aftermath, as more individuals and families stand to lose their jobs and their homes. 

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

As a seven-year veteran and current member of the Planning Commission, I believe that the BOCC sometimes sets aside the work of the Planning Commission. It is the duty of the Planning. Commission to carefully consider, research and work with the public, as well as the Department of Community Development, to develop workable proposals for important land-use decisions. The Planning Commission needs to be allowed to exercise its responsibility and authority given them to do this work by both state and county regulations. In this way the public is ensured that their important input and concerns are addressed in the decision-making process related to land-use planning in Jefferson County.

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? 

If the county must continue in a mode where meetings cannot be held in public, then we must find a way to hold virtual meetings where the public has an opportunity as in the past to be both seen and heard. Right now, only written comments are considered by the BOCC on Monday morning, and those must be submitted by the previous Friday.

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