The two candidates for the Walla Walla County commissioner District 2 seat are Todd Kimball and Randal Son. Here are profiles of the two candidates:
Todd Kimball would take ‘30,000-foot view” of county
Todd Kimball has long wanted to run for Walla Walla County commissioner.
“If someone is qualified and has the desire, they not only should do it — they have the obligation to do it,” he said.
When he learned that Perry Dozier was not running for another term in the District 2 seat this year, Kimball jumped at the opportunity. The Republican faces Democrat Randal Son on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“I really think the rural parts of our county need representation,” Kimball said. “Agriculture is the number one largest tax base in our county and they deserved representation.”
Kimball, raised in a multigenerational Walla Walla Valley farming family, is focused on agricultural needs and concerns.
He has a passion for water and resources conservation, which led him to volunteer on several local boards including Northwest Grain Growers for nine years and the Walla Walla County Conservation District, a board he has sat on for the last decade.
And he is motivated to “keep the county strong” for the next generation of residents, particularly farmers. Kimball has coached middle school and high school basketball and baseball. He sees the role of commissioner as integral in securing the future of the Valley.
“There are 11 Kimballs growing up in Walla Walla County right now,” he said. “We are a six-generation Walla Walla family. I have a very real need for this county to continue to be strong, because the next generation includes my own family members.”
In addition to his experience with farming, running a small business and serving on various boards, Kimball is a certified public accountant with Zalaznik & Associates in Walla Walla.
“I think my experiences give me a unique perspective of how our county works, the value and importance of our infrastructure, what the concerns are, and how to resolve financial and planning issues,” he said.
For county commissioners, the most critical issues relate to budgeting, Kimball said.
“The department heads are all coming to you with their needs, all wanting to make their departments better,” he said. “But as commissioners you have to have a 30,000-foot view of the county. We’re not supposed to be involved in the day-to-day operations of each department — department heads have that focus.”
The job of a commissioner, then, is to help department heads as best as possible while keeping the whole county in mind, Kimball said.
“Commissioners have to look at all needs,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for all our department heads and officials, but every one of them has to understand that there are limits to the county’s budget, and the commissioners are the ones that have to make those decisions. The buck stops with them.”
The main challenge facing Walla Walla County right now, Kimball said, is this balancing act. For departments to get better, they need money to bring in new hires, build more infrastructure.
“Expenses continue to go up, but the revenues of this county really aren’t going up much at all,” he said. “We have this impasse that’s coming relatively soon, and we need to figure out what we’re going to do.”
To him, increasing revenue comes down to bringing in more business to expand the tax base.
“I am not a fan of raising taxes for our local taxpayers,” he said. “Raising property taxes, raising sales tax is just not something I want to do. I think our residents are already taxed enough.”
The only other option then is to increase economic development.
“But that’s not the role of a Walla Walla County commissioner,” he said. “A county commissioner deals with the expense side. The Port of Walla Walla is relegated the duty of bringing in business.”
He commends the Port for their successes in this regard. The new industrial park in Burbank is a good example of this, he said.
“A commissioner’s role is to support the Port’s efforts,” Kimball said. “And to make sure we’re doing the best we can with zoning and regulations that support businesses.”
Maintaining the county’s infrastructure are critical for supporting agriculture and business, he said. Those duties fall under the purview of commissioners as well.
“I think our road department is one of the best in the state,” he said. “I have talked to people in other counties around state who have taken money from roads for other things and have really regretted it.”
As commissioner, Kimball said he would advocate for keeping money in the roads budget — especially since grants and loans for big roads projects often require a substantial amount of money to match on the county’s end, he said.
He also advocates for keeping those roads, and county residents, safe. He supports improving deputy retention in the Sheriff’s Office and increased pay.
“I really feel there’s an opportunity to look into getting our deputy’s wages closer to the city’s police officers,” he said. “Right now we have deputies who are coming to Walla Walla, getting a job with the county, going to academy, going through all this training for years, then as soon as they’re fully trained up they leave because they just flat make more money with the city.”
Kimball said that his experience as a business owner and farmer has taught him that retention is one key to success.
“Once you get a guy trained, the last thing you want him to do it leave, whether it’s money or anything else,” he said. “I think retention is a real problem for our Sheriff’s Office, and that’s how I think the department can be helped.”
Dian Ver Valen can be reached at email@example.com or 509-629-3057.
