The tragic passing of Lewis County Commissioner Gary Stamper triggered the application of an article in the Washington state constitution that spells out the process a county must follow to replace the late commissioner.
The precinct committee officers (PCOs) of the incumbent’s political party, in this case the Republicans, must forward the name of three individuals to the remaining county commissioners. Then, from that list, the two commissioners must within 60 days following Stamper’s death choose the person to serve as the third county commissioner filling the rest of his term. If our two commissioners fail to agree by Nov. 28, then the choice falls to Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Republican PCOs have chosen their three people and forwarded those names to the commission. The three candidates are former commissioner Lee Grose, Onalaska Fire Commissioner Kevin Emerson and Onalaska Alliance founding member Harry Bhagwandin.
I believe that the best choice for filling the remainder of Stamper’s term among these three candidates is very clear.
Longtime Packwood business owner and community leader Lee Grose served our county as commissioner with integrity and energy for two terms. He bought needed expertise in budget management.
Grose stepped down in 2014, opening the door for his successor Stamper. Grose has remained active and seems just as vital now as when he was in office. Grose obviously brings the most experience to the position. This experience is particularly valuable at a moment when our two remaining commissioners are both in their first year in office. Grose also brings another advantage Emerson and Bhagwandin don’t: He will not take the job seeking to be re-elected. Grose has made clear that he will take on this job as a public service pledging not to be a commission candidate when the term expires next year. If Grose is chosen everyone will know that he is there to serve the public interest, not his own political interest.
Kevin Emerson was a board member of Onalaska’s Water District No. 2. He now is on the board of the local fire district. This newspaper’s newsroom reported frequently for several years on Emerson’s role in the long running feud between water District 2 and District 5. Some feel Emerson allowed himself to be used as a puppet for one of the feuding parties by adopting a moratorium on new water hookups. His actions caused a complete stoppage of new home development in District 5 for a long time. Emerson’s misjudgment cost both the water districts lost revenue and cost the local community including the school district to forgo new revenue and economic activity. Many local business leaders spent time trying to work with Emerson during this standoff. He refused to listen or respond. The impasse was broken only after the county stepped in and acquired District 5. In our view, Emerson’s actions disqualified him from any major public position. Making him a county commissioner would be a terrible mistake.
The other candidate forwarded by the party for consideration by the commissioners is Harry Bhagwandin, also from Onalaska. Every community where a person with Bhagwandin’s characteristics lives is a better place. He is a fine person with an outstanding family. But Bhagwandin is far too liberal in his political views to be an effective representative of the people of Lewis County as commissioner.
One candidate has the experience and business background that our county needs right now. That one candidate will serve with no eyes on re-election. That person is Lee Grose.
I also believe that the qualities and experience Grose can bring to the position are the closest of the three candidates to those of the person who was elected to the position for this term — Gary Stamper.
I strongly encourage county commissioners Lindsey Pollock and Sean Swope to select Grose.
Chad Taylor is owner and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.