Democrat Pat McCarthy is wrapping up her first term as Pierce County executive. A veteran politician, she has also served as county auditor and on Tacoma School Board. Challenging her is Bruce Minker, who lists no party preference. He was elected president of Pierce County Corrections Deputy Guild and executive board member of Washington State Jail Association.
Q) Why are you the best choice for voters in this race?
MCCARTHY: I have proven success in making Pierce County an even better place to live, work and play. Under my leadership, we improved operating efficiencies and customer service, even as we reduced our staffing by nearly 15 percent to match revenues with expenses. I protected core spending on public safety while conserving farmland and open space, opening new parks and retaining and recruiting businesses. I led a broad coalition that preserved state funding for transportation projects in Pierce County so we can keep people and freight moving. The county’s budget is balanced, stable and sustainable – as evidenced by S&P’s recent decision to upgrade the county’s bond rating. I have been a stay-at-home mom, a member of the Tacoma School Board, a university administrator, Pierce County auditor and county executive. I have a true passion for public service and leadership and sincerely appreciate the opportunity to continue leading this great county.
MINKER: Being a county employee for the last 29 years, I have seen millions of dollars wasted on various projects with no one held accountable. That will not happen any longer. Not only will I stretch your dollar, but also empower employees to have a say in how this company (county government) will run most efficiently. Over the last 12 years I have been speaking at Pierce County Council meetings on how to save money and run more productively. I have earned employee recognition awards for those ideas that have made millions in revenue for the county. I attended the Charter Review Commission hearings in 2005 and 2006 to push to get an elected sheriff back on the ballot. From 1980 until 2008 Pierce County was the only county in the state that had an appointed sheriff instead of allowing you to elect one. I fought for your right to have that back. This is the kind of effort and passion I have shown, and I will continue to do the best that I can for all of the people of Pierce County. I will talk with and listen to employees, business owners and taxpayers to hear your concerns and ideas. I will not support raising taxes, but work with you and for you, to create long-term economic growth for the county.
Q) As you have been interacting with voters during this campaign, what is the top concern they raise in regards to county government?
MCCARTHY: The top concern, of course, is the economy. That is why I partnered with the Economic Development Board to co-host Pierce County’s first Aerospace Summit, and I am already working on plans for next year. There are more than 80 aerospace suppliers in Pierce County, and we need to make sure our workforce is ready to help them capitalize on the tremendous growth that Boeing projects over the next 20 years. Economic growth cannot occur without reliable transportation systems, which is why I am strongly advocating for a combination of transit improvements and highway projects that keep people and freight moving throughout our region. I am working with industry leaders to support health care, agriculture (we just saved another 120-acre farm in September), tourism and more. And, finally, we are preparing to conduct the first U.S. Open ever held in the Pacific Northwest – an event that will produce a $150 million jolt to our region’s economy.
MINKER: Jobs are the biggest concern that I have heard about. People want to know what government can and will do to create jobs and build the business and economy. To create jobs, you have to help create business. One of the first things I want to do is look to see how to make the permit process more efficient. My opponent states that she has improved the process but it is still completely inefficient compared to other cities and counties. My opponent also wants to raise the cost on building permits. As I see it, we should lower the costs and provide better service in order for Pierce County to be more attractive to businesses. We can cut waste in other departments to make up for the difference in income. When business is down, you do not raise prices and cut employees, you lower prices to bring more business in.
Q) What are things that county government can do to be more efficient?
MCCARTHY: I challenged every director and elected official in county government to find better ways to deliver essential public services, and they continue to tally successes. Here is the best example: I set the goal of remaking the Planning and Land Services Department into the best permitting agency in the state. I hired an engineer from the private sector to lead the department, and he has streamlined the permit application process while improving customer service. Applicants can now go online to see which properties are set for inspection each day, and they can even check online to see how many people are in line at the development center. Whether you are a developer or a family with a home-improvement project, getting a permit in Pierce County is now more convenient, faster and predictable.
MINKER: I have many ideas and also would ask those working in each department for their ideas since they often can provide the best feedback because they work in it day in and day out. A couple of my ideas would be to have a centrally located supply office to distribute supplies to all departments in the county, which would be more cost effective by allowing bulk buying and controlled usage. Also, a work release program in Pierce County would bring in revenue that is currently going to other counties. We could then use this additional income to replace employee positions that have been cut over the years, which not only has an effect on economy, but also the service that taxpayers get.
Q) Do you feel the county government does enough to interact with other local governments on issues of common interest?
MCCARTHY: I am proud that Pierce County voters approved the effort I led to make first responders and the public safer by consolidating 911 dispatch services and radio systems so that police, fire and EMS are on the same network. I am working with Tacoma, Lakewood, West Pierce Fire & Rescue, Fife and other jurisdictions to implement the South Sound 911 system. I worked with the city of Tacoma and our legislative delegation in Olympia to change a state regulation that had a major business on the verge of leaving the city. Thanks to our efforts, the business stayed. I invite the leaders of our 23 cities and towns to attend my monthly meeting of county department directors to share ideas and concerns and make sure we are doing what we can to help them grow. I serve on various boards and commissions throughout the region to ensure Pierce County has a strong voice and receives its fair share. I am chair of the Sound Transit board, which just delivered Sounder commuter service to South Tacoma and Lakewood. I am chair of the South Sound 911 Policy Board, and I hold leadership positions with the Puget Sound Regional Council, which manages federal transportation spending in the four-county metro area. All of this makes our county stronger.
MINKER: We can certainly do more to interact and foster relationships with other local governments. For example, back in 1996, the city of Lakewood decided that they wanted their police department to be independent from the county. After that happened, Pierce County stopped contracting that allowed them to use county facilities, which in turn caused the county to lose revenue. Also the county charges more to house inmates than other nearby cities and counties, which then forces smaller cities to take their inmates out to those facilities, again creating lost revenue. We need to be competitive with pricing to get that business. Another example would be the Chambers Creek Golf Course. It is owned by the county but since it is in University Place, the county could work better with the city of U.P. in order to help establish a hotel, and transportation system to and from the course to help generate revenue.