NOTE: This article has been revised to correct the spelling of a candidate’s name and to include a full list of Port of Bellingham candidates and statements.
Whatcom County is typically awash in candidate nights as the elections approach and Point Roberts is no different. The Point Roberts Registered Voters Association-sponsored annual candidates’ night was held October 2 at the Gulf Road community center and attracted a large slate of people vying for public office on the Point and in the county. Of the 44 people in the audience, 12 were members of the fire department, most of whom were Canadian volunteers displaying a surprising interest in local American politics.
The need for voters to approve the Point Roberts Parks and Recreation District maintenance levy was articulated by Rhiannon Allen who pointed out that the district operates on a very small budget and has no employees unlike other taxing districts on the Point. The levy requires a super-majority of 60 percent approval and a minimum of 40 percent turnout (322 voters) from the last general election.
County council member Rud Browne showed up even though his new county seat is in the south Bellingham district, saying, “… as you guys are still paying me, I thought I’d show up!” The only county council positions that Point Roberts voters will have a say in is the at large positions being contested by incumbent Barry Buchanan and Mary K. Robinson. Robinson cited the need for affordable housing as one of the main reasons she decided to run. Buchanan, currently council chair and endorsed by a “plethora of organizations” explained why he was planning to vote against the jail measure of the ballot, describing it a “putting the cart in front of the horse.”
There are four candidates running for the two open Port of Bellingham commission seats: Dan Robbins and Michael Shepard for District 1 and Ken Bell and Barry Wenger for District 2. The candidates were questioned by audience members who wanted to know what the Port could do to create economic activity on the Point. Barry Wenger promised to work with a local economic development group on the Point, adding it was important that the local community work together to come up with good ideas. Ken Bell pointed out that the Port could work anywhere in the county and that there was no reason why it couldn’t have a project in the works on the Point. Dan Robbins pointed out that ports were intended to create jobs and that the Point “needs to keep that in mind when you consider the type of project you’d want the Port to do. We haven’t done much for Point Roberts but Point Roberts hasn’t asked us for anything. If you ask us, we’ll consider it.” Shepard also promised to consider economic development for the Point. Earlier, he said he had “been endorsed by a record-setting number of organizations” and planned to work on creating family wage jobs and environmental conservation.
Of particular interest for local voters are the two seats in contention on the Point Roberts fire commission. The seat that is being vacated by appointed fire commissioner Shannon Tomsen who decided against facing the voters is being sought by Pat Harper and Donna Gillespie. Gillespie told attendees she had decided to get involved because she believed side issues were distracting from the fire district’s real business. “I want to keep taxes where they are,” she said, adding she would also focus on educating the public on the fire district.
Pat Harper gave an overview of his 35 years with the US Forest Service, many of which he spent in fire fighting. “I feel that Point Roberts is at risk with 700 acres of woodland … I think I can help communicate with community” on ways to mitigate risks from wild fires, he said. He added, “I just want to make sure the chief gets the support he needs.”
Judson Meraw’s campaign against incumbent fire commissioner Bill Meursing came to a close after he asked to speak before his opponent. Listing the reasons why he had decided to run in the first place, he told the audience that he had spoken with Meursing regarding his concerns about the fire department and felt that they were being addressed satisfactorily. One issue mentioned by Meraw that he believed was being corrected was the contentious relationship between the fire and the hospital districts. Both Meursing and Tomsen had been critical of the hospital district management for months resulting in acrimonious and bitter communications between the two districts.
As an example, in an email disclosed in an open public request made by the All Point Bulletin, Meursing responded to one from Tomsen by writing, “… it seems clear that the h.d. has to reinvent itself and set some very clear policies which would identify itself a true district which at this time seems to be infiltrated by a lot of innuendo, misinformation and a complete lack of leadership. Let’s not even talk about the incessant cattytalk.”
“With all of the experience that Bill has, I’d like to put my support behind Bill Meursing,” Meraw concluded.
In response, Meursing thanked Meraw and said, “To my enjoyment, I see lots of firefighters here. I did not ask them to come; they came voluntarily.” Recounting his career beginning as a pilot flying DC-8s and C-130s and ending as an instructor, he told the crowd he hoped to serve another six years. Turning to the firefighters, he emphasized how “everything is about them. They’re here to help.”
Although Meraw has suspended his campaign, his name remains on the ballot.