Local Election

Conservatives announce bid for Pete Kremen’s seat on Whatcom County Council

Two conservatives announced in emails late Tuesday, April 28, that they will run for the seat on the Whatcom County Council now held by Pete Kremen.

Bruce Ayers, formerly chairman of the Whatcom County Republican Party, has been away from public office for two decades. Theresa Sygitowicz is trying a second time to win election to this council seat.

Ayers, 64, was chairman of Sheriff Bill Elfo’s re-election campaign in 2011, and Ayers made it clear in his press release that his top issue in his own upcoming campaign is the proposed new jail in Ferndale.

The existing jail at the county courthouse is “literally crumbling,” Ayers said, and recent talk on the County Council about improving mental health services to reduce incarceration rates, while important, has been a distraction.

“The County Council once again chooses to ignore the critical need for a replacement facility and may hold the proposed new jail funding hostage until they can attach an entirely new mental health initiative to the project,” Ayers said in his statement.

While council members have acknowledged the need for a new jail, some have questioned whether the current proposal for a $97 million, 521-bed facility is appropriate.

In an interview Wednesday, April 29, Ayers said he supported a task force introduced at a council meeting on Tuesday that would recommend ways to revamp the county’s mental health and chemical dependency treatment system with the goal of keeping people out of the county jail and the emergency room.

“It’s something the community needs, and we should pursue keeping our community members out of jail,” Ayers said. “I just think it’s a separate issue from replacing the jail. We don’t have to stop one effort in order to pursue another effort.”

Ayers served one term on the Bellingham City Council in the 1990s.

Sygitowicz, 65, did not return a phone call requesting an interview. She ran for the same County Council seat in 2010, coming in third place in a three-way primary with 17 percent of the vote. At that time, just after the peak of the recession, Sygitowicz emphasized cutting programs from the county budget that weren’t necessary.

The South Fork Valley resident who has been a farmer and a health-care worker now says protecting natural resources shouldn’t stand in the way of people using them.

“We need to protect our resources but also have the ability to use them responsibly, now and in years to come,” Sygitowicz said in her press release.

In a January 2014 email, Sygitowicz asked the County Council to protect rural water use. She called on the council to continue an appeal of a state decision that might have prevented new wells and hence new homes on rural land in Whatcom County. The county has since won that appeal.

“Devaluing rural lands results in a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class (most current rural landowners) to the ultra-wealthy (many of whom are noncitizens) who can afford to buy and hold for as long as it takes for this nonsense to go away,” Sygitowicz wrote in the 2014 email. “How progressive is that?”

The position sought by Ayers and Sygitowicz in the most progressive of the county’s three districts will be open this election. Kremen announced in March he will not seek re-election and will retire from public office after 31 years in state and county offices.