Editor’s Note: This story was planned as one of two articles focusing on the contributions of outgoing Lewis County commissioners Edna Fund and Bobby Jackson, who each lost to challengers in the November general election. Jackson, however, has not responded to several interview requests.
After eight years serving as county commissioner, Edna Fund will leave office this January after being ousted by newcomer Sean Swope in the November general election.
Her last few months representing District 1, which includes Centralia and surrounding areas, were characterized by an unprecedented public health crisis. Now, she says it feels strange to leave in the middle of it.
“I think we handled it as well as we could, but it’s not a really good feeling,” Fund said in an interview Wednesday. “I always like to finish things up like wrapping a present, with a bow on top … but we don’t know when this is going to end.”
In the last eight months, she said the scope of her role expanded significantly. Suddenly, new constituencies were showing up, expecting — sometimes demanding — action from the county. The example of school closures and unhappy parents came to mind.
“Normally we don’t get into schools. That’s the superintendents’ world, pediatricians' world. But here we are doing school stuff, and that’s a big deal,” she said.
In the face of statewide restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, she said residents were asking that the county counteract Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders, something the county doesn’t have much authority to do.
“What it takes is to get the legislature back into session,” she said.
“Folks want us to fix it, or rebel,” Fund said. “So the expectation that we elected officials at the county level could just say ‘well were not going to do it’ … that was really difficult.”
Fund, who was raised on a local dairy farm by Dutch immigrant parents, credits much of her political success to her mom and her family’s work ethic. She says her family “always believed in doing better.” Her father finished third grade, her mother sixth, her brother eighth, her sister 12th. Fund herself earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Martin’s University, launching herself into a decades-long career working in government, mostly for the state.
Her mom was the one who convinced her to serve on the Timberland Regional Library Board of Trustees, which turned out to be one of the more tumultuous boards she sat on, coming into the fold during the controversy around computer access to pornography. Later, she would serve on the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, her first countywide board, where she cemented her top political priority as mitigating flood damage in the Chehalis basin. It’s the issue she largely ran her 2020 campaign on. It’s also the issue she saw as one of her greatest accomplishments — and greatest disappointments.
“The flood authority, when we first started, that group did not get along very well. It was very contentious, and then through the years we’ve become friends,” she said. “We can have civil discussions, so I see that as a big transition for us.”
She cites the group’s progress as something she’s especially proud of, crediting the shift to independent facilitators who “made all the difference in the world.” Last legislative session, the state Legislature almost granted the $700 million to build the dam and fund aquatic species restoration.
“For us to go last year to the legislature together … we were all testifying together, from the tribes, the cities, the county, all at the same table,” she said. “That’s pretty darn remarkable.”
But the Senate ultimately denied the hefty request — a major blow to proponents of the dam such as Fund, and something she points to as a major disappointment during her tenure.
“We were so close,” she said. “If we could’ve got that $700 million … we’d be having different discussions now.”
Looking back on her eight years in office, Fund also highlighted getting sidewalks on Borst Avenue in Centralia as a proud moment. The years-long project addressed a major safety concern in Centralia, since the busy road is near two schools. She also noted the county’s work to clean up local hoarder Vic Bonagofski’s Centralia property, which was full of garbage, abandoned vehicles and hundreds of tires.
“It was four stories tall of cardboard junk,” she said. “That was a big deal.”
As far as regrets, the commissioner said she wished the county — and nation — would’ve made more progress helping individuals struggling with mental illness or addiction to live indepently, outside of the criminal justice system. She also hopes to see Lewis County get better at public engagement and communication. The board of commissioners has a “long way to go,” she said, in explaining to constituents how and why the county does things, and in eliciting participation in public meetings.
Fund’s peers have advised her to wait a few months before deciding how to spend her time out of office. But she said she can’t wait that long, and already has a lot of it figured out. As a private citizen, she’ll continue to serve on the Flood Authority and the Office of Chehalis Basin — the body tasked by the state Legislature to pursue flood mitigation and aquatic species restoration. She’ll also retain her position on the Courthouse Grant Program Steering Committee, which recommends grant allocations to historic courthouses across the state.
Besides that, she plans on taking her husband to visit those historic courthouses in Washington, and hopes to spend more time with her grandkids in California.
“My mom was 100 … and she was still mowing her yard at 95,” Fund said. “I’m 72. I have a lot to go.”