Four candidates who will be featured on the Thurston County general election ballot took part in a “meet the candidates” town hall forum hosted by the Yelm Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Oct. 10.
Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza and challenger Derek Sanders discussed different topics related to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, while incumbent commissioner Tye Menser and candidate Vivian Eason went over topics related to the commissioner’s office during the event at Yelm Cinemas.
Each candidate was allowed two minutes to introduce themselves. Following their introduction, each candidate had 60 seconds to answer questions posed by moderator Brian Wharton, who is the superintendent of Yelm Community Schools.
Thurston County Sheriff’s Race
When discussing their goals for what they’d like to accomplish as the Thurston County sheriff, Snaza said he would like to allow deputies to be more aggressive on patrol. Snaza said he would continue to work with local agencies and partners to combat crime.
“I am about focusing on how we send our deputies to combat crime,” Snaza said during the forum.
Sanders said he would like to correct the staffing crisis at the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, if he is elected. He pointed out the department’s low employee retention rate and the rise of crime in Thurston County.
Sanders said he sees some deputies who are stretched thin or burnt out, which correlates to the department’s decreasing count of deputies.
Sanders also wants to improve communication between the sheriff and deputies within the county.
“I went 18 months without communication with the sheriff and I know some guys went longer than that,” Sanders said during the forum.
Both candidates said it’s important to continue combating drug use and addiction issues throughout the county, especially with the rise of fentanyl.
Sanders said the department lost the war on drugs and should turn away from punitive punishment to instead focus on getting people the needed resources to get back on their feet.
Snaza said “we didn’t lose the war on drugs because we aren’t losers.” Unlike Sanders, he believes jail time helps people become sober. He said that he’s seen people get needed help because of pending drug charges they faced. Snaza wants to see that continue.
The next topic was how the department would cater to the needs of rural and city residents. Snaza said he wants to balance the wants and needs of the residents in different areas. He plans to fill positions funded outside of the county commissioner’s office and plans to work with the Sheriff’s Community Outreach Utilization Team, otherwise known as SCOUT, to help communities.
Sanders said everyone in the county utilizes the sheriff’s office regardless of their location. He said calls in rural areas are often not dealt with because of lagging response times, which is something that needs to be improved. Sanders wants to work with local agencies to focus on crime in rural areas.
As for the office’s employees, both candidates want to see morale improved throughout the department.
Snaza hopes to foster an environment where deputies can come to work motivated. He said he would also implement different training for deputies.
Sanders said he would lead his employees by example. He wants to be in the field working with deputies in order to increase trust and morale in the department. Overall, Sanders wants “less directing, more showing” in the department.
The candidates were then asked about what procedures they would implement if they are elected.
Sanders said if one of their deputies is arrested, he’d give his department 24 hours before the office would report it to the public in an effort to create transparency with the community. He would also like to form a community council with a diverse selection of representatives on it.
Snaza said transparency between the department and the public is important, but he noted he also wants to look out for his deputies. He said that body cameras will be big for the department. Snaza believes the cameras will show the department has been transparent and its deputies have remained professional.
For the last question, Snaza and Sanders were each asked why they would vote for one another.
Sanders said Snaza is someone he has always admired. He noted Snaza has plenty of experience to be the Thurston County sheriff.
Snaza said Sanders is a good candidate for the sheriff position because he’s smart, articulate and young.
Thurston County District 3 Commissioner Race
For the district three position on the Board of Thurston County Commissioners, incumbent Menser and challenger Eason fielded questions.
The first one asked the candidates what they would change in Thurston County.
Eason said she would try to improve customer service within the Thurston County Commissioner’s Office. She would also like to improve the overall sense of community for both workers and citizens.
Menser said he wants to speed up and improve the building permit process.
The next question was in regards to the Capitol Lake restoration project. Menser said the state would pay for the removal of the dam and the construction of a new bridge. He added the county already has a small role in the project.
Eason believes the dam at Capitol Lake should not be removed. She said county lakes aren’t being maintained, so she questioned why someone would prioritize Capitol Lake over others.
The next two questions centered around permitting in relation to the Mazama pocket gopher and where the money from the permits goes.
Eason said she attended the public hearing on building permits in pocket gopher territory and noted they wouldn’t be affordable for the average person in Thurston County. She said residents can currently pay for a permit to terminate the gophers from the property, but sees it as a way for the county to take money from residents. She said the commissioner’s office needs to find out if the pocket gophers are truly endangered.
Menser said that pocket gopher fees and permits are scaled, and based upon different variables. He added the county played no part in listing the species as endangered, however, Eason said the county pushed for gopher-based restrictions in 2010.
Both candidates were next asked how and why they would support different Thurston County programs.
Eason said she’s a supporter of countywide programs and would push to introduce more social programs to Thurston County, which would include drug and alcohol programs. She also wants to emphasize improvements to county roads.
Menser said the commission does a good job in South Thurston County already. He added the rural support systems are difficult to manage, but he plans to continually work closely with mayors in Thurston County cities to improve their relationships.
Both candidates were asked if they felt there were issues in workforce recruitment, to which they both answered yes.
Eason pointed directly to the sheriff’s office and said some employees aren’t paid enough there. She would like to get raises for those employees.
Menser said while there is a workforce recruitment struggle, it isn’t unique to Thurston County. He added there’s zero capacity in the county’s budget for future expenditures, but he’s looking for ways around it.
Both candidates voiced their opposition to an international airport being constructed in Thurston County.
The next question was related to the importance of combating crime, drugs and homelessness in Thurston County, and where the candidates would place their emphasis.
Menser said he wants to continue to fight the homelessness crisis. He said he’d put new resources on the table for those who need it.
Eason said she would emphasize fighting crime, as she believes that less crime equates to less drug use and less homelessness. She said in order to do that, she wants to free up deputies and allow them to patrol as they once did before laws and policies changed.
The last question of the evening focused on why voters should cast their ballots for the opposing candidate.
Eason said that Menser is extremely passionate about the environment and the promises he once ran on. She added he has been pleasant to work with.
Menser said that Eason is someone who deeply cares about the community and is a dedicated and great public servant.
The general election is on Nov. 8. Voters must drop off the ballots in a drop box by 8 p.m. on election day or ensure their ballot is postmarked for Nov. 8.