ENDORSEMENT: Re-elect Treece as Washington County commissioner
Editor's note: Endorsements are made by the Editorial Board and reflect the opinion of Pamplin Media Group editors and publishers. Letters to the editor and other submitted opinion pieces will be considered for publication without regard to the official editorial stance or endorsements made by the Editorial Board.
Two Washington County commissioners are up for re-election this year, along with the chair race.
Last week, we endorsed Beach Pace for Washington County chair over incumbent Kathryn Harrington. We are confident in Pace's ability to lead the county in a more positive direction without reversing course on the progress of the past four years.
As for who should join Pace on the county commission, we spoke with the two candidates for District 2 to formulate a recommendation for voters.
In District 2, first-term incumbent Pam Treece faces a challenge from political newcomer Don Frazier.
Frazier told us that one of the county commissioners encouraged him to run for the District 2 seat this spring.
While Frazier has no government experience, he said he's confident that his experience in the private sector — he describes himself as a "chronic entrepreneur" who owns a consulting firm and has done a little bit of work just about everywhere in Washington County and Portland — will translate if he is elected as commissioner.
"Even though I don't have the political campaign experience ... I feel as if I have the business background, the personality background, the education background to be able to be a cohesive partner in Washington County," Frazier said.
It's not an issue for us that Frazier doesn't have experience running a campaign. It's not even a dealbreaker that he hasn't been on the planning commission or served with his local Community Participation Organization.
When Treece ran for office four years ago — also challenging an incumbent, Greg Malinowski — she was best known as executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, a nonprofit convening and advocacy organization. In that role, she rubbed elbows with a plethora of politicians, government workers, and other movers and shakers from throughout Washington County and beyond. But it wasn't a position she could claim as political or governmental experience.
This editorial board took no issue with that. We endorsed Treece over Malinowski four years ago, seeing her as a breath of fresh air and a valuable perspective to slot onto the county commission.
"Treece has simply put up too good a campaign, with so much energy, knowledge and drive," for us not to endorse her, we wrote at the time.
Treece still displays that bountiful energy, knowledge and drive. She's intelligent, thoughtful and communicates well. She's clearly eager to continue serving.
"I'm not done yet," she told us, right at the outset of our interview.
Treece understands from experience what it's like to go from being a newbie in government to being experienced enough to speak up and contribute on a regular basis. She's also been through the worst public health emergency in a century with the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said has given her a newfound comfort level in working remotely, meeting virtually and acting boldly.
"I think I learned that the county can move damn fast when we need to," Treece told us. "And we needed to."
We don't agree with Treece on everything. We pressed her on her choice to endorse Harrington, her ally on the county commission, despite allegations by employees that Harrington frequently lashes out at staff and fosters a hostile work environment.
"I'm not comfortably, frankly, with the situation. Nobody is," Treece said.
Still, she argued she makes her endorsements based on a person's political stances and the work they do, and she both supports the county's direction under Harrington and admires the work ethic and discipline Harrington has brought to board meetings. While she said she lines up fairly well on the issues with Pace and could work with her as well if Pace becomes chair, she prefers to stick with Harrington's experience and track record.
While we understand where Treece is coming from, we worry about the message that her standing by an elected official she admits "needs to change some behaviors" sends to county employees. At no point in our conversation did Treece suggest she doesn't believe them, and she expressed concern for wanting to protect their identities, which we appreciate hearing. But do they feel supported by someone who is also continuing to back a county chair one employee, as quoted in a workplace investigator's recent report, likened to Meryl Streep's professional tyrant in "The Devil Wears Prada"?
Frazier, on the other hand, presents himself as a classic outsider. He doesn't have any agenda, he told us, and he would approach issues that come before the county commission with an open mind. He sees himself as a "problem-solver," he said.
But while Treece demonstrates evident command of the issues — and can speak to what the county government has and hasn't done to address them — Frazier falls short on that front. He mentioned some roadwork in his Bethany neighborhood that he's not happy about, he related some concerns he's heard from people that the county commissioners don't listen to them, and he said he doesn't want Washington County to become like next-door Portland. But he begged off when asked to go into specifics, and he couldn't identify a particular area of interest when asked.
"I do not know where Washington County is or is planning to go at this time," Frazier confessed.
There's some degree of on-the-job learning in any position, not least of which is elected office. But county commissioner for one of the most populous, diverse, fast-growing counties in the Pacific Northwest is not the right place to learn the basics of how government functions and what's going on in the region.
We found Frazier to be amiable and earnest in our conversation with him, but he can't match Treece's depth of knowledge nor her clear passion for the job. We'd like to see him get involved in some way — perhaps, as suggested above, through his CPO — and maybe try again in a few years with the benefit of more experience.
On the whole, we're pleased with Treece's work as District 2's county commissioner, and we see little reason why voters shouldn't re-elect her for a second term. We encourage them to do so.
In the other county commissioner's race, former Hillsboro mayor Jerry Willey is unopposed for a second term. While two people filed to challenge Willey in District 4, both ended up withdrawing from the race. Willey will appear alone on the ballot in his position.
We endorsed Willey four years ago, too. While we don't always agree with him — most notably, he's one of the most vocal opponents of Washington County's flavored tobacco ban, which we steadfastly support — we continue to believe he brings a valuable perspective to the county commission, and he's certainly well-grounded on the issues, thanks to his prior service on the Hillsboro City Council and now a term's worth of experience as county commissioner.
Willey doesn't need our endorsement for District 4, considering he has no opponent. But we're nonetheless glad to see him in line for a second term.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.