BELLINGHAM - Political newcomer Jim Peeples will take on longtime commissioner Ron Swanson for a seat on the South Whatcom Fire Authority board this November.
Both candidates - the incumbent Swanson, 76, and Peeples, 52 - have spent decades as first-responders in Whatcom County.
Swanson served for four decades with Fire District 2 and the South Whatcom Fire Authority, including 14 years as a fire chief. He has been a commissioner the past 24 years.
Peeples retired last year as a SWFA division chief, and he still volunteers with Whatcom County Search & Rescue. This is the first time he has run for public office.
The fire authority responds to 911 calls in the general areas of Geneva, Sudden Valley, Chuckanut Drive and Lake Samish.
Here are the candidates' written responses to a Bellingham Herald questionnaire. Some answers have been edited for length, but not for content.
Question: How do you feel about more consolidation with neighboring fire districts? Has past consolidation been for the best?
Peeples: For SWFA, consolidation has allowed for the hiring of both full-time and part-time personnel to guarantee a response when we call 911 for help (instead of wondering if and when some one is coming under a full volunteer system). This also increased the professionalism and quality of emergency responses. Operating costs were also reduced with combined administrations, training and shared personnel. ...
The census in 2010 showed that Geneva and Sudden Valley should each have an additional representative. The state and county auditors requested this be corrected. The current commissioners declined to change this unless forced by a citizen suing them to comply.
The commission's claim: SWFA was set up in 2009 with this representation by the voters. The county auditor, Debbie Adelstein, recommended they need to adapt with the new information and more equally represent the people of the whole region. Do you think they should change the representation?
Swanson: Consolidation or combining of services is always being looked at. Sharing some response with District 4 is presently being used. Some sharing with Bellingham is being looked at for the future. We were able to fund the hiring of some full-time paid employees by the formation of South Whatcom Fire Authority, thus improving the level of service, not only for us, but for the other three districts involved.
Q: If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
Peeples: 1. Continue working closely with partner agencies in maintaining and, where possible, improving service through cooperative agreements, working towards like goals, assuring that the needs of our community are given the top priority and our tax dollars are benefiting us all equally. 2. Improve transparency and connection with the community served. (Several years ago, we invested in the ability to record and make available commissioners meetings online. It has still not happened.). Data and information should be presented in a straightforward, easy-to-understand method for the public. It's your department. ... 3. Work towards better project planning to prevent, when possible, unnecessary expense and waste.
Swanson: Work to fine-tune the budget to the dollars available. Look for improved ways to fund the future of SWFA. Work to maintain good communications with the citizens of SWFA.
Q: Sum up your platform in a sentence.
Peeples: I'm asking for the south region community's support in being a progressive representative of our community emergency service systems, and promise to work for maintaining and improving these high-quality services delivered in a frugal manner.
Swanson: I will continue to work to provide the best fire and medical services with your tax dollars available.
MORE CANDIDATE INFORMATION
To see responses to various issues from these and other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot, go to our online voter guide.
This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Other articles are at BellinghamHerald.com/elections.