Randal Son sets sights on coalition building
Being a top elected county official means knowing how to balance multiple needs at once and getting many people to the table.
Randal Son believes he is well suited to this daunting task as he seeks the District 2 seat on the Walla Walla County Board of Commissioners in the Nov. 8 election. A Democrat, he is running against Republican Todd Kimball.
“I think that as we move forward into the next few decades, the challenges for the region will get more complicated,” said Son. And figuring out how to help the Valley thrive through the 21st century will not be easy, he added.
“We have to figure out how to welcome new people, new ideas, new businesses and still keep the character of the region that makes it so attractive to people, whether they’ve been here for several generations or whether they are the pioneers of their family, coming here for the first time,” he said.
Son’s skills, developed in his 45 years as an adult living in Walla Walla County, range from hourly field work to strategic planning, policy development and coalition building.
“The kind of skills that I think would really prepare our county government for the 21st century,” he said.
He has had experience in agriculture: “Farmers and growers have a friend in me. There’s no reason for me to do anything as Commissioner other than try to help them in a very tough market.”
And in business: “I ran the (Blue Mountain) Humane Society like a business. From the time I started to when I finished, we created five times the jobs, and the net worth went from under $100,000 to over $1 million.”
Son helped start a program for endowments and bequests at the Humane Society to help with finances.
“That really put a firm financial foundation under the Society,” he said. “And even though finishing the new building created a little more debt than we originally planned on, in a few years those bequests and endowment programs took care of the debt.”
These kinds of long-range planning decisions are what Son hopes to advocate for and implement as a county commissioner.
“When we were designing that program, it was a 50-year look at what the community would need,” he said of his time with the Humane Society.
Son would like to see the county embrace such long-term plans for its facilities. As commissioner, he would recommend a professional properties advisement board to develop a facilities plan.
“Because when you’re dealing with what’s essentially commercial real estate, it’s a 50-80 year decision,” he said. “I think it would serve us to have professional advice about what we would need in 80 years. Then we could make our short-term decisions with that longer-term goal in mind.”
He would also like to see more transparency in government, such as making commissioner documents searchable on the county’s website to help community members find information they need.
He’d like to develop presentations for youth, clubs and community organizations to help people better understand civics issues and now their local government works.
“I’d also like to see what I’d call ‘Everyman’s guides’ on land-use, zoning, comprehensive planning, tax assessment, the budget — how does that stuff work?” Son said. “That would not be a giant project, and it would be a good resource for people who want to begin to find out more, want to start understanding.”
That interface with the community is a crucial role for commissioners, he said.
“If there’s a problem with many stakeholders involved, I believe the commissioners are perfectly situated to convene broader conversations to try to work out solutions to try to benefit the greatest number of people,” he said.
One such conversation that Son would advocate, he said, is to get everyone to the table when it comes to discussing economic development.
“I recognize that the Port of Walla Walla has the game plan for economic development and does a pretty good job of engaging with some of the stakeholders in that,” he said. “I’d like to add my skills to the team. I’d follow the game plan but also make sure that people most effected by our economic direction are engaged in that process.”
Specifically, this applies to the upcoming revision of comprehensive land use plans — not just the county’s plan but the city’s as well, he said. The two plans must be coordinated, according to Son.
“I do think that a broader conversation around the comprehensive plan and economic development policy can only be good,” he said.
Change and growth create a dynamic situation, and growth doesn’t necessarily generate revenue to meet problems as they emerge.
“Economic development is a way to make the growth side of that a little more robust, so we get a little breathing room in the budget and we can really adequately address the things we need to,” Son said.
The recession of 2008, 2009 and 2010 is not over for the Valley, he said: “We’re just barely back to 2008 numbers now.”
People are creative and innovative in seeing and taking advantage of new opportunities, “and I would very much like for our land-use and zoning to not inhibit that” he said. “At the same time, those regulations are there for a reason. There are certain outcomes that we don’t want.”
In addition to long-range planning, Son has immediate goals in mind.
One of his first priorities, he said, would be to maintain current commissioner salaries and look into restoring furloughed hours imposed on county employees. His next priority would be to look closely at the personnel requests from Sheriff John Turner.
“Not all his personnel requests are for deputies,” Son said. “There are some other things he’s asked for that I think would help the effectiveness of the Sheriff’s Office. I do know that mandatory overtime is really hard on morale in any worker.”