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Gelder has slight lead over Tibbs in early returns for County Commission, District 1

Rob Gelder - Herald file photo
Rob Gelder
— image credit: Herald file photo

POULSBO – Rob Gelder had a slight lead Tuesday in his bid to win another year on the Kitsap County Commission.

With 25,000 ballots left to count Tuesday night, Gelder, a Democrat, received 22,545 votes to Republican Chris Tibbs’ 21,061.

The ballot count will change Wednesday. Kitsap County Elections Manager Dolores Gilmore gave this rundown Tuesday of ballots received as of Monday evening.

— Countywide: 47,955 of 146,593 ballots mailed.

— North Kitsap School District: 10,465 of 28,789.

— Poulsbo city: 1,838 of 5,165.

— Poulsbo Port District: 1,566 of 4,238.

— Kingston Port District, 1,558 of 4,073.

That’s not counting the 10,000 countywide ballots received in Tuesday’s mail, nor the ballots received from drop boxes. In addition, Gilmore expects to receive on Wednesday ballots postmarked on Election Day.

Gelder, appointed in March after Steve Bauer resigned, won the right to serve the remainder of Bauer’s term, which expires at the end of 2012. Commissioners earn $109,907 per year. They approve laws, set policies, and manage a $325 million budget.

“Should I win, it’s a confirmation of what I ran on, the principles; and also how I ran the race, as well as my approach to the job -- bringing that balanced, common sense approach to the work,” Gelder said before polls closed Tuesday.

“The priority list remains the same: getting back to the work of serving the constituents of the North District, and looking at the process that establishes the budget and ensure that it addresses sustainability.” He wants to continue exploring regionalization of certain services to eliminate duplication of services among the county and cities.

Before polls closed, he said he took Tibbs' campaign seriously.

“A campaign helps to engage the community in some constructive dialogue. Anytime there’s two people on the ballot, that choice can always go either way.”

Gelder said he felt he could have spent more time reaching out to the community. “I only had the opportunity to knock on 5,000 doors. I would have met with more people. That’s the challenge of doing the job and campaigning.”

Gelder, 45, previously worked as director of fund development for Martha & Mary for seven years. He served two terms as chairman of the 23rd Legislative District Democrats and served on the county’s Citizens Budget Committee. He has a political science degree from the University of Rochester. In 2010, he was a candidate for appointment to the county treasurer’s post, but he withdrew citing other commitments.

Since taking office, he has found serving as a commissioner to be all he expected it to be and more.

Two weeks after he took office, County Administrator Nancy Grennan left to work for King County’s Human Resources Department (she had announced her resignation a month earlier), and Gelder found himself in the shared role of administrator. The County Commission left the position vacant, and instead meets weekly with department heads.

A month later, Gelder was in a public meeting in a room full of residents opposed to the proposed explosives handling wharf at Bangor, explaining the county’s support for the project. He told the Navy and residents that construction of a second wharf was generally favored by county officials for the jobs that would be created — as long as the in-lieu fees program designed to mitigate environmental damage remained intact.

Over the summer, he met with residents and sportsmen and worked out a compromise regarding the construction of the proposed boat launch at Point No Point. He and the other commissioners and department heads have been trying to figure out ways to ensure the people’s business gets done efficiently in four days, and with less staff. It hasn’t been easy in the Department of Community Development, the target of public complaints about permit backlogs.

Gelder said streamlining the department is part of department director Larry Keeton’s ongoing workload. One solution: The county plans to employ the SMARTgov software system, which will enable the public to file permit applications online and track the progress of their permit. Gelder said SMARTgov will give residents more empowerment in the permit process.

Gelder said county government needs to operate “more as a service organization and less as a bureaucracy,” and he sees himself as a facilitator in that. “The people on the ground in their community — my job is to remove the barriers to their success, step out of the way and let them go.”

Other restructuring may not come so easily.

Gelder wants to restructure compensation for county employees. Currently, employees get raises based on the cost of living index, years on the job and other variables. He wants that replaced by increases based on cost of living and job performance, or merit. This would simplify contract negotiations with the county’s 13 bargaining units.

