West End voters should by now have their 2012 general elections ballots. In addition to the presidential and gubernatorial voting, two local races are drawing particular interest on the West End.
Forks District Court Judge Erik Rohrer is running for a Clallam County Superior Court seat, in a race against Chris Melly, who has experience as a Clallam County Prosecutor. Rohrer’s distinctive blue signs line Forks Avenue and yards along Highway 101, north and south. While the Forks judge should handily take the West End vote, his test will be attracting votes in Port Angeles and Sequim.
If Judge Rohrer is elected it will mean a new judge will be appointed to his position in Forks. At a recent Clallam County budget hearing held in Forks, County Administrator Jim Jones and the three County Commissioners said the judge position will remain in Forks. There are fears over eliminating the court as a budget savings, forcing West End residents to take the better part of a day to drive to Port Angeles for court hearings both due to traffic tickets and legal concerns. The Port Angeles visitors did say the court will again tighten its belt, but will be funded in the 2013 budget.
The other election that is drawing letters and calls to the Forks Forum is the race for the Clallam County PUD Commissioner #3 District.
Clallam County PUD District #3 Commissioner candidates Cindy Kelly, 55, and 28-year incumbent Ted Simpson, 69, addressed the Forks Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 10 during the chamber’s weekly business luncheon held at JT’s Sweet Stuffs. Both reside in Port Angeles.
Kelly, who has served on the board of the Dry Creek Water System for 23 years, described her desire to reform the PUD Commissioner Board, noting that a woman has never served on the board since its formation decades ago. She said her campaign slogan is “Power to the People,” and that it was a time for change and a time to replace long-time commissioners to help move the change along. She said the PUD has $38 million in reserve that could be used in ways to keep rates down. Kelly also called for holding PUD commissioners meetings on occasion outside of Port Angles, and sometimes in the evenings, rather than mid-afternoon.
Simpson said he has served as a PUD commissioner for 28 years, and opened his Angeles Electric business in 1975.
Both candidates addressed the issue of how best to acquire renewable energy for the PUD grid, including a discussion of wave-generated power.
Simpson recently addressed the Forks Chamber seeking support, which was later given at a board meeting, for having hydroelectric power count as a renewable energy resource. The PUD is now mandated by a state initiative to purchase renewable energy in addition to the power supplied by the Bonneville Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants.
In the last minutes of the meeting a supporter of Simpson posed a question to Kelly about her husband Timm Kelly. He recently filed a grievance against the Clallam County PUD before the state Public Employment Relations Commission, with a hearing set for Oct. 23. The grievance claims the loss of his job as linecrew chief in Forks came as a reprisal for his union activities. A complaint has also been filed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers against the PUD with a hearing set for December.
The firing came for the PUD’s claim that he failed to live up to a residency clause in his union contract stipulated in 2007 when he became linecrew foreman for the PUD’s base in Forks. Timm Kelly, who was hired by the PUD in 1976, was required as “first responder” to electrical outages and other emergencies to take up residence in Forks, and did move a trailer onto a friend’s property outside of Forks to stay in.
In testimony before the state Employment Security Board in June during an appeals hearing contesting his denial of unemployment payments Kelly said he lived about 50 percent of the time in the Forks service area prior to his becoming president of the IBEW Local 997 - Port Angeles in 2010. Since then he has lived about 20 percent of the time in Forks, and 80 percent at he and his wife’s residence in Port Angeles. Being away from Forks was due to his duties with the union, he said. Information provided in publicly disclosed testimony from the unemployment hearing show he was paid as the local IBEW president, in addition to his $42.50 per hour PUD pay, overtime pay and about $550 in “outpost” pay per month for residing in Forks.
In 2011, according to the hearing documents, PUD employees approached Kelly’s PUD superintendent, Dennis Shaw, and questioned if Kelly’s ability to be the Forks line foreman while living in Port Angeles. The hearing report states, “…these employees expressed concern and disillusionment with what they perceive as claimant’s ability to ‘bend the rule’ with regard to the residency requirement.” The PUD then began an investigation. The investigation, the report states, showed Kelly had violated the residency conditions.
The PUD West End residency payments are aimed in part at encouraging local residents to train for the family wage linemen jobs, with the housing allowance a benefit for them, while living on the West End can be a hardship for linemen who reside on the east end of Clallam County. Three former IBEW Local 997 presidents have lived in the Forks area full time and managed to see to their union duties.
Questioning during his appeal hearing shows Timm Kelly claimed he was able to handle emergencies in Forks while out of the region, while the resolution of some outages were delayed due to his being away from Forks.
At the Chamber meeting Kelly distanced her husband’s situation from her campaign. “My husband’s not running,” she said in reply to a question about how her husband being fired by PUD managers would affect her being in an elected position overseeing them. PUD Commissioners hire and fire a team of three managers, two who run the PUD and one who handles financials.
She gave an example of her being unbiased in a leadership role, citing closing down schools as a 11-year member of the Port Angeles School District. “You think I fired teachers because I didn’t see the way they saw?” she said. And she added, “I have a lot of good friends still working for the PUD.”
Kelly’s campaign has received a $1,000 cash contribution from the IBEW Local headquarters in Seattle in July.
Simpson was given time to comment on the question at the Chamber meeting following Kelly’s remarks. “That’s a fair question,” he said. “The question is ‘Will Cindy be able to be unbiased in decisions she has to make with the managers’.”
The State of Washington hasn’t yet announced whether Timm Kelly, as a public employee, will be required to pay back any of the outpost housing payments.