He thinks a county charter would make government more efficient and less costly. Currently, the county operates under a system of government established by the state. Under a county charter, the system of government is established by voters. Voters could make elected department heads non-partisan or appointed positions, consolidate departments, change of the number of county commissioners.

“In terms of efficiencies, it would make sense,” he said.

He is also developing a forest stewardship policy to support county-owned forested recreation areas, such as trails. Trees would be identified for selective logging – he calls it “thinning” — with the timber proceeds used to support forest stewardship and trails maintenance.

He said much of North Kitsap’s forested areas are second-growth that needs to be thinned to improve biodiversity and improve recharge of water sources. He said this program is expected to be launched in 2012.

“It’s extremely rewarding to serve the community in this capacity,” Gelder said. “The county is full of tremendous people, concerned about their communities and rolling up their sleeves to make it a better place. It’s an honor to work alongside them.”

Tibbs ran a campaign that was as scrappy as his own story.

Tibbs, 31, dropped out of Bainbridge Island High School his junior year to help his single mom support the family. She works for the U.S. Commerce Department in Seattle. Tibbs swept floors, washed dishes, delivered newspapers.

“Ever since I was 13, I’ve made a buck,” he said.

In 1999, he joined Sound City Food in Bremerton, working his way up to general manager. He took some classes at Olympic College in 2000. In 2001, he ran for North Kitsap School Board against Bethany McDonald, getting 2,753 votes to her 7,380.

In 2003, he started four espresso stands, but in two years was forced to seek Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. He operated the remaining two espresso stands until four years ago, when he joined Ootopia Coffee Roasters in Bremerton; he is Ootopia’s sales manager.

In 2005, he earned his GED to encourage his sister, who was working for her GED. In 2006, he ran for Public Utility District 1, getting 22,829 votes to Lloyd Berg’s 42,399. In 2008, he was appointed to the county Citizens Budget Committee and became vice chairman.

Tibbs said county government needs to reprioritize its services. “Seventy percent of the population lives in unincorporated Kitsap County,” he said. “The critical issues there are law and justice, roads and land use.”

He said commissioners must work with departments to identify potential cost savings. “Across-the-board cuts don’t work,” he said, adding that county government offices should be open five days a week to efficiently conduct public business. He said it can take between six months to two years from building permit application to construction.

He said consolidation of district and municipal courts would eliminate “overduplication” of services because district and municipal courts have the same authority. The Kitsap County District Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanors and gross misdemeanor crimes, among them domestic violence, assault, and theft. The court hears criminal traffic charges and traffic infractions. Municipal court judges preside over non-traffic infractions, traffic infractions, parking infractions, criminal misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors occurring within their respective cities. They also order protection for victims of domestic violence.

Tibbs proposes one administrator for a unified court system, with courts in North Kitsap, Bremerton and South Kitsap.

Tibbs opposes incorporation of Silverdale, calling it the “single-most pivotal question in Kitsap County.” The loss of property and sales tax revenue from Silverdale — a major economic center in the county and the home of Kitsap Mall — would be devastating to the county budget, resulting in more staff reductions in staff and level of service. And he doubts incorporation would be a boon for Silverdale residents; the new city would also inherit a commensurate share of county debt, as well as the costs of providing services that are now provided by the county.

Noting that residents from throughout Kitsap County shop in Silverdale, Tibbs said, “Money generated in Silverdale should benefit the county.”

Tibbs supports a county charter as a way to end partisan control of county government. Currently, if a commissioner or elected department head resigns, the official’s political party gets to select the replacement — a process that has been repeated 13 times in the last 10 years, he said.  That’s a lot of power for precinct committee officers, he said, because county voters mostly vote to retain incumbents.

“We either need charter reform, or we need a change on the state level regarding bureaucratic positions,” he said, adding that the positions should be non-partisan.

Regarding upcoming changes to the Shoreline Master Program, which regulates development and other uses in shorelines areas, he supports grandfathering properties that would be considered “non-conforming” under new development rules. If a house is listed as non-conforming — meaning it doesn’t conform to current codes — a buyer could have trouble getting financing, and a property owner won’t get a permit for site improvements.

“We need to keep Kitsap rural as best we can, but we have to balance that with respect for individual property rights,” he said.